Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Disney's Frozen Review (2013) Has Disney Finally Reclaimed Its Crown?

Home On The Range, Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire... all is finally forgiven Disney.

Since the 1940s, the world's most iconic animation studio has tried it darndest to adapt Hans Christian Andersen's classic fable The Snow Queen, but not even the great Walt Disney could get it right. Finally, in 2013, the Magical Kingdom has nailed it with their 53rd animated classic Frozen, which had the largest ever opening weekend for a Disney animation in the studio's history.  

It's ironic that Frozen has been brewing behind the scenes for over 70 years, as it's the first film to capture the magic of classic Disney since The Lion King. Co-directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph) oversee the story of two sisters who clash when Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally reveals her ability to control snow and ice, plunging their kingdom into an eternal winter as she retreats into exile. As Anna (Kristen Bell) races to find her sister and restore order to Arundell, she is joined by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a charmingly rugged ice harvester who travels with a trusty reindeer companion and Olaf (Josh Gad), a surprisingly likable snowman brought to life by Elsa's magic.

So far so Disney right?

True, Frozen does contain many of the ingredients common to most Disney films - beautiful princesses, dashing princes, comedy sidekicks - but what their latest offering excels at is turning these conventions on their head without ramming it in your face. Not like a certain green skinned ogre we all know and love then...

Take the lead character for example. Sure, Anna is a pretty princess searching for love but once her character is established, the script takes delight in confounding the audiences expectations. Despite a royal upbringing, Anna lacks the grace and finesse of other Disney princesses, making mistakes along the way as she fights to save her sister. That's right guys; love may be in the air but once shit hits the fan, the Princess becomes more concerned with saving her family and kingdom then shacking up with the first Prince she meets.

Feminist film critics will have a field day dissecting exactly what this now means for the future of princesses in Disney animation but apparently, this forward thinking representation of women wasn't shared by all members of the creative team. One animator has been controversially quoted as saying that female characters are harder to animate as they need to be kept pretty while expressing emotions...
disney frozen
Ironically, the real villain of the piece is less clearly defined, demonstrating a new and more mature approach to storytelling, the likes of which we have never seen before from Disney. Is the Duke of nearby Weselton (Alan Tudyk) after the throne of Arrundel for himself? Is Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) really as clean cut as he seems? Or is Elsa the real villain of the piece, holed up in her enchanted castle of ice as the population starve around her, caught in the snowstorm she created? It's refreshing to watch a Disney animation that doesn't dumb itself down for younger audiences. Instead, Frozen remains relevant through it's fresh humour and feisty lead characters who don't try too hard to be edgy, unlike the ill fated protagonists of Treasure Planet and even Lilo & Stitch.

Love or hate it, all Disney characters have an almost psychotic need to express their emotions in a loud and unabashed Broadway style number. Things are no different here, but while many animated films feel clunky when singing is introduced, this has always been a huge strength of Disney animation and I'm happy to say that after some forgettable tracks from Tangled, the studio is back on top form with a songbook created by the husband and wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez... they worked together on The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q. Obviously! Menzel is clearly the big talent in the singing stakes and her show stopping number Let It Go is destined to become a Disney classic, bravely turning what could have been a villainous moment into an anthem of empowerment. Bell surprisingly holds her own against the Broadway powerhouse and Groff brings a likable charm to love interest Kristoff but the surprise for me was Gad, whose rendition of In Summer explores what it's like to long for sunshine when you're made of snow.

disney-frozen-new-icy-still-image-anna-kristoff-olaf-svenFrozen is a magnificent film, one that will be loved by generations to come, so it's fitting that the short film preceding it pays homage to what came before. Get A Horse! is a Mickey Mouse short drawn in the style of Disney movies from the 1920s which plays with our preconceptions of animation in a beautifully simplistic way, continuing the impressive streak started by Paperman last year. While the CGI of Frozen is absolutely stunning, Get A Horse! made me hanker still for traditionally hand-drawn animation. Hell, I could write a 1000 word review just on the short alone! But that's not what we're here for...

Not only is Frozen a million times better than the latest Pixar films, it's also a huge improvement on both Princess & The Frog and Tangled, two films I already held in high regard. Ladies and gentlemen, forget Dreamworks. Pixar's had it's day. The second Disney Renaissance has finally arrived in full force and I feel like an over excited 6 year old all over again, eagerly waiting with bated breath to see what will come next from the Disney studios.

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