Monday, November 11, 2013


What's old feels strikingly and delightfully new with Disney's fifty-third animated feature Frozen, a fresh and engaging musical charmer that hews closely to the Mouse House's patented wheelhouse, yet nevertheless is sharply woven together with the very fabrics that established said wheelhouse.  Loosely based on Hans Christen Anderson's The Snow Queen, Frozen is yet another princess fairy tale to add to the canon, but one made with a generous supply of warmth, tenderness and visual aplomb, beckoning back to the hallowed Disney Renaissance days.  And that's the remarkable thing about a good Disney flick, the way it charms the senses back to that child-like sense of wonder, magic and possibility, one that begs you to tear down all the formulaic trappings on the wall and  marvel at something mystifying.   With its grand sense of play Frozen does that just enough to pull at the heartstrings and, in its stronger moments, make you in believe in the beautiful hokum that can only be concocted in the land of make believe.

The film takes place in the make believe village of Arendelle, a lush Nordic retreat (rendered beautifully in all its wide screen glory by the films ace technicians) that houses two princesses-- Elsa and Anna.  First seen as playful imps, Elsa and Anna frolic about in carefree bliss; Elsa has a magical secret which makes playtime even more fun-- the magical ability to turn anything and anywhere into a wintery wonderland-- Ms. Freeze if you will.  With  power comes responsibility, just as with secrets comes a consequence-- a common movie totem and plot propellent-- and a young Elsa is forced to hide her gift and even cause her charming village to be nearly hidden away out of protection.  Such to the extent that when the two girls grow older and eventually become orphaned (this is a Disney film; that's a must too!) and Elsa is set to made queen, her coronation marks the first time in many a moon in which the gates to Arendelle have even been opened.  Princess Anna, however, made magically unaware of her sister's talents finds herself developing into a ripe and cheery young woman in the very mode of her Disney princess sisters of yore; at first it reads that co-directors and screenwriters Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are aiming for parody; Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) is so perkily come hither.  Nearly intoxicated in boy-crazy rushes, she's instantly smitten with Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana) that she becomes engaged to him only hours after meeting.

Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is none too pleased about the engagement and a public sisterly feud summons the mad rushes of emotion and fear that Elsa has kept hidden for so long in efforts to control her magic.  Suddenly Arendelle becomes stricken with ice as all those feelings are let out in big swoop as the ostracized Elsa is drawn deep into the mountains and an eternal winter plagues the sleepy village.  Elsa's mental unlock and pure release of uncontrolled id marks some the grandest displays in the film, not just visually, but also emotionally.  As Menzel tunes along to the already Disney Channel-approved pop balled "Let it Go," Elsa does that indeed, building a beautifully ice-enclosed fortress of solitude.  Anna follows and along the way finds cronies and support from a gruff ice salesman named Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) and a snowman come to life named Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad.)  Predictable patches ensue, but Frozen plays a bit ahead of audience weariness and expectation, mining gentle humor throughout the more overtly cartoon-y stretches.

Yet the raw power of Frozen is in its gentle subversion of the classical Disney princess fairy tale model.  Elsa is not quite the icy villain you expect her to be just as Anna isn't quite a mere damsel in distress.  The film entwines strong themes of sisterhood and womanly grace and power rousing a pro-feminist chant from an studio that's, well had some issues in past.  Yet it also clearly and authoritatively entices with a fresh and inspired spin on the mainstays of Disney legend.  Frozen iterates strongly how a formula can be be worked and re-worked to bring about something wonderfully appealing and seem like watching something for the first time.   Frozen isn't quite the perfect film, it meanders a bit, especially in the opening act and musical score, save for a few choice songs, is fairly generic in the Disney light-pop vain, but there's that special something attached to it too.

That's that old Disney magic, that incandescent thing that seemed faintly lost in recent entries like The Princess and the Frog and Tangled where ones heart can nearly skip a beat so lost in glee.  Then there's that other type of Disney motif, where all can be made on nothing more than a moment.  Frozen has that one a-ha moment-- it may not quite be on the same gut-wrenching level of Mufasa's death in The Lion King or when Bambi lost her mother--  it may not even involve a death at all, but a powerful and evocative moment where the film brings it all home in a singularly heartfelt way and while the film is set in the harshest and coldest of climates, the movie may find that it has a way to melt the hearts of the even the jaded filmgoer.  B+

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