Friday, March 21, 2014


Ice-Ice, Baby
(The Cold Never Bothered Me, Anyway...)

Disney's latest animated feature—not in the flat 2-D classic animation, but in the 3-D pixilated version ala Tangled—is "inspired" by Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen," according to the credits. That's a whole new interpretation of the word "inspired" because Frozen has next to nothing to do with "The Snow Queen" other than...there's a Queen...and she makes snow. But Tangled wasn't exactly "Rapunzel," either.

But, it's a quibble (And it's Disney).

That's Disney, who just put the first female (albeit co-director) on one of their female-dominated animated films. Based on a screenplay by, and co-directed by Jennifer Lee (with Chris Buck), it's another "Princess" movie that will expand the Disney marketing franchise (with two of them in the film), but as with Pixar's Brave it dares to up-end some story-book conventions, making the royal sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) the emotional hub the story revolves around, and relegating the two hunky guys that are standard love interests pretty much transportation tools. This is a good thing. And especially when the movie sets up "the guys" (one prince/one working stiff) as the solution to the problems and then very briskly pulls the cloth-simulated tapestry out from underneath that cliché. I like that. And I like how the solution to "the problems" is bundled very tightly in one unexpected moment that, frankly, shocks, and takes one aback emotionally. I like that even better.
Frozen takes unexpected turns from the traditional Disney "princess" cartoons
that offer emotionally jarring risks and solutions beyond the traditional "enchanted kiss."
So, it's not "The Snow Queen." What is it? Elsa and Anna are princesses in the kingdom of Arendelle and they're by no means twins—Elsa is older by a couple years, and she has the telekinetic power to freeze things and project snow and ice from thin air. This delights Anna, but a childhood accident forces the King and Queen to seek the assistance of trolls who save Anna's life, but take away her memory of Elsa's power to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. The Royals also lock up Elsa, keeping her from her sister...and everyone, until she learns how to suppress her powers, usually brought on by her emotions.

The two sisters grow up apart under the same roof, even after tragedy strikes the household. The two don't see each other until Elsa's coronation day as Queen of Arendelle, but the two are distant even when inches apart, and when the scattered Anna becomes enamored of a visiting prince (Santino Fontana), upsetting Elsa and exposing her powers to the Kingdom. Elsa flees, now that her frightening powers are out there for all to see.  

You couldn't miss it. She's dropped Arendelle into a permanent winter, with no way to get it out. It's up to the plucky Anna to go after her and try and mend fences and thaw her relationship with her sister and the town.
Princess Elsa has one of the more complex psychologies of any Disney character.
Prince Hans is a love interest, but so is an ice-cutter that Anna finds on her journey (voiced by Jonathan Goff), whose best pal is an anthropomorphized reindeer named Sven. There's also a walking, talking snowman (created by Elsa) named Olaf. The revelation of a goofy snowman in the movie was enough to give me a brain-freeze, but, as voiced by Josh Gad (he of "The Book of Mormon"), he's pretty danged funny. The songs have the same show-connection, as well, as they're a collaboration between Robert Lopez (who co-composed both "Mormon" and "Avenue Q") and wife Kristen Anderson. That's very much in the tradition of bringing the song-writing team of "The Little Shop of Horrors," Ashman and Menken, to Disney. The songs are decidedly less Broadway, however, and more "pop" oriented—and will be appearing on the many reality-talent shows on the air in the not-too-distant future—and geared more for a cartoon audience than a theater one.

Again, quibbles. And if Frozen didn't exactly warm my heart, it did stir my intellectual interest in Disney's attempts at non-traditional, trope-melting story-telling that flies like a zephyr in the face of fairy-tale traditions (including those of "The Snow Queen"), which provided my brain many warm thoughts towards it.

It really is no wonder, then, that Frozen managed the rare trick of staying in first-run multiplexes up until the day it was released on video, unusual for any movie of for Disney.
The Oscar-winning "Let It Go," one of three "I Want" songs in Frozen (four if you count Olaf's "In Summer").  
Going, "cold," the power-ballad approach makes one cringe, but given the 
back-story preceding it, it's a break-out moment...and a little scary.  In fact, the Elsa character was 
slated to be the villain of the movie until this song's themes of empowerment changed everything.

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