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Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Frozen

Directed by: Chris Buck
Jennifer Lee

Produced by: Peter Del Vecho

Screenplay by: Jennifer Lee

Story by: Chris Buck
Jennifer Lee
Shane Morris

Based on: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson

Starring: Kristen Bell
Idina Menzel
Jonathan Groff
Josh Gad
Santino Fontana

Music by: Christophe Beck

Editing by: Jeff Draheim

Studio(s): Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Release date(s): November 27, 2013 (United States)
December 6, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 108 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $150 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $544, 416, 204

I'm not one for the sappy celebratory tone or general gushiness, but I mean it when I say Happy New Year, not just for all of you reading this blog, but for myself, so yeah, if I'm gonna be celebratory, it may as well be self-celebratory. Kidding aside, I've been through a lot over the past three or four years, and evolved as a human being in so many different ways that I didn't think possible, and frankly I feel as confident and as good about myself as I have in perhaps my entire life. This self-satisfaction is going to culminate this year in a number of mediums, and while I hate to overhype, this is gonna be the year things start happening, so, Happy New Year, and keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie for review is Frozen, the fifty-third release in the Walt Disney Animated Classics line from Walt Disney Animation Studios. A computer-animated musical fantasy loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen, Frozen was released to great critical acclaim, with some believing it to be the best Disney musical release since the '89-'99 Renaissance of Disney, which saw the arrival of such canonical titles as The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. For those of you who don't know, I love Disney and grew up on an appetite on films from that Renaissance and many other classics such as Snow White, Bambi, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book etc (with unofficial helpings of the first and second Terminator films, Rocky, Rambo, RoboCop...), and to this day can still sit and watch them with a great deal of pleasure. Furthermore, the significant box-office revenue (over $500 million as it stands), while perhaps a sign of Disney's general monopoly of the North American animated scene, shows, along with last year's Les Miserables, that there is certainly a market for musicals and that there should be more of them, as opposed to it being an event any time one of them is released. Directed by Chris Buck (longtime animator/designer/director for Disney) and Jennifer Lee (a first time director, first female to ever direct a Disney animated film, also the principal screenwriter), Frozen tells the story of two princesses, one of whom, Elsa (Idina Menzel), has the ability to manipulation ice and the cold, but after a disastrous coronation, during which Elsa reveals her powers, she estranges herself from her kingdom of Arendelle. The second of these princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell), sets off with a mountain man who sells ice, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), to find her sister and stop the eternal winter she has inadvertently unleashed upon her kingdom. Got it? Good!

To start with the good, Frozen is a beautifully animated movie. From my experience and knowledge regarding the medium, snow is one of the most complicated things to render in computer animation, and the work here is flawless. When we watch the characters run through or fall into the snow, the appropriate shapes form, and the way that the snow works it's way around the environment during the eternal winters sequences is frankly incredible. Also, the craft of the locations such as the castle of Arendelle and the ice castle are of a high standard, while the design of the characters is expressive and appropriate. You have the juxtaposition of the two princesses, one of whom is a blonde wearing gloves to control her powers, while the other is a redhead with a grey streak from a childhood accident involving these powers. Furthermore, these princesses are not just foils for their male counterparts, but are strong, pro-active women more than capable of making their own decisions and picking up the slack. Speaking of the design, but also the script, for a change the comic relief in an animated movie is just that, comic, Sven the reindeer and Olof the snowman being responsible for many genuinely hilarious moments. The dialogue is sharp and full of little double entendres, making for some of the funniest things I've seen in a film this year, and the character's are deftly devised. When you get strong characters and dialogue together, it's a good thing. The principal voice cast are on real form as well. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are both engaging and sympathetic in their parts as the two princesses, and it is both through the script and their performances that we are able to develop a rapport with these characters. Also, as mentioned, I loved the character of Olof the snowman, and Josh Gad does a wonderful job that is toned just right. Olof is a character that could have been overdone and ended up annoying like Eddie Murphy's Donkey in the later Shrek incarnations, but instead he is humorous, charming and responsible for some of the film's best moments. You can feel the enthusiasm Olof has to see a summer through Gad's enthusiasm in the song In Summer, and this has a little twist considering we all know that the poor bugger would be doomed to melt in such conditions. On hand to write the film's songs and musical score, we have Christophe Beck in the traditional film composition role, someone whose work normally gets on my nerves, but as far musicals go, as we have seen with 2012's The Muppets, he has a penchant for this genre, and ten original songs written by husband-wife duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. These songs represent as a collection arguably the best written for a Disney musical since The Lion King. Full of memorable tracks such as Do You Want Build A Snowman?, For The First Time In Forever, and the highlight of the movie, Let It Go, performed with such magnanimity and gusto by Idina Menzel (who was wonderful as Elphaba in the original Broadway production of Wicked), Frozen's aural landscape with the Lopez' and Beck is among the most refreshing and invigorating in recent memory.

Here's the thing though, despite the fact that there were a lot of good things going for Frozen, there was a rather large flaw that was prevalent throughout the piece, and that was the script by Jennifer Lee. Yes, the dialogue is humorous, yes, the songs are terrific, but the script itself is poorly padded and shows itself to be simplistic in light of all the other great things going on. For all of the subversion of conventions which many critics have shed light upon, it is still fundamentally a rather conventional Disney musical. The story of the princesses looking for true love, resplendent with the comic fodder of Kristoff, Sven the reindeer and Olof the snowman, however charming, is nothing we haven't really seen before. Also, apart from one little deviation, the story moves in rather predictable ways, each of the plot points hitting the spots that many others have before. Don't get me wrong, Frozen is still an enjoyable movie, but you do have to take it with a pinch of salt to really go with it, whereas I was distracted by a bald man's phone shining off his head as he played a game while he used The Strand cinema to babysit his children.

Nevertheless, while it does have a script with a structure that could have been churned out on a conveyer belt from the Disney factory, Frozen is still a very good, very enjoyable, very entertaining film. It's a beautifully rendered animation, especially considering how hard it is to do snow in computer animation, the primary voice cast are all on fine form, the dialogue, particularly with the comic relief in Olof the snowman, is sharp and witty. Finally, what has gotten Frozen its (perhaps ironically) warm reception is the aural landscape, with a score by Christophe Beck and the Lopez' crafting ten songs, which in terms of Disney musicals, is the best since The Lion King. The fact that so many people have flocked to see Frozen shows that, for all its flaws, there is still a feasible market for musicals in contemporary cinema.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Half asleep (don't know how, managed to sleep in)

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