Frozen and Me

I just got back from seeing Frozen II and I have to say, as a fan of the original, that was a very rewarding sequel.

I plan on writing my review for Frozen II soon, but first I’d like to give some early impressions of the film, due to reasons that I’ll explain right now.

When Frozen was released in 2013, it was quite unlike anything I’d seen. Internet cynics would probably lambast me for saying that, seeing as it’s a Disney musical and thus ‘can’t be art’ yadda yadda yadda. But as someone who has been a lifelong fan of Disney, I admit there were still things about the animation studio’s output that I always felt were outdated. Frozen, as it turned out, was the Disney movie I always wanted, but never knew I’d actually get.

As much as I appreciated Disney films, I never would have put them on the same level as Studio Ghibli or Pixar’s animated features. Ghibli and Pixar would craft stories that were driven by the characters. Disney, meanwhile, used characters who were defined by a small handful of archetypes, and seemed to exist for the sole purpose of pushing the plot forward. Compared to the characters of Studio Ghibli or Pixar, well, there was no comparison.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a plot/concept-based movie. But knowing what animated storytelling was capable of due to the likes of Ghibli and Pixar, it felt like Disney was unable/unwilling to break away from their formula. Granted, Disney movies were mostly good, but kind of interchangeable really. I could name several Studio Ghibli or Pixar movies that would rank among my favorites, because they all felt distinct. But I felt I could pick one Disney movie to represent the entire lot because, well, they very much had their formula down pat (in case you’re interested, I would have listed Beauty and the Beast in a pre-Frozen world).

But Frozen changed all that. In one fell swoop, it addressed and rectified the issues I felt were holding Disney back. Sure, the archetypes were there, but there ended up being so much more to these characters than what was on the surface. What seemed to be marketed as “just another Disney Princess movie but with two princesses,” ended up being the most thoughtful and meaningful film in the Disney canon. Said princesses were fully fleshed-out characters, the comic foil (Olaf) existed for more than just comic relief (though he was also great at just that). Even the Disney Prince, the most bland and uninteresting of Disney’s archetypes, was given an overhaul, and the film featured one of the very few plot twists that genuinely surprised me.

Frozen subverted expectations before subverting expectations was cool. And honestly, it did so way, way better than the works that have attempted it since. Perhaps The Last Jedi would have been less polarized if Rian Johnson had studied how Frozen subverted expectations, as opposed to seemingly writing off what J.J. Abrams and company started with its predecessor (I would like to point out that I actually liked The Last Jedi, but no doubt Frozen did to Disney traditions what Rian Johnson could only hope to do with Star Wars).

On top of defying tradition and giving new depth to Disney storytelling, Frozen was also a hell of a lot of fun, and the catchiness of the songs needs no explanation. Again, the cynical and snarky would love to ridicule me for saying something like this, but Frozen was a perfect movie (and certainly THE perfect Disney movie). Sure, naming my favorite Disney movie still has an easy answer, but now it’s because there’s one that’s just so damn good, as opposed to one I simply feel best utilized the studio’s formula (I still love you, Beauty and the Beast).

Now I have to get a bit more personal. On top of being the Disney movie I always wanted/never expected, Frozen also had a profound impact on me personally. Sorry to sound like a sad sack, but I suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Depression and Social Phobias. I have my entire life, and in that particular point in time I had been feeling especially low. But Frozen, a Disney movie about a magical snow princess and her sister, believe it or not, helped me better understand and subsequently deal with my demons. And I have been improving myself ever since.

Through Elsa, the snow queen who gives Frozen its name, Disney somehow created a character who serves as a universal and sympathetic allegory to such issues (and many others). Many people have also viewed Elsa as an allegory for homosexuality, and more power to them. But that goes back to what made Frozen so special: What other Disney movie featured characters and elements that were allegorical and left so much room for interpretation?

Again we go back to the internet smartasses, who would no doubt laugh at me for claiming Frozen – a kids movie (and perhaps even more so, a popular movie) – of all things, is what has helped me better understand myself. Surely they would point out all the arthouse and indie films that deal with mental issues and such in a literal manner. Well, I’ve seen a good number of such films, but even with the good ones, I’ve felt a bit of a disconnect with them. Along with a tendency to feel more than a little bit like award-bait, many such films tend to display mental issues and the like as a hopeless tragedy, or something that is simply to be pitied or vilified. But through Elsa, Frozen told audiences how these issues – even though they may be hard, and sad, and tragic – are a fact of life for many. These things shouldn’t be feared, but we should learn to accept them and be willing to face our issues to better ourselves. Elsa may have been the antagonist, but not because she was the typical Disney villain who was out to cause evil because reasons, but because people were ignorant and feared her, which caused her to run away from her problems and create the core conflict of the movie. It’s through the selfless love of her sister Anna, the film’s protagonist, that Elsa in turn learns to love herself.

Yeah, it’s a bit deeper than the usual Disney fare.

For one reason or another, Elsa was a far more relatable character to me than anyone found in “more intellectual” films. I may now be a 30-year old male, and (as far as I know) I lack magical ice powers, but Elsa is indeed the movie character I relate to over all others. I am not the slightest bit ashamed to admit that.

Frozen, of course, eventually became a worldwide phenomenon. Along with Pokemon and Harry Potter, it’s probably among the biggest pop-culture phenomenons to have occurred in my lifetime. While it was great to see something so good be rewarded with recognition, the fact that we live in the often-abhorrent internet age naturally meant that as soon as Frozen became popular, it became ‘cool’ to ridicule it (how dare children like things!). But despite generic internet contrarianism (a YouTuber complaining about stuff? Oh, how original), that first year or so of Frozen-Mania, when the film was absolutely ubiquitous, was probably the first of maybe two instances in the 2010s where the world seemed to find something that made it genuinely happy and brought people together in a way that’s incredibly rare in this cold, disconnected internet age (the second instance would be the release of Pokemon Go).

Frozen became the highest-grossing animated film in the world for nearly six years (it was somehow displaced by that uncanny valley Lion King remake. Though I suppose Frozen can still claim to be the highest-grossing good animated film). And yes, a sequel became an inevitability. As with any sequel, it’s a risky move. That’s especially true of something that had no pre-conceived expectations (Frozen may be very loosely inspired by Hans Christen Anderson’s The Snow Queen, but really only in the fact that it features a snow queen). Again, Frozen originally just looked liked the “Two Princesses” Disney movie. No one would have guessed it would become what it did.

I should point out now that, ahead of its release, I myself rolled my eyes at the advertisements to the film, as I – in my certain knowledge – knew it was just going to be another example of the Disney formula. Never before or since has a movie made me look like a fool so beautifully.

Here we are, six years later, and Frozen II is a reality. I’m sad to see a number of ‘professional’ critics were cynical even ahead of its release (and some after). Yes, the success of the original surely swayed Disney to make the sequel, but if this were a mere cash-grab, it would have happened years ago, and simply repeat the same beats as the original. This is a genuine sequel, and it’s sad to see some still write it off basically because it’s a sequel and thus “can’t be art.”

Earlier this year, Pixar released Toy Story 4. While that particular movie was decently good on its own merits, it paled in comparison to its three preceding films and, at its worst, retroactively rendered its immediate predecessor pointless. Yet Frozen II is the one cynics are targeting as being “all about the money.” It seems a bit hypocritical, considering that Toy Story 4 is the fourth entry in a series that already wrapped up with its third entry, and is a series that’s literally about toys (I love Toy Story, and Toy Story 4 certainly wasn’t bad, but c’mon, if any party in this scenario is guilty of milking a franchise, well…..).  I am aware that Toy Story 4 currently has higher meta-ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and its ilk, but I don’t see that as a reflection of the actual quality between the movies, so much as yet another reason why we should stop giving Rotten Tomatoes and company any credibility and form opinions ourselves. It also seems kind of strange that franchises primarily targeted at young girls are usually the ones that come under fire for “being greedy.” But that’s perhaps a discussion for another day.

Having seen Frozen II, I genuinely felt it was a worthy follow-up to the original. I hope to review it ASAP, but part of me wonders if I should review it. After all I’ve said of the personal impact Frozen had on me, no doubt many would think I’m an unreliable source due to my love of its predecessor (which seems a bit strange, when you think about it. Who exactly are sequels made for if not fans of the original?). But I would say, if there are means to justify biases, x-thing helped me understand and deal with mental illness seems like a pretty decent one. It certainly has a stronger case than it’s a sequel ergo it’s bad, I like to think. And in my defense, I do try my best to still be fair and honest when I review things. Sure, I have preferences (I am a human being, after all, not a robot), but that doesn’t mean I can’t also view things from a critical lens. I could have easily awarded every Hayao Miyazaki directed film a 10/10 based on personal feelings and history, but of the eight of them I’ve reviewed so far, their scores range from 7s to 10s (Miyazaki still unquestionably makes good movies, so nothing on the lower half on the scale from him, admittedly).

Yes, I honestly felt that Toy Story 4, while decent, was a retrograde sequel that undermined Toy Story 3, while Frozen II felt like a meaningful continuation that added to the growth of the characters and world of the original.

The big question has to be: Is Frozen II as good as the original? Well, that’s kind of an unfair question at this point in time. Again, I have been praising Frozen as Disney’s finest achievement for six years now, and it has played a surprisingly big influence in my life for that same amount of time. It’s kind of difficult to compare. I will reiterate that Frozen II is an exceptional sequel that – like any good sequel – feels different from its predecessor while simultaneously adding to it. It was worth the wait, and it feels like something that came from the heart of its creators, as opposed to a token sequel merely capitalizing on the success of the original.

I hope to review Frozen II in the near future, and maybe after better analyzing it and contemplating it, I can give a proper comparison between it and its predecessor. But at the moment it feels like an unfair task on myself. Frozen II is an incredible sequel, but with the impact the original had on me, can I of all people make that comparison? It would be like if I saw a really great anime movie, and someone were to ask me if it compares to Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. It’s like, well no. Of course not. It’s an unfair battle.

I loved Frozen II, and yes, I even cried. When I do review it, expect it to be pretty glowing. It genuinely saddens me that a number of critics are writing it off because of that ‘II‘ in the title, because the film is more than that. But whether or not I think it matches the original is, for once, not a matter of the film’s quality itself, but a testament to what the first film accomplished, and what it did for me.

Frozen Review

Frozen

Frozen really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. After its release in late 2013, Frozen became the unexpected hit of the decade, climbing its way to becoming the most popular animated film in history, and creating a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon that few films could ever match. If we were to rewind the clock back to the earlier part of 2013, probably no one could have seen such success coming. The teaser trailer seemed to indicate the film was about a snowman and a reindeer fighting over a carrot, and later marketings only seemed to give the impression that it was just another Disney princess movie, but with two princesses.

Now, however, it’s all too easy to see where Frozen’s success stemmed from. In a time where Disney has been at their creative best, crafting memorable features such as Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana, Frozen sits comfortably as the apex of Disney’s modern generation.

Anna and ElsaFrozen tells the story of two sister princesses: The older sister Elsa (Idena Menzel) and the younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who live in the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with a magic gift, the ability to create and manipulate ice and snow. For two sisters who love spending time together building snowmen and ice skating, this is a dream come true. But Elsa’s magic is often too powerful for her to control, and can even become dangerous.

One night when they were young, Elsa accidentally struck Anna with a magic spell, which almost cost Anna her life. Horrified, the desperate king and queen take the girls to a tribe of trolls, who manage to heal Anna. The trolls then remove Anna’s memories of her sister’s magic, as the girls’ parents decide Elsa’s powers should be kept a secret to protect anyone from any further harm.

Elsa and Anna are then raised in separate chambers of their castle, with Elsa locking herself away from her sister as she tries to learn to control her powers, and Anna becoming just as lonely with the absence of her sister in her life. As they grow older, Anna and Elsa lose their parents, leaving them with only each other. Though Elsa’s fears of her powers mean they don’t even have that much.

Once Elsa becomes of age, she is to become the new queen of Arendelle. But after a confrontation with her sister goes awry during her coronation, Elsa accidentally reveals her powers to her sister, and inadvertently unleashes an eternal winter onto Arendelle. Elsa exiles herself from the kingdom, and Anna sets out to find her sister and hopes that she can break the spell that has befallen Arendelle.

Anna and ElsaIt’s probably the most character-driven setup in the entire Disney animation canon. While most Disney films tell great stories, oftentimes the characters are a bit archetypal, and are more like pieces that simply push the plot forward. But here, it feels like Disney crafted the story around the characters, their personalities, and their relationships with each other. Frozen is all the better for it.

Not only is the story built around the characters, but said characters are just so likable, as Frozen takes many of the usual Disney archetypes, and evolves them into deep, fleshed-out characters.

Anna is kind-hearted and heroic, but also socially awkward and more than a little clumsy, while Elsa is intelligent and refined, but also sad and lonely. There’s a greater sense of substance to Anna and Elsa than the Disney heroes and heroines who came before them, which makes them all the more relatable and sympathetic.

Anna and HansThe other characters include Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman created from Elsa’s childhood memories who serves as the film’s comedic sidekick. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a mountain man with a pet reindeer named Sven, who escort Anna on her journey. Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), a royal from a neighboring kingdom who serves as Anna’s love interest. And the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), an eccentric and distrusting figure who believes Elsa to be a menace due to her powers.

FrozenMuch like Anna and Elsa themselves, the supporting cast also has a greater sense of depth than most characters found in Disney films: Kristoff is lonely to the point of providing the voice for his pet reindeer so he has someone to talk to. Olaf avoids the unfortunate pitfall of some past Disney sidekicks of being an overbearing distraction by actually serving an emotional connection between Anna and Elsa. Being their imaginary friend from their childhoods, he actually contributes to the story. Not to mention Olaf’s childlike naivety makes him all the more endearing. Even Prince Hans is given dimensions that prevent him from simply being another automaton of a Disney prince.

Of course, the biggest mixup of Disney norms goes back to Anna and Elsa themselves. While most Disney films have stories that are built around the plots of dastardly villains, here, Elsa more or less serves as the antagonist of the story. Yes, some sinister characters (such as the Duke of Weselton) show up, but they are never the driving force in the story. It’s the dynamic between Anna and Elsa that serves as the film’s central conflict. Anna isn’t a heroine out to stop a villain, but instead is trying to reach out and understand her sister.

Because of this alteration of story and characters, Frozen is able to change up the Disney formula in fun and inventive ways. It’s one of the few Disney films that’s full of surprises.

ElsaLike the majority of great Disney features, Frozen is a musical, and it has possibly the catchiest and most memorable soundtrack of any Disney film. Some of the best songs in the film include Do You Want to Build a Snowman, a simple but heartbreaking number that explains the divide between Anna and Elsa during their youth. For the First Time in Forever (one of the best “I want” songs ever), which further shows the contrasts between the sisters’ personalities. And Let It Go, Elsa’s signature song that has not only become my favorite Disney song ever, but has also seemingly become the anthem of childhood for an entire generation.

All of the songs in Frozen are insanely infectious, and will surely get stuck in your head in the best way. The songs are so good, in fact, that the wonderful musical score is often overlooked because of them. Though not as iconic as the song work, the instrumental pieces from Frozen are still a joy to listen to, and help capture the film’s many emotions.

FrozenTo top it off, Frozen is a beautifully animated film. Frozen adopts a similar look to Tangled, combining CG animation with traditional, hand-drawn techniques. The characters’ motions have a fluidity that matches even Pixar’s best, and the character designs all leave a lasting impression. Plus, the snowy landscapes and magical goings-on make for some truly captivating imagery. Frozen is simply a gorgeous film that belongs in any discussion of beautiful animated features.

Frozen is a wonderful film. It’s as simple as that. It tinkers around with Disney’s conventions and turns them on their head, while still paying full respect to the things we love about Disney films to begin with. Its cast of characters are as memorable as those of any of the best animated features. And they tell a great, heartwarming story filled with fantastic songs and stunning animation.

On the surface, Frozen is Disney doing what they do best, at their best. In its depth, Frozen is unlike anything Disney has ever made before.

 

10

Frozen Fever Mini-Review

Frozen Fever

Frozen Fever, the seven-minute short film that accompanies Disney’s new live-action Cinderella, is an absolute delight. It returns audiences to the world of Frozen for a brief, but incredibly fun little ride through the kingdom of Arendelle.

The story is appropriately simple for its short running time, but nonetheless sweet. It’s Princess Anna’s (Kristen Bell) birthday, and her sister Queen Elsa (Idena Menzel) wants to make it the best birthday ever, to compensate for all the birthdays lost when she shut herself away from her sister. The problem is that Elsa is feeling under the weather, and her illness is making her ice magic run amok.

Frozen FeverObviously, this simple plot and short running time mean that Frozen Fever doesn’t share the more complex character elements of the feature length original, but it still manages to produce some sweet moments between the sisters. But Frozen Fever is aiming more for fun anyway, and it succeeds greatly at just that.

A new song “Making Today a Perfect Day” is as fun as it is catchy, and the short is filled with good humor and plenty of fan service (as Elsa begins to catch the sniffles she proclaims “a cold never bothered me anyway”), there’s even a quick nod to a running gag from the Back to the Future sequels.

Frozen FeverIt’s a testament to how immensely likable the Frozen characters are that at a mere seven minutes, this short film is more charming and fun than the feature film that follows it. Frozen Fever only gives audiences a quick taste of a Frozen follow-up, but there’s so much fun to be had that you’ll savor every minute of it.