Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Disney's "Frozen" Isn't Pop Music But Here's Why You Should See It Anyway

I went to see the new Disney movie Frozen yesterday (I believe that makes a grand total of two movies I've seen in theaters in 2013...thank you LA Live $7 Tuesdays!) and I was more than moderately pleased with it.


The character design alone is worth the admission price, in both the animation and the writing. Plus, it's got a healthy feminist twist that is long overdue for Disney.

The animation is exquisite: the bodies have depth that makes them realer than even the Pixar films. (The male supporting lead in particular made me long for a Roger Rabbit-like world in which toons and humans co-exist). The two female leads are still way too skinny, but there was at least one impressive shot of boobs that made me think "nice rack!" (I don't remember for sure, but I think it was the main one, Anna (Kristin Bell); however, when the Snow Queen (Idina Menzel) becomes the Snow Queen...YOWZA!) There's a minor character whose hairpiece is a sight gag in the beginning, and the entire rest of the movie you can see his hair move accordingly, even though attention is never drawn to it again. And the snowman sidekick is very cleverly animated - he's like the Genie taken to a whole new three-dimensional level. (The carrot used for his nose looks real enough to eat.)

The visuals are so impressive that they almost overshadow some of the really great things the writers have done with the characters (the story, in itself, isn't super strong). I'm not familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen story (the Faerie Tale Theatre episode was never available at the library, I guess), so I went in with only marginally more information than the average movie-goer, given Disney's ridiculously opaque marketing campaign. I was interested to see how the Snow Queen, who I gathered wasn't going to entirely be a protagonist, became that way, since at the beginning of the film she's the epitome of the Disney good girl princess, and I was satisfied as the story unfolded.

The movie does have a villain problem, probably out of necessity, and it was interesting that they were still willing to undertake it as a film when naturally it's so much easier (especially in kids' movies) to have clearly defined extremes of good and evil (Toy Story excepted, one of many reasons it's so damn good). There's only one too-tidy plot point moment, and it involves the villain issue, but I let it slide mainly because it's one of two twists in the movie I honestly didn't see coming. The other twist, though, is spectacular, a triumph of feminism that has NEVER been seen in even the most feminist-ish of Disney films. I was overjoyed, you wouldn't even believe. (It should be noted that director and screenwriter Jennifer Lee, who also wrote Wreck-It Ralph, is the first woman to direct a Disney full length animated film.)

The score is really neat, and it serves the action so well that I enjoyed staying for the credits and hearing it again on its own, much like the scores of the best old Disney classics. The songs, by Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Avenue Q lyricist Robert Lopez, ranged from so-so to pretty good, not scraping the heights of Alan Menken/Howard Ashman or even Stephen Schwartz (!) but frankly it was nice to have songs at all! Menzel gets to sing a nice liberation song that people are comparing to Mr. Schwarz's "Defying Gravity" because apparently they haven't seen Wicked (which ain't at all perfect, but "Defying Gravity" comes close), and Demi Lovato gets to sing the pop version. I'm not sure which one sounds more desperate, but they're both listenable. (Bell, as we all know from the fantabulous Reefer Madness, can sing quite nicely too thank you very much.)

There are a LOT of references (not explicit) to Beauty and the Beast, and a few to Mulan, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but I appreciated that they didn't hit us over the head with them a la Enchanted (which I like fine, I just think therefore it's "been done"). Actually there's nothing so heavy-handed in Frozen like what has become common in kids' movies of late (or perhaps has always been common outside the upper Disney echelon?), which is another way of saying I didn't roll my eyes once. (Okay, I did once, but it turned out I was supposed to have that reaction.) The snowman character so easily could have been an obnoxious cynical Jar Jar Binks-esque easy slapstick foil to make the kids laugh and try adults' patience, but he wasn't at all... he even has the line that made me laugh out loud ("Oh look, I've been impaled."). He's more Dory than Mushu, though he's not as central to the plot as Dory.

Some people have touted Frozen as a surprisingly good animated musical, considering Disney's marketing obfuscations. I would go a step further and say that even if Disney had marketed it unabashedly for what it is and called it "The Snow Queen," this movie would have been surprising in how giant a step forward it is in Disney animation and family movies in general. It feels a bit like 1991 all over again.


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