Thanks to the kind auspices of both Young Son and The Divine Miss C, I was able to recently partake of the Disney animated feature "Frozen".
Well . . .
(I wonder how long can I tease you people?)
All right, all right, all right . . . I liked "Frozen" a heck of a lot more than I thought I would. Not in a big way, pumpkins. Not in an enormously run around screaming sort of way, but I did like it. With some reservations and I'll get to them later on.
By now you might have guessed that I am not blindly devoted to Disney films. Especially the contemporary varieties. What most people refer to as the "Disney Renaissance" (1989-1999) I tend to refer to as the "Attila the Disney Invasion". Yeah, I know. Harsh. But, in the first place, I can count on the fingers of one hand the musicals I can tolerate with ungritted teeth, and the Disney studio apparently cannot shake off that addiction (the day Disney releases an animated film with absolutely no singing I will be the happiest man on Earth. In second place will be the day Disney releases an animated film with a Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack).
(Yeah, I know. Wish upon a star.)
Now having said that, I will remark that the singing in "Frozen" wasn't as invasive or as manufactured as I usually find in a Disney film. And whereas I still maintain that "Let It Go" is not all that hot a song ("not all that hot a song!" Oh la! Such wit!) I will say I appreciate it more in the context of how it was used in the film. When it's used in the scene where Queen Elsa shuts herself off from the world and unleashes her full powers the result is one of the most memorable I've seen from the House of Mouse in quite some time. Next to that is the use to which the song "For the First Time in Forever" is put. This isn't singing for the sake of singing, it's using song to carry the story along. Song as Dialogue, and my appreciation for composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez rises a notch or so.
And I know I'm sort of getting ahead of myself, but I want to run through this rant and get it out of the way. My other problem with Disney animated films is the overall lack of characterization. Especially in regards to B-list and background characters. Disney has recently seemed less interested in bringing us actual characters than it was in providing toys for Happy Meals. With this in mind we've had an enormously disgusting influx of the Cutesy Squeezable Character (e.g. Louis and Ray from "The Princess and the Frog", Mushu and Cri-Kee from "Mulan", Sebastian from "The Little Mermaid" und so weiter . . .). All of this in the face of the fact that the high-water mark for an effective sidekick character has been Jiminy Cricket from 1940's "Pinocchio".
So I am happy to come before you now and report that the trend seems to be gradually turning in my favor. On the one hand "Frozen" gives us Olaf (imagine a snowy version of Mr. Potato Head). On the other hand, though, Olaf never quite meets his potential for sheer aggravation, and both I and my blood pressure were able to tolerate him.
Even better, "Frozen" continues a trend which I first noticed in 2010's "Tangled": the blessedly non-speaking but wholly characterized animal companion. In "Tangled" we had Maximus the horse. There's something of a similar horse in "Frozen", but the Maximus stand-in in this film is a reindeer named Sven (who seems to have been cloned from Maximus in terms of personality). Technically the ancestry of both animals can be traced back to Samson: the horse ridden by Prince Philip in 1959's "Sleeping Beauty", so if the current crop of Disney creative people are taking a page from the studio's salad days then I, for one, consider it a positive sign.
Now! How about the film itself?
"Frozen" was directed by both Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. I saw more than one name in the director's slot and mentally went uh oh. But, fortunately, "Frozen" turned out to be the exception to the rule. Especially with Chris Buck who had directed 1999's "Tarzan" for Disney (which I thought was rather watchable). Buck and Lee (sort of sounds like a pair of private detectives) also wrote the story for "Frozen" (along with Shane Morris), and Lee provided the screenplay. On the basis of this I'll consider giving them advance warning of when the Mothership arrives.
The story is loosely (and I mean loosely) based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen". No, seriously. The music group Human Sexual Response had a song, "Land of the Glass Pinecones", which was closer to "The Snow Queen" than what we got with the plot of "Frozen"; and I'd much rather listen to "Land of the Glass Pinecones" than "Let It Go".
(Okay, okay, I'll let it go . . . oh HAR! I kill myself sometimes. I really do.)
Anyway: the story takes place in the mythical kingdom of Arendelle: one of those beautifully realized fairy tale settings that look tons better than the dump where you're currently living (and you know it). Elsa is the Princess and Heiress of Arendelle, and Anna is her younger sister. We first meet these two as kids, but fortunately we only deal with them in the moppet stage long enough to learn that (A) Elsa possesses the power to produce ice and snow which can be (B) potentially dangerous. She (C) accidentally injures Anna while playing, and the family decides that Anna must be healed and have her memories wiped by Professor Xavier . . . I mean (D) some magic trolls living in the nearby mountains.
(No, seriously. For a moment I almost thought we had a X-Men film going here.)
Time passes, and both Elsa and Anna grow into rather appealing young ladies. Elsa has become so worried about her powers that, over the years, she has essentially shut herself off from all human contact (including Anna, who can't figure out what went wrong with Sis). Anna, meanwhile, has entered that most rare pantheon of fictional characters: Disney Heroines That Uncle Mikey Likes (among the list: Jane Foster from "Tarzan", Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" and Rapunzel from "Tangled").
(Speaking of "Tangled", I found so much of a resemblance between the characters of Rapunzel and Anna that I went and checked to see if both characters had been voiced by the same actress. No dice: Mandy Moore voiced Rapunzel, and Kristen Bell voiced Anna. But they sure as heck had the same animation staff . . . including both Jan Berger and Jesus Canal. Anna may have technically been Elsa's sister, but to my mind she was definitely a lot closer in pedigree to Rapunzel. Both of them quintessential Plucky Young Heroines. Innocent James Bonds with a license to thrill.)
The moment comes when Elsa must assume the throne and become Queen and, for a moment, it looks like Happy Ending for all concerned. Wrong-O, Mary Lou! Elsa gets stressed out and causes a one person Ice Age to descend upon Arendelle.
("Folks call her Snow Miser . . . whatever she touch.")
(Sorry. Couldn't resist.)
Feeling eighteen hundred kinds of guilty, Elsa runs off into the mountains and builds herself an impressive frozen palace. Unfortunately, Arendelle is still set on Cold, so Anna decides to go look for her sister and try and correct the problem. On the way she meets up with Kristoff (companion of Sven, and for God's sake don't say "I am Kristoff, he is Sven!"): a strapping and wholly likeable lad. Kristoff and Sven have been living a high old time up in the mountains, harvesting ice and being friends with the same trolls I mentioned several paragraphs earlier. Well, along comes Anna (in one of the better humorous scenes in the film, taking place in a trading post) . . . and yeah, some of you out there can probably write the rest of the story from this point. And, with a less talented director (and a less readable screenplay), you would've been right. But "Frozen" managed to keep expectations up in the air (well, admittedly not all that high, but higher than I've usually come to expect from Disney) concerning relationships and how they manage to untangle themselves.
For instance: when Anna finally catches up with Elsa we enter what could've been a potentially saccharine moment. But "Frozen" actually gives us some layers to deal with. Elsa is a character wholly capable of becoming evil on an apocalyptic scale. But care was taken early on to demonstrate that Elsa was just as warm-hearted and compassionate as Anna. Rather than being drawn to the dark side, Elsa is a victim of the power she possesses, and she decides that she is the sacrifice which must be made in order to protect others. Once she reaches a point where she can fully give her abilities free rein ("Let It Go") she can finally enjoy as much peace as she feels she's entitled to. Even Anna's entreaties won't move her to try and help Arendelle, and it is only when an ultimate crisis arrives that Elsa (and Anna) realize there is no limit to the sacrifices one can make in order to protect the heart's desires. All very nicely played out upon some exquisitely realized animation.
Back in 2009 Disney/Pixar released Peter Docter's "Up": an animated film which didn't spare anyone's emotions in its portrayal of love and devotion (and which, it now occurs to me, didn't have any singing in it). "Frozen" doesn't quite ascend the heights that "Up" dared to go, but it went much further than, say, "The Princess and the Frog" in attempting to honestly demonstrate how even Love must sometimes be placed on the line in order to accomplish what is right. Not only that, but "Frozen" also tried to show that Love in itself isn't important, but Love Properly Identified and Placed truly is. With films such as this (and "Tangled"), Disney could actually be entering a genuine renaissance. Or at least what I would consider to be one.
I rather liked the film.