For a long time—through around the late-90s to the mid-00s, to be exact—Disney was on a downward spiral creatively (just as Pixar was making a name for itself with fresh, fun adventures). And this after releasing about a decade worth of award-winning films, from The Little Mermaid to The Lion King and so on. It wasn’t until they released the warm and fuzzy Bolt, that it seemed like Disney could still deliver what people expected from them. Of course, this was about the same time they gave Pixar head-honcho John Lasseter the reins to all of Disney animation, and so far, his influence has led to some exceptionally triumphant films (the exception being Planes, which wasn’t bad, per se, but it didn’t meet the standards I expect from the Mouse house), This, of course, includes their newest release, Frozen, which would certainly do Walt Disney proud.
In many ways, Frozen brings back the fanciful bliss of the Disney princess musical by giving us not one, but two lovely princesses who see the world quite differently in the wake of the elder’s hidden affliction. Anna and Elsa are loving sisters who like to play together with Elsa’s wicked power of making it snow (inside!). When Elsa accidentally strikes Anna with her powers, her parents seek out the rock-like trolls (who cannot fix the heart, but the head is no problem) to heal her, then hide Elsa away until she can learn to control her powers. Even after the death of their parents(!), Elsa remains hidden.
Anna doesn’t know why her sister doesn’t want to ever leave her room or come out to build a snowman (the trolls removed all memory of Elsa’s power to heal Anna), and watching Anna grow up with such a deep love for a sister that keeps her so distant is emotional to say the least. But Anna is the summer to Elsa’s winter, so when Elsa is about to be crowned Queen of her kingdom, Anna still displays a bright charm and light heart, prancing and dancing and singing as she can’t wait to find a love that will sweep her off her feet.
It doesn’t take long to find him either when she accidentally runs into Hans, a prince eleventh in line for the throne in a neighboring kingdom. Hans is there, like many other dignitaries (some of whom are baffled by the secrets hidden within the Palace that has been closed off for so long), for the coronation. After just a few hours, he proposes and Anna couldn’t be happier—that is until Elsa refuses to give them her blessing, which inadvertently leads her to reveal her power to the people. Seeing only a witch, they force Elsa into the mountains, setting off an endless winter in her wake.
The artistry at work as Elsa builds her new ice castle is astounding, and I have to say, a much better looking palace than the one she left. But here is when the true meaning of the film also takes shape. Elsa comes into her own as she strips away her feelings of trying to hide who she is and lets her freak flag fly (that is to say, she no longer cares what everyone thinks of her because this is who she is).
As Anna searches for Elsa, she runs into Kristoff, an ice trader (not a great profession to have at the moment) whose best friend is a playful reindeer named Sven (who reminded me just a bit too much of the horse from Tangled). She ropes him into helping her up the mountain to find her sister and in the process forms a bond with him that may or may not be romantic in nature, though the friendship is clearly apparent in how they interact and want to protect one another.
The voice work is handled by a very talented cast (including Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff), but none is better than Josh Gad as Olaf, the little snowman who joins Anna on her quest to find Elsa because he can’t wait for it to be summer. Every word that comes out of his mouth is a delight, reminiscent of the Disney sidekicks of old. Add in some nice little hints at some self-referential comedy (much like they did with the live-action Enchanted), and the script flows along with quick wit and solid storytelling.
That comes from Lasseter, who really doesn’t let any script slip through that isn’t ready for prime time. He has always been about story and character development and will not take less than perfection, which shows in the great films that both Pixar, and now Disney, have consistently churned out over the last decade. I will say that, unlike Tangled a couple of years ago, the songs in Frozen don’t seem to rise up to the quality of a lot of older Disney films, but there are a couple that are light and fun, or in the very least have something to say.
And that something is tolerance, acceptance, and of course the love of family and friends that embeds itself in those who are kind, helpful and generous. When you love someone in that way, you’ll do almost anything for them, even if it means sacrificing (or melting) yourself to do it. But even more prominent is the ability to go beyond someone’s outside appearance and look within them to find their true nature. This is the key voice that runs throughout the film, and one which both Anna and Elsa learn about in their own way as they try to reconnect as the sisters they know they can be.
And although it’s a point that’s been made in many a Disney film, it’s still a terrific message for any age, and one that I believe Uncle Walt would have been more than ready to continually encourage.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include Out of the Furnace and Inside Llewyn Davis. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.