Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Frozen": My SHORT Review (yes a longer one is coming soon) & the Elusive (but important) HCA Fairy Tale Reference

Note: I wrote most of my long review (of which this is an excerpt) at the beginning of December and am now finishing it at the end of the month/beginning of January. 

Well into the rounds of critical acclaim and nominations for multiple awards, I finally got to see Frozen, with the added bonus of my six-year old son coming along so I could see his reaction to it as well. And now, my review (the short version):

So.. it's not perfect. Structurally it leaves a lot to be desired and the songs felt rather "front loaded" but it was beautiful, no, actually it was gorgeous (even if it was hard to forget the main girls weren't actually dolls). It was also generally entertaining. And I have to take back every bad thing I ever said about the little snowman He was spot on - his humor was just the right amount of gentle comic relief and not at all the obnoxious character I completely feared he would be. Instead, without him the film would have suffered. My son now adores Olaf and I have a feeling Santa will be hunting down a big one for him for Christmas now... (Update: Santa came through and my son couldn't have been happier.)
I was also happily pleased to see a lot of the script* was well executed. (Note: by "script" I mean the dialogue as opposed to the story and plot construction, which is a different thing.) There weren't too many cliches, although it was a little heavy on the "tell" instead of letting the animation "show" us what we should know/be feeling, and the colloquialisms ("Wait, what?") got a little irksome. The story, however, while generally a good approach (yay, a sister story!), still had some pretty big holes, and a few cheats too which is a shame - just a few additional lines, some extra seconds of plot here and there would have taken this from a 3.5 star to a 5 star movie for me (I'll explain more in the long version of my review). 
One gigantic problem though: despite whatever the Directors insist in their interviews, this is not Anna's story but Elsa's. While Anna is a great character and we care very much about what happens to her, she doesn't have to change or learn anything of substance during the course of the movie. Elsa, on the other hand is a complicated, tragic character with a lot of pain, a lot to lose and has to go through a huge arc of change. Ironically, Elsa was like a personification of HCA's story (not to mention the Disney title) and could have embodied all its essence. That they didn't recognize this and adjust the movie accordingly is telling. (More on this in the long review.)
Elsa's, seemingly accidental development into a character of serious substance, is also the reason Disney is now unlikely to ever tackle an animated Wicked. Elsa/Elphaba - they really do share far more than just their voices...

So what about the Hans Christian Andersen Snow Queen references? Well, yes - I DID find some! Of course you have the "Queen" who can manipulate ice and snow and, of course, the vaguely used reference of a reindeer as a key helper/companion but the main fairy tale nod actually was quite key to the story. So much so, in fact, I'm going to have to tuck that part of the review under the jump as it contains spoilers...
✒ ✒ (SPOILERS AHEAD! Click the "Read more" link below for the HCA reference SPOILER AHEAD!) ✒ ✒

The most important reference to the original HCA tale by far was the ice (magic) piercing Anna - first her head and then, more importantly, her heart, and causing her to become "frozen".

At that point I actually thought: "OK, here we go, we're in for some good solid stuff now. This is going to make this fun movie a truly great movie.." But no.

Trouble is, despite everything said - and sung - throughout the film, the ice piercing Anna's heart didn't actually cause Anna-the-person to freeze - just her body to turn to ice (eventually), so they pulled the rug out from under THE VERY IMPORTANT CORE of the entire movie. Not only that, the message of "only an act of true love can heal a frozen heart", got well and truly muddled at the end when the magic rules the film set up didn't follow their own logic, thus weakening the whole film even more. All the possible layering of the title, Frozen, was flattened to it's most basic interpretation and, as a result, the ending was unfortunately very weak and dissatisfying. -sigh- (I'll explain more on that in the long review.)
Overall, though, I would have been proud to be on this movie if I were part of the crew because in most regards, it's very good. (I have a good idea of the battle it would have taken to keep the solid stuff in there and kudos to the Directors for fighting for those.) It's just so frustrating that small but very key changes could have made a massive difference across the board and knocked this one out of the park. So many people worked so very hard on this - and did a truly excellent job - but the story and structure let the rest of the film down. I'd actually like to see it again in 3D if I can. (Update: Now I have! I'm glad I did - additional notes on the 3D viewing in the long review.)

Elsa by escume

And yes - this is the short review!

If you want to read (even) more of my thoughts and a more specific breakdown, I'll post them very soon, but you get the idea. 

While Frozen was, I think, an excellent and solid attempt at evolving the storytelling - and the "princess model" - at Disney, it still played it safe. Despite this, it's clear that it's gotten fans thinking and inspired, and that they're filling in the gaps themselves and telling their own stories to great effect, which is a good thing. 

While Disney will never go back and do this "right" and make it the incredible story it could have been (and equal it with the technical "wow" this film has - gosh the effects are gorgeous and use of 3D was artful and sensitive too), what I'm hoping is that this effort heralds a new era in fairy tale storytelling at Disney and paves the way for something even better when they next retell the next one.


  1. Nice writing...I will see your next moves!

  2. Small (less important) reference: Hans Kristoff Anna Snow - Hans Christian Andersen

    1. Yes - Thank you! I don't think I've put this reference in a post on Frozen anywhere, although I believe it's Hans Kristoff Anna Sven. :) (And one day I will get around to posting my ridiculously long review too...)