Sometimes great artistry comes from coloring inside the lines.
Walt Disney Animation’s newest film, ‘Frozen,’ does precious little to push the boundaries of narrative storytelling. Indeed, it is a quite predictable – might I even suggest formulaic – culmination of elements. While picking over the bones of a half-remembered Hans Christian Andersen story, ‘The Snow Queen,’ Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck’s film expands certain themes, disposes of some characters and, of course, modernizes a bit for contemporary audiences. However, miraculously, this doesn’t feel like a Xerox of a Xerox impersonating a classic Disney film. There’s precious little winking; hardly any of the ‘Shrek’-effect. ‘Frozen’ has enough of the goods to play it straight and succeed on its own terms. It is a major entry in family-friendly entertainment, one that ought to reverberate for years with tie-in toys and stage productions.
The toys, like the film itself, can go in two aesthetic directions. ‘Frozen’ is set among gorgeous fjords and magical ice castles. Even those who hold their nose at 3D animation over hand-drawn ought to be impressed by the use of light and color and occasional montage that skate on the edge of abstract expressionism. In this landscape – a big, sloppy reindeer named Sven and a talking, goofy snowman named Olaf. Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, is the classic happy idiot, perpetually optimistic, to the point where he yearns for the warmth of summer, even if it means he’ll melt. If you don’t laugh at Olaf, you should immediately contact a mortician, because you are dead inside.
The music, Broadway-ready, might be Disney’s first nod to the culture of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ The songs are each meant to be show stoppers, with frigid Queen Elsa (‘Wicked’ star Idina Menzel) busting out in a spangled blue dress with a surprisingly sizable slit. It’s not meant to be sexual, it’s meant to inspire innocuous “you go!” chants, and when young girls (and boys) inevitably perform their version of the “be yourself” anthem, “Let It Go,” YouTube is going to explode.
Queen Elsa is not our hero; her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) is. Anna still has vague memories of being quite close to her older sister, who has been cold to her for years, even after the death of their parents. You see, Elsa has magical powers that she finds difficult to control, and almost killed her sister as a toddler. She’s hidden herself for Anna’s protection ever since, but the adventures of ‘Frozen,’ set against the eyes-toward-the-Palace Coronation Day, are perfect for love’s thaw.
Anna’s adventure takes her through the now required love triangle, but what’s best about ‘Frozen”s #TeamHans and #TeamKristoff is that it is absolutely secondary to Anna’s primary goal: saving the Kingdom and connecting with her sister. Anna needs a boyfriend like a reindeer needs a bicycle, and while that isn’t to say she isn’t tickled by the attention, ‘Frozen’ passes any number of “is this a good role model for girls?” tests in my book.
Anna’s struggles up the mountain to Elsa’s secluded ice fortress (her solitude is unknowingly freezing the kingdom to dangerous levels) has hints of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” ambition. Each turn has the potential to divulge a new and exciting wonder. It doesn’t quite reach that level of excellence — I don’t want to oversell it — but it does come close. A musical number with the trolls is just spectacular and Elsa’s Snow Golem creature is designed at just the right levels of scary and cute. It’s almost as if Disney knows what they’re doing.
I left ‘Frozen’ convinced that this was a major new page for family entertainment. Then again, I’m the same guy who was convinced ‘The Princess and the Frog’ was going to usher in a widespread fervor for N’awlins jazz and Creole culture. If ‘Frozen’ is merely a mild success like ‘Princess,’ the message is clear: Disney should stick with temperate climates.
‘Frozen’ will be released on November 27.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.