OK, I don’t know what to do anymore. I am apparently out of the cultural loop.
For months, I have heard nothing but praises about Frozen. Everyone told me I needed to see it. I missed because as a general rule, I don’t go to see films with children in the audience unless I am with someone. But others who didn’t have that problem helped this movie gross more than a billion dollars and ensure that the Oscar winning “Let it Go” was playing on the radio somewhere every ten minutes.
And I have no idea why. The movie I saw was not the sort of earth shattering item that deserved this massive following. At best it was an average fantasy that was so in love with itself that it was unwilling to let the audience explore it for themselves. The soundtrack does have one good song (“Let It Go,” because what else would it be?) but the rest of the songs were unmemorable. And even if the animation is nice (which it is) that’s ultimately meaningless because the film has very few ideas to back up those sequences.
I tried to like it. I went into the moving thinking I would love it. I went in hoping I could finally see what had so captivated the world. Even after watching it, I distrusted my own judgement so much that I went back reading any review I could find to see what I had missed. But I couldn’t shake it: this is the most I’ve been let down by a film in a long time.
Let me start at the beginning.
The story is about two sisters, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Adele Dazeem…darn it, the teleprompter screwed up again). Basically, a long time ago, they used to be friends, but Elsa hasn’t talked to Anna lately at all. Sorry, Kristen Bell’s presence in the movie brings out the corny jokes in me. In reality, Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her unexplained ice powers and so the girl’s parents lock her away from everyone after some talking rocks tell them that Elsa’s powers are dangerous. Presumably they went on to fill out their “parents of the year” applications afterwards. Anna wants to go back to playing with her sister, but no dice. Anyway, they grow up, parents die, and so Elsa inherits the kingdom of Arendelle. Did I mention they were princesses? The phrase “Disney movie” should have tipped you off. Anyway, during Elsa’s coronation, Anna meets a man named Hans, they fall in love and want to get married immediately. So, what comes next could have been resolved if only Vegas style quickie marriages existed. Elsa refuses to give her blessing and in a rage, unleashes her freezing powers to the horror of the population. She flees but Arendelle is plunged into winter. Anna goes up a mountain to comfort her sister with an ice salesman named Sven, but her childhood experiences with Elsa’s powers are slowly killing her by “freezing her heart(?!).” Oh, and Elsa finds time to create a snowman that talks like Elder Cunningham from Book of Mormon and longs to experience summer. He tags along with Sven and Anna. Don’t ask me why. Got all that? I’m not even sure I do.
People have told me that Frozen is so special because it shatters the Disney animated mold. It updates itself for the 21st century with strong female characters and deconstructs the usual Disney cliche of how “true love” will cure all the world’s evil. Also, ladies, you don’t just have to sit and wait for Prince Charming to come whisk you away.
Now, it does to a certain degree and I will give it credit for that. Frozen is more about sisters and that familial bond is what “saves the day” than it is about the princess ignoring her dreams and giving her life to her prince. The main female characters are much stronger in the sense that they are given positions of authority and know how to use that authority. Finally, it’s pointed out how crazy it is to marry someone you have just met. This last part has been part of the Disney staple forever so it’s progress to recognize how weak that is. Oh, also, Prince Charming (Hans) turns out to be a Machiavellian jerk. This last part is historically accurate, so I’m glad Disney wanted to acknowledge it.
But that’s it. The film is so reliant on the rest of Disney’s usual tricks of the trade. Now, other filmmakers do not shy aware from their techniques as much and I understand why. You stick with what works. But Disney’s storytelling methods have a lot of problems. Those changes I described above seems to be Disney recognizing this. Too bad they don’t DO anything about it.
The soundtrack is a great example. None of the songs were particularly memorable and none (except for…well, you get the idea by now) are markedly different from any other Disney song. That’s a problem – if you want to pretend like this is original then certainly thought needs to be put in that area. But they’re the standard “I want” song, in which a character sings about how they wish there life were different, or the “boy meets girl” song, in which a boy meets a girl. Or the comic relief song, in which the comic relief has a witty little number that serves as a break from the “heavy” story. Frozen has all of these songs, which demonstrates how eager it is to follow formula. There isn’t even any sort of commentary on HOW this is similar to what’s happened, which a film that has been described as a deconstruction would supposedly be eager to do. Nope. It’s enough to make me not want to build a snowman.
Yes, that was a lame joke, but that’s more wit than I got watching Frozen. In fact, I didn’t get much because the film didn’t let me. It gave me a nifty little fantasy world and then insist on holding my hand throughout. I don’t know how many times that damned snowman summarized the same plot point for the audience but it could have been turned into a drinking game. And yes, there is a “true love” element that is added, really only for the sake of adding a “true love” element. And a villain (Hans) became a villain with no motivation. And the resolution to the whole “the world is freezing and we’re all going to die” is stopped rather than actually, you know, resolved. Elsa’s powers are wildly inconsistent anyway. At times she is in control of them, at other times not. At times she is able to build finite non ice things (ice skates, her dress) at other times she can only build gargantuan blizzards with no explanation as to how it works. No one else seems to notice or care that she is able to create life, even if it is in the guise of a clumsy snowman. Even Josh Gad, which I had heard was the breakaway character, did nothing for me. He was basically recreating his Elder Cunningham role without leaving first gear. I know the man is incredibly funny and that Disney is able to provide big laughs. But nothing connected with me. One of the few amusing parts for me was a “blink and you miss it” tribute to Arrested Development. That’s not a good sign. (For those curious, watch the Duke dancing with Anna in the coronation scene. He unmistakeably performs Lindsay Funke’s chicken dance.)
I know what you’re thinking: “What about the animation?” What about it? I have no interest in exploring how animation technique has improved to capture water and ice freezing if there is no story to back it up. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of tech demos you can watch that have the same result as Frozen. Having technically advanced animation is step one. You cannot ignore the rest. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, while never acknowledging its huge debt to Jean Cocteau, managed to capture a great story that also boasted some great animation. But I bet no one watching this scene cares about the fact that animation was used to create sweeping crane shots.
No, you care about Belle and the Beast dancing, falling in love with each other. It’s the emotional core that has to be present in any film. “Let it Go” has that moment. In it, Elsa takes control of her life. That’s the emotional core. And it was supported by the stunning animation of her palace being built. I don’t care about how you were able to animate a tuba players cheeks or a fountain being realistically frozen if there is no emotional investment in the scene.
I know it sounds like I think Frozen is a complete waste. It isn’t. But then your friends and family can probably tell you why it’s good. I cannot. I didn’t find the jokes funny, I didn’t find the characters engaging, I didn’t find the songs that worthwhile (with that one exception…I think I’ve made it clear I’m definitely on that bandwagon) and I found the story dull with too many unexplained elements. I enjoy when a movie surprises me and hate when a movie lets me down. I’m being so harsh because Frozen was squarely in the former category. Disney, if you really want to break out of your mold and get with the times, then go all out. Don’t cross out a few words and insist that you have a new manuscript.
Hate mail to the usual address please.