Sunday, January 12, 2014

Frozen

movie review

Frozen ****

Voice cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Santino Fontana
Directed by: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Sisterhood takes centre stage when we are taken to the mythical Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle in Frozen, an animated musical fantasy loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, as Disney continues its tradition of making princess movies but gives the concept a little tweak this time around.

After she struggles to control her magical powers of creating snow and ice that can be both spectacular and dangerous, young Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) is told to conceal her abilities from everyone, including her younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), and consequently isolates herself, straining the relationship between the siblings as they grow up. But when their parents perish in a sea storm, Elsa is forced to re-emerge and accept the throne of the kingdom. Things, however, get out of control on the coronation day when Anna announces she wants to marry a man, Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), who she has just met. Elsa objects, triggering an argument, which results in her powers being exposed to everyone, as she inadvertently sets off an eternal winter on the Nordic kingdom and flees.

Anna then goes after her in the hopes of making everything right and bringing back summer. On the way, she encounters a reclusive mountain man and ice vendor Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his beloved reindeer Sven, who (very reluctantly) agree to join Anna and help her on her quest. Before they get to the ice castle that Elsa has created, they meet Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman the sisters built when they were children and who has now been brought to life, and who loves the idea of summer, charmingly oblivious of what it will do to him.

Together they must find Elsa, put an end to the winter, and mend the sisters’ relationship, all of which will ultimately rest on an act of true love that will thaw a frozen heart.

The writers (co-director Jennifer Lee is credited with penning the screenplay) have created some spunky, powerful characters who are struggling with their need for affection in their own different ways, and that makes them relatable and affecting. And their insecurities, and struggles with living in fear, being fraught with loneliness, not accepting who they are, and trying to protect the people they love make them more likeable and easier to root for. Elsa and Anna aren’t your typical Disney princesses, and the story breaks a few Disney clich├ęs, although it would have been even more impressive if the studio had been brave enough to wander even farther from convention while also trying something different as far as the looks of the princesses are concerned.

Frozen makes good use of celebrity voices that work well and don’t distract by being overly familiar. Kristen Bell is charming in the lead role, and is very likeable as the voice of the lively Anna. And Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and even Josh Gad have already demonstrated their talent on Broadway (and Frozen, in fact, could work really well as a stage musical), and each of them is great as their respective character’s voice in this movie.

The animation itself is stunning. You may think winter and snow would make a drab landscape, but Frozen shows just how gorgeous it can be. Elsa’s ice castle in particular is stunning, and everything in the movie is beautifully rendered.

The score (composed by Christophe Beck) and soundtrack (with the songs written by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez) are also impressive. The film features a number of well-placed songs that help explain how the characters are feeling, including Anna’s touching ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’, Elsa’s standout ‘Let It Go’ (which makes full use of Idina Menzel’s vocal prowess and explains why she was recruited for the role), the sisters’ ‘For the First Time in Forever’, Kristoff’s amusing ‘Reindeer(s) are Better Than People’, and Olaf’s comical ‘In Summer’.

At the film’s core, though, is a simple, straightforward story that has been stretched to a certain degree with some padding, both for running time and excitement purposes. That, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Olaf, for instance, seems to have been shoehorned in as the obligatory comic relief, but that would be a gripe if the delightful snowman wasn’t amusing, which he definitely is. The plot isn’t overly intricate, but the storyline is engaging, touching, and often quite funny; plus the film breaks away from some of the trappings of princess movies and its focus on sisterhood is refreshing. And it obviously helps that the movie is visually gorgeous and comes with a catchy, well sung soundtrack.

All in all, Frozen is a tale with plenty of warmth and a heart that’s definitely in the right place. It isn’t as creative and spectacular as some of the animated films we have seen in the recent past (particularly from Disney’s own subsidiary Pixar, which pretty much set the standard for animated features during the last decade when it was at its peak), but it is well made, perfectly cast, visually gorgeous, and comes with a number of positive messages, and young viewers as well as animation fans of any age are very likely to enjoy it.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 12th January, 2014

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