Saturday, 29 March 2014

Disney's Frozen - A Review

It is no secret that, throughout the 2000s, Disney struggled to match the cinematic heights it reached in the 1990s. Lacklustre efforts such as Treasure Planet and Home on the Range paled in comparison to previous critical and commercial juggernauts such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and increasingly Disney began to look as though it was forever destined to chase its own shadow. However, the release of Frozen, the company's 53rd and most recent animated feature, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, shows that Disney is still capable of producing films as great as - if not better than - the classics which made it so well-loved in the first place.

Disney's Frozen
Elsa (Idina Menzel) is the queen of the Nordic kingdom of Arendelle. Since she was a child, she has been forced to hide her cryokinetic powers, and indeed herself, from the world. However, when she accidentally reveals her powers to her subjects, she flees to the mountains and unknowingly leaves Arendelle trapped in an eternal winter. Her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) therefore takes it upon herself to find her so that together they can save the kingdom from its fate. A story of princesses and magic and heroic journeys, this is a truly epic tale and a reversion to what Disney has always done best. But one of the things that makes Frozen so wonderful is that, despite its incredible scale, it is unabashedly a story about sisterly love. Anna's great quest to bring Elsa back to the kingdom, whilst an undoubtedly compelling and entertaining adventure, is at its core a metaphor for her attempt to reconnect with her sister after years of Elsa's self-imposed isolation. This focus on the power of love is perhaps the ultimate reversion to what Disney has always done best, and Frozen is certainly all the richer for it.

It would be difficult to talk about any Disney film without talking about its soundtrack, and Frozen is no exception. Whilst Chrisophe Beck's score is atmospheric, it is, unfortunately, largely forgettable. However, the original songs, written by the husband-and-wife Broadway veterans Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are what help make Frozen unforgettable. Of the nine songs written for the film, three in particular standout. Do You Want To Build A Snowman? is a beautiful composition which captures the innocence of childhood and blends it with the tragedy of loss. For The First Time In Forever is a joyful, uplifting, and in places genuinely funny tune which masks an underlying loneliness. But it is Let It Go which towers above all the other songs, and which, with over 160 million views on YouTube at the time of writing, must surely have secured its place amongst the greatest Disney songs ever written. A showstopping power ballad about freedom and self-acceptance, it is both the highlight of the film and one of the best few minutes of cinema to grace our screens in the past year. The fact that Frozen was substantially rewritten after Let It Go was composed is a testament to just how remarkable a song it is.

Elsa finally embraces her powers during the stunning Let It Go sequence.
One of the best things about Frozen is its cast. Idina Menzel's performance as Elsa is, particularly in the first 30 or so minutes, decidedly controlled, which makes her unrestrained, powerhouse delivery of Let It Go all the more effective. Kristen Bell as Anna is warmth personified, and handles her comedic lines as deftly as she does her more serious ones. However, it is undeniably Josh Gad's portrayal of Olaf, the snowman that Elsa brings to life with her powers, that stands out. There is something inherently funny about a snowman who dreams of experiencing summer, and Gad revels and excels in every comic beat he's given. There is also an innocence and earnestness to his voice which means that by the time he delivers lines like "Some people are worth melting for," the only things melting faster than Olaf are viewers' hearts.

The animation itself is nothing short of spectacular. Though die-hard fans of 'Old Disney' might lament the lack of traditional hand-drawn animation (not seen since 2009's The Princess and the Frog), Frozen undoubtedly espouses the benefits of a more CGI-heavy approach. Arendelle, in all its icy glory, is gorgeously realised, Elsa's ice palace makes The Little Mermaid's underwater castle look downright shabby, and certain moments, such as when Elsa uses her powers to construct her palace, or when she runs up the mountain whilst simultaneously forging the very steps she climbs, just sing. Frozen has undoubtedly set the bar for animation very, very high indeed.

Animation at its very finest.
The forging of the ice palace. Frozen sets the bar for animation very high indeed.

In so many ways, Frozen is a huge leap forward for Disney. Finally, the company seems to have stopped trying to utilise old tropes to recreate past successes. Instead, it is embracing the progressive, 21st century world and has produced a film with modern ideals but with the same warmth and spirit of the films which preceded it. Gone are the days when the heroine needed a dashing prince to rescue her. Far in the past is a time when marrying a prince you've barely even met is the norm (indeed, the film actually mocks this outdated notion). Instead, Frozen is a film co-directed by Disney's first female director, Jennifer Lee. It champions self-acceptance and self-empowerment, and highlights the importance of familial love without wholly scorning romantic love. There's even the inclusion of what may just be Disney's first ever gay family (in the form of Oaken, his partner, and their children). Given how progressive and forward-looking it is, it's worth, as a final note, thinking about what Frozen means for the future of Disney. It is, at present, undoubtedly a modern-day continuation of the Disney Renaissance of the 90s. Even more promisingly, though, it is proof that Disney's brightest days are far from over. In the future, Frozen may well be looked upon less as a continuation of the old Disney Renaissance and more as the harbinger of a new one. If this is the case, moviegoers, young and old alike, are in for a very special few years indeed.


Elsa and Anna, two refreshingly modern Disney princesses.
Frozen is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday.