Frozen (2013)

This icy force, both foul and fair, has a frozen heart worth mining

As the father of two daughters who love princess stories, Frozen is more of a utilitarian commodity to me than a piece of cinema.
I’ve listened to the soundtrack probably 100+ times and watched all or part of the movie maybe 10-20 times. It’s a film that so heavily permeated the pop culture that it’s hard to watch with fresh eyes.

There really is a reason that this movie made such a big splash, though. While flawed — more flawed than its profile among the pint-sized crowd would indicate — it leaves a lasting impression. The two central strengths are the soundtrack and the characters, both of which are very strong. The Lopezes’ tunes are catchy and memorable, and almost universally bring out depth in the characters and world.

Meanwhile, the characters are terrficially memorable. In a fair world, Rapunzel and Flynn would be bigger stars than Anna and Elsa, but the sisters make a great dynamic duo, especially with the great voicework by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. Kristoff is a great companion with a distinct personality, and Sven is a delight. Olaf is annoying and overused, but undeniably memorable and well-voiced.

Frozen’s first act is by far its strongest. Everything from the opening through “Let It Go” has narrative tension and interesting character dynamics. I’m always struck, in particular, by the interactions between Anna and Elsa after years in isolation, and Anna’s desire for connection to and approval from her older sister.

More importantly, the opening act is where the film is densest with musical numbers. “Frozen Heart” offers some much-needed Nordic flavor, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” sets a perfect heartbroken tone, “For the First Time in Forever” is chipper and engaging, and “Love is an Open Door” is a great, upbeat romantic duet that also does just enough to foreshadow the story’s secret villain.

The film’s masterpiece moment is unquestionably Elsa’s smash hit power ballad, though: the swooping camera and glittering snow patterns accompanying coming-of-age “I Want” lyrics belted by Idina Menzel. That transformation sequence and belting of “let the storm rage ONNNN” are downright iconic.

The film’s second half is, unfortunately, a bit of a clusterfuck of pacing and twists. The lone musical number in the third act, “Fixer Upper,” while catchy and pattery, is a tonal misfire, the trolls singing a silly jaunt as the film rushes towards its climax.

The ending is almost comically abrupt. Two more minutes in the conclusion highlighting and expanding Elsa’s revelation would have gone so far. “Oh, yeah… LOVE!” And poof, everything’s fixed twelve seconds later.

Another problem: The nine years (has it really been that long?) since its release have not been kind to most of Frozen’s visuals. Some of the weather effects still looks nice, but the humans look like uncanny putty half the time.

One problem that bugs me a little less each time, but is certainly an issue: Olaf might be Disney’s most overused comic relief character ever. Josh Gad is funny enough and help makes the character memorable, but Olaf undercuts so much of the film’s tension and tone. A few moments, especially as Anna and Kristoff grow closer, are downright ruined by Olaf and Gad’s hamming.

Frozen ultimately holds together pretty well in spite of the numerous pimples, and there’s no question the movie has resonated.

At this point, though, I must admit I find myself slightly more fond of the ambitious, beautiful mess that is Frozen 2 than its original, even as its story borders on incoherent.

I suspect Frozen is a rare bit of feel-good monoculture we’ll be watching and discussing for decades to come. I’d love for Walt Disney Animation Studios to make a movie this good again — they’re a few years overdue.

Is It Good?

Very Good (6/8)

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