About a year ago, I wrote an article about the future of Disney Animation Studios, and my belief that they were in another golden age of Disney animation following a string of beyond solid features (and the end of some pretty piss poor efforts from the mid to late 2000′s.) The change truly began following the surprisingly decent Tangled, and continued with Winnie the Pooh and, last year, Wreck-It Ralph. I absolutely loved Wreck-It Ralph, which was one of the main reasons I wrote the editorial in the first place. But I loved Wreck-It Ralph not because it was a great movie in the mold of the classic Disney canon—actually, it was pretty far from a traditional Disney film in both plot and humor (I myself noted in my review that it felt like more of a Pixar joint than anything). But now we have Frozen, the newest film from Disney Animation following Ralph. When I first saw advertising for the film I wanted to gag, for everything that was set up from the trailers seemed to be tired, lame, and far from classic Disney (the Ice Age films came to mind here…which is certainly not a good thing.) But the advertising for this film was all wrong, because you know what? Frozen might be the best “Disney film” in decades.
Emphasis on the air quotes. Granted I still hold a higher place in my heart for Wreck-It Ralph (that movie was pretty much made for me), but Frozen still stunned the hell out of me with how fantastic it was…and my point about it being the best “Disney” film in decades is still valid. For while I loved Wreck-It Ralph for being something completely different from the studio, this is the most I’ve felt Disney has embraced its past in quite a while. Frozen actually feels like a film Disney would have made in its prime. Which I guess brings me to my first point…
It Feels Like A Disney Movie
In my previous editorial I commented on Disney’s brief identity crisis in the early 2000′s, and how the success of more subversive films from the likes of Dreamworks and even their buddies Pixar turned them away from telling more traditional, fantasy tinged stories—a.k.a. fairy tales. This lead to absoultely abysmal works like Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, and not until John Lasseter was put in charge of the studio did we see a return to form. The film that was suppossed to be that return to form was 2009′s The Princess and the Frog, but that film was a disappointment for a number of reasons. And well Tangled dealt with princesses, spells, and the like, you could tell Disney was still trying to make it more “hip” and “groovy” (those are the preferred nomanclatures, right?) then what they were doing in the late 80′s and throughout the 90′s (the trailer for Tangled even featured a freaking Pink song, for god’s sake). And though Frozen seemed to be following suit from the aforementioned trailers, the finished project itself is unabashedly Disney. The magic, the princesses, the handsome prince, the kooky and mystical comic relief, the animal sidekicks—it’s all here folks, and certainly delighted the Disney fanatic inside of me. But what really cemented the film’s Disney-ness to me was the fact that…
The Film’s A Musical, and A Pretty Great One At That
Frozen being a full-fledged musical was something I wasn’t even aware of really until I saw the film (seriously, Disney is avoiding the film’s musical elements in the advertising like it’s a freaking plague), but man is it a welcome sight for sore eyes. Tangled had a few songs and so did Princess and the Frog, but I for one can’t remember a single note from any of the music featured in those films. That’s completely not the case for Frozen because, man, there are some really excellent tunes in this one. And unlike Tangled or PatF, the songs ellicit emotions as much as they tell the story, and are less of an obligatory “well, we have to do it” and more of a proper extension of the film’s various plot threads and themes. Take for instance the pretty heartbreaking “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” which perfectly tells the story of the film’s central relationship entirely through music, and does it brilliantly:
And on the other side of the coin you have the big number of the film, which is sure to be nominated for Best Original Song (and has an incredibly strong shot of winning as well), the pretty damn fantastic “Let It Go”:
There’s more great music on the soundtrack too, a soundtrack that I’m already planning on purchasing—something I haven’t done for a Disney movie in forever. I would love to talk more about this fantastic soundtrack but, honestly, you just have to listen to the songs (preferrably in the film itself) to really understand what makes them an essential, absolutely wonderful aspect of Frozen. Congrats, Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. You’ve helped make one of the best Disney musicals since The Lion King, helping Frozen truly nail its old-time Disney tone. Yet as much as Frozen may take inspiration from the fairy tale’s that came before it, the film is surprisingly modern, for…
It Evolves And Subverts Standard Tropes of A Disney Fairy Tale
This whole article I’ve explained that I loved Frozen because it felt like an old fashioned Disney film, but that’s only half the reason really—because as much as I loved revisiting the Disney tropes of old, what really makes Frozen succesful and such a pleasure to watch is how it equally embraces certain Disney conceits, well also subverting and playing up some, shall we say, more “outdated” ones. For me, this is the direction I want to see modern Disney films go—you don’t need to throw away the idea of princesses and magic away completely. As Frozen shows, you just need to adapt them to fit the time. Frozen does a lot of really clever things with classic Disney staples like the stereotypical Prince Charming and the role of “true love’ conquering all, which delivers a far more interesting narrative in the process. I don’t want to get into the subversions too much because it will spoil most of the film’s last act, but let’s just say I didn’t see that ending coming at all. But I’m glad it did, because it makes much more sense than the standard one they were setting things up in terms of both theme and characters. Which, come to think of it, is one of the film’s greatest strenghths—its lead character Anna, who might be my new favorite Disney princess. She’s smart and confident in ways that few Disney princess are but, unlike other modern female princesses, Frozen doesn’t actively try and re-inforce at every turn that she’s a “strong female character” (a term I kind of hate, by the way). She doesn’t have to pretend to be a man to be tough and, unlike Pixar’s Brave, she still acts like a young girl (nay, a human being)—she wants to find love, and is pursuing a handsome man to live out her life with. The film doesn’t penalize the more traditional aspects of her Disney princess roots (well it does, but not to the extent of Brave or Tangled at least), but it also doesn’t stop Anna from being a confident and compelling character. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Princess Anna isn’t just a strong female character by design—she’s a strong character period. But I digress—Frozen works for a number of reasons, but the way it subverts classic Disney expectations (well simultaneously praising some of them) is one of its greatest assets.
The CGI Feels Like A Necessity, Rather Than A Bland Hinderance
I’ve had problems with Disney abandoning the (mostly far superior) 2D hand drawn animation style of old and adopting a pretty “meh” CGI standard like the rest of its competetion but, I have to admit, I actually think the CGI was pretty well done in Frozen. Yeah it would have been nice to have some slightly better character models sure, but the thing that makes the CGI work in Frozen is how essential it feels to the film. Well something like Tangled could have been traditionally animated and benefited from the treatment, a lot of the effects of Frozen could only be born out of the more realistic looking CGI. Things like rocks becoming trolls or even the effects of ice and snow itself are much better felt through the use of CGI, and it helps that this is mostly fantastic computer animation to boot. I have my problems with the medium and it slowly making animation blander and blander but, in Frozen? I can’t deny that it kind of worked.
It Has A Compelling Theme, And A Very Touching One At That
But at the end of the day, everything that works in Frozen works because it goes to benefit its central theme, one that surprisingly gets little play in most animated features—sisterhood. Frozen is the story of two sisters who spent a lot of time together as children but, due to circumstances beyond their control, had their relationship strained and almost completely obliterated by the time the film truly begins. The rest of the movie is about the two rekindling that relationship, and the best parts of the film are the ones centered on the two characters (both through dialogue and through song). Well other modern animated fairy tales like Tangled and Brave were about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, I don’t think either film did a particularly good job of getting their central messages across, nor creating a compelling and emotional journey in the process. It’s a testament to the quality of Frozen’s script (and the superb voice work by leading ladies Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel) that the emotional moments of Frozen land, and land hard. And well you can boil down the central message of the film quite simply (the power of love yadda yadda yadda), it doesn’t make the journey that both of these characters go through any less compelling.
No matter how you slice it, Frozen is an absoulte success for Disney and one of the best animated fairy tales since the early 90′s. It has heart, humor, soul—pretty much everything I remember loving about Disney films as a child, really. The studios next release will be their very first Marvel comic adaptation Big Hero 6, directed by Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh). Will I be writing an article come next year about how it’s the best Disney movie in decades? Jury’s out on that one but, at this point, well—Frozen has set the bar pretty damn high.
Frozen is in theaters everywhere right now. It will probably crack my Top 10 of the year, and I highly recommend you seek it out for yourself. Don’t trust the trailers on this one, guys; it’s truly something special.