Thursday, 16 January 2014
2012 saw the release of Disney's reinterpretation of the story of Rapunzel. Tangled signalled the company's departure from the traditional hand-drawn animation upon which it was founded and into a new, entirely CGI style. I was among those who found this transition jarring, and when I finally got around to watching Tangled the goofy looking characters and uninspiring musical numbers failed to win me over. This was not the Disney I had grown up with. When I saw the trailer for Frozen it seemed that the film was going to match my incredibly low expectations, and I had actually planned to post quite a scathing trailer post on how this film looked to be Disney completely giving up on making films of the high quality they once were. Thankfully I never got around to finishing that trailer post, because after seeing the finished film I am happy to say that I was very, very wrong about this one.
Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee // 2013 // 102 mins
Frozen is quite freely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen and tells the story of Elsa (Idina Menzel), a young princess who at an early age discovers she has the power to create and control ice. When this power harms her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa and her parents make efforts to conceal the magic from everyone in the kingdom and especially Anna, whom Elsa actively avoids from then on. Years later on the day of Elsa's coronation her power is revealed to the entire kingdom, from whom she flees to the solitude of the mountains after causing an eternal winter. Anna takes it upon herself to track down her sister and convince her to return.
Like some of Disney's other later efforts Frozen takes a more progressive attitude to some of the tropes that previously dominated the princess/fairytale narratives, such as love at first sight, helpless princesses and clear heroes and villains. The character of Elsa is a complete triumph for Disney and one of their best characters for quite some time. She is an incredibly complex and interesting character brought to life by the immensely talented Idina Menzel, and should have been used as much more of a selling point for the film than she was. Kristen Bell's chirpy Anna is a joy to follow through the story, and the focus on the relationship between her character and Elsa is the films strongest aspect. Rounding out this collection of great characters are Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, who are a charming pair and one of Disney's best double acts.
Though the dramatic plot that runs through the film is what makes it such a successful piece, Frozen is also extremely funny and holds a lot more than the few tiresome jokes that were used again and again in its marketing. In particular, Olaf the snowman is much more successful than I ever would have believed, down to the fact that his character is funnier in moderation, whereas the trailer almost entirely focused on him. Josh Gad does an excellent job of bringing the odd-looking snow-creation to life and though his inclusion clearly caters to the youngest audience members he is wonderfully effective at balancing out some of the more darker themes of the plot and manages to avoid becoming an annoyance like a number of other Disney sidekick's before him.
While the CGI animation and character designs are still not on par with Disney's hand-drawn style it definitely feels more appropriate for this story as Elsa's icy powers are stunningly realised and by far the area in which the animators excel. What makes Frozen really feel like a Disney classic though are the musical numbers that Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have produced. These songs are a huge step-up from Tangled's disappointing selection, and each one is just as memorable and infectiously catchy as the next. Let It Go is the clear showstopper and matches Disney at its best, rightly exploiting Idina Menzel's stunning vocals for all their worth, but no song falls flat as Bell, Santino Fontana and even Gad deliver. Despite getting a song of his own, Jonathan Groff is disappointingly underused considering his vocal talent and musical history, however this is only a minor gripe of my own.
Progressive characters, infectious songs and a boatload of charm makes Frozen feel at once like a sister piece to the films that made up Disney's Renaissance in the 90's, the films that I grew up with and which restored public and critical faith in the company. It may be slightly early or a bit presumptuous to hail Frozen as an instant classic, but from the sámi-inspired chant that plays over the films opening to the heartfelt and upbeat finale this feels like a return to form for Disney. If this is any indication of the quality of film that the company has in store for us the I may just be able to forgive their transition into CGI.