Frozen (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG)

Frozen 75It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, but one that I won’t be terribly excited to watch again anytime soon.

 

Frozen 500

In terms of quality, Walt Disney’s in-house computer animation branch is one of the most uneven ones working today. You go into, say, a Pixar or an Illumination film, and you’ll have a vague idea what to expect in terms of quality. But with non-Pixar Disney, it’s a total crapshoot: you might get a really bad movie (Chicken Little), a so-so one (Tangled), or a great one (Wreck-It Ralph).

Their 2013 effort, Frozen, falls somewhere between the Tangled category and the Wreck-It Ralph one; that is to say, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, but one that I won’t be terribly excited to watch again anytime soon. It seems to be pitched squarely at the Tangled crowd — the animation style is much the same (more on that later), it’s another princess story, etc. — but it’s a little more solid than Tangled was. (And, in fairness, it’s possible that I like Wreck-It Ralph more because it’s targeted at boys where Frozen is targeted at girls.)

Frozen is based on the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Ice Queen,” and here riffs on the material that involves a talking snowman sidekick named Olaf, lots of songs, and other Disney tropes. The two main characters are Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell, who is pretty well-suited to this voice acting thing, as it turns out), with Elsa being the elder, in line to take over the throne as Queen, and also able to turn things into winter; this includes, but is not limited to, freezing water with a flick of the wrist, making it snow, covering things in frost, or doing the whole shebang the world over, but only if she’s really upset.

After an incident in their girlhood, Elsa wears gloves all of the time that somehow keep her snowy powers in check, and Anna doesn’t remember that her sister has powers at all. This changes when Anna gets involved in a whirlwind romance with visiting prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and requests Elsa’s blessing for them to get married. Elsa refuses, gets into a huff, makes it winter everywhere, and goes and hides in an ice castle. Anna meets an ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his friendly reindeer Sven, and later encounters snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), and the four of them travel through the wintery mountains to get Elsa to put a stop to the punishing weather.

I realize that the last part there sounds weird. Don’t ask questions.

As already mentioned, Kristen Bell makes a very likeable heroine here, and her Anna is a charming character. Perhaps more surprising is Olaf, who sounds grating on paper; when’s the last time you’ve seen a comic relief sidekick in an animated movie that actually is funny? It’s been a while, but Olaf is one. This borders on shocking, given Josh Gad did his voice; while Gad famously originated the role of Elder Cunningham in the original Broadway production of The Book of Mormon, his film work has bordered on heinous: Love and Other Drugs, Thanks for Sharing, etc. Based on this evidence, he thrives in musicals, but fails miserably at non-singing roles.

There is some questionable material here, which keeps the film from Wreck-It Ralph heights: the songs are for the most part pretty lacking, I can’t help but think its freezing cold themes and imagery wouldn’t have worked better as escapism in summer rather than the reality of the outside weather here in its late-November release, and the animation is kind of uneven. About this last point, one of my biggest problems with Tangled was that the two main characters were animated well, but the entire rest of the movie around them had very crappy, slipshod animation. At first it looks like Frozen is going to go down this same path — there’s an opening scene that takes place on a frozen lake that looks marvelous, but as soon as Elsa and Anna are introduced the quality of the animation takes a dip. And while more care seems to have been put into the creation of ice than anything else in the movie, it isn’t nearly as distracting here as it was in Tangled.

One final thought: Frozen is preceded by an original Disney animated short, “Get a Horse!” which is modeled after late-1920s-era Mickey Mouse shorts, and does indeed star Mickey himself. At least at the screening I attended, there was never the screen that tells you to “Put your 3-D glasses on now,” as I’ve become accustomed to seeing (I sure don’t want to be wearing those glasses any longer than I have to), and “Get a Horse!” starts off in 2-D, so I didn’t put them on right away. Assuming you’re seeing Frozen in 3-D, though, “Get a Horse!” turns 3-D about halfway through, with no real warning, so it’s best to just put the glasses on when “Get a Horse!” begins. Also, “Get a Horse!” is quite a treat; not only should it serve as extra motivation to go out and see Frozen, it should also serve as extra motivation to drop the extra $2 per ticket to see it in 3-D. | Pete Timmermann

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