Frozen is a charmingly cunning movie. It sets up characters and motives in the beginning that we are certain will carry on to expected and routine conclusions, but later thwarts all chance for disappointment with a sharply written and breathtaking third act.
I had a surprise when I strolled into the cinema. The hall was packed — and I mean to the walls — with children and their guardians. It was like I had accidentally walked into a cinema-themed playpen. I’ve been to children’s movies before — many times in fact — and not once have I seen so many kids gathered in the same place to witness one event. My only conclusion is that a nearby school was having a movie day. Indeed, many of the adults wore identical t-shirts. And the place was loud.
It’s an interesting thing, watching a children’s movie, and all its accompanying children’s trailers, with children. Everything’s seen in a different light. When I watch a children’s movie alone, I think about it as an adult. I look at the technical achievements, the voice acting, the quality of the story, etc. When I’m surrounded by the target audience suddenly I see the necessity for the silly jokes and the cute and cuddly creatures that seem to inhabit the story for no other reason than to make the kids laugh when they trip over their own feet.
There are plenty of cute and cuddly creatures in Frozen. More than I’ve noticed in other animated features. As the movie opens, we are introduced to two: Princesses Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) of Arendelle. Both are no older than 5, and they’re about as huggable as Barney The Dinosaur, without the dinosaur bit. Anna, the younger sister, wants Elsa to build a snowman. The two sneak into one of the palace’s great halls and Elsa creates a winter wonderland from her bare hands. You see, she can do magic. She has the inexplicable power to freeze objects and create snowflakes and turn marble floors into ice rinks. There is no how or why to this phenomenon. That’s one of Disney’s tricks: No one needs a reason for something special to happen.
There is also no explanation as to why the king and queen require Elsa to keep her powers hidden from society. I see no malice in snow and ice. Sure, it can sting if shot directly at you, but how often would it be shot directly at you? Why not show to the world what you can do? This is not a deformity. It’s not a hideous scar. This is a wondrous gift from the beyond. The characters of the story treat this gift as a curse, not realising that it isn’t one.
Anyway, I digress. Jump forward many seasons. The sisters are now in their teens, and the story picks up speed with a couple of meet-cutes. On the day of her sister’s coronation, Anna bumps into Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) of Some Other Land, literally. They hit it off at once. Almost unrealistically. They announce their engagement and ask for Elsa’s blessing. Elsa refuses — who wouldn’t? — and the row stirred by the infuriated Anna causes Elsa to use her powers publicly. Humiliated, Elsa flees into the forest, inadvertently blanketing the entire kingdom in a thick winter.
Naturally, Anna seeks her out, and this makes way for the second meet-cute, this time involving Anna and the macho blondie, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who comes complete with the obligatory animal sidekick; in this movie it’s a reindeer named Sven. All these characters come together early on in a story that feels weak at the knees. Many of them feel perfunctory, others feel unnecessary. The story drops dead on itself, as if it knows from the beginning who will end up with whom, who will share the fabled Disney kiss, who will die, who will resurrect, etc etc. But then, in a fit of glorious revelation, writer — and co-director — Jennifer Lee springs a sneaky surprise. I will not say what it is, but it changes the direction of the movie so dramatically that it salvages all shortcomings and challenges the boundaries of the typical Disney fairytale. Thank god for it.
Frozen also comes with many musical numbers, some better than others, all powerful in their own right. The standout, in terms of spectacle, power, and volume, is Elsa’s solo power ballad belted out from atop her ice castle. A more inward looking piece is sung by Anna as she recollects her happy childhood with her sister, constantly asking the poignant question: “Do you want to build a snowman?”. There’s even a whimsical number sung by a moving snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who nestles himself in a running gag that involves him dreaming of basking in the summer sun. He is a bundle of laughs.
Now that I can sit back and recall Frozen in its entirety, I have come to realise that it is a strong film. Perhaps not as strong as Disney’s previous princess effort, Tangled, but strong nevertheless. The animation is alive. The songs are written carefully and are sure to grow on me. The voice actors are seamless. The story finds itself along the way and redeems its characters. It isn’t just a movie for kids; it’s a movie for Disney lovers. And it’s a cheeky one at that.
Best Moment | It’d have to be between the opening short film, Get A Horse!, and the opening of the movie, with Anna and Elsa as toddlers. Get A Horse!, by the way, is a short film as good as any I’ve seen.
Worst Moment | I’m pretty sure there’s no plural for “reindeer”.