US (2013) Dirs. Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
In the kingdom of Arendelle two young princesses Elsa and Anna live happily together until an accident separates them, a result of eldest sister Elsa possessing the ability to control ice and snow. A Troll King wipes Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers and suggests Elsa is locked away in the hope her powers will subside. Years later after their parents have passed away, Elsa is to be crowned the new Queen but an argument with Anna at the coronation party causes Elsa to reveal her hitherto hidden powers, inadvertently turning the entire kingdom into a winter wonderland. Distraught Elsa runs away to the hills so Anna sets off to retrieve her sister and return Arendelle to normal.
Predictably cleaning up at the Oscars and other awards ceremonies Disney’s latest CGI outing is loosely inspired by – but not a direct adaptation of – Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable The Snow Queen, which Walt Disney first planned to adapt way back in 1939! It’s a return to the classic formula of whimsical fairy tale characters and lavish musical numbers that made Disney’s films so popular and peerless for many decades, taking full advantage of modern animation techniques for a visually richer viewing experience.
It is also unashamedly twee and saccharine sweet with its central themes of love both familial and external. As youngsters the royal siblings are inseparable with Elsa’s icy abilities proving much entertainment for both. An accidental shot to the head of Anna puts her life in danger but the Troll King is able to cure this as it was the head – the heart is impossible to save if frozen. With her memories wiped Anna grows up apart from Elsa unaware of her sister’s powers, being lead to believe this is an act of snobbish self-exclusion.
The argument at the coronation is brought on when Anna meets Prince Hans, the thirteenth heir to the throne of the Southern Isles and they fall in love on sight. They ask for Elsa’s blessing who refuses on the rather reasonable grounds they’ve only just met. Anna mouths off that her sister is loveless old maid which is met by a response of a literal icy blast.
Ever capricious, Anna mounts a horse and heads off the mountains which are now snow covered, to find her sister. She leaves Hans in charge of Arendelle in her absence but soon launches a rescue mission of his own when Anna and her horse get separated, the equine beast returning home alone.
Anna is fortunate enough to meet ice seller Kristoff and his rather bulky reindeer Sven who aid Anna in reaching the ice palace Elsa has made for herself. Along the way they encounter Olaf, a snowman of Elsa’s creation which reawakens a dormant memory from Anna’s childhood of Elsa’s powers as witnessed at the start of the film. Much hilarity ensues en route to reuniting the sisters but the story isn’t quite over yet.
You may have noticed that a key antagonist has yet to be mentioned in the above plot summary, largely because it would be a spoiler to mention them at this juncture. But on the whole the main antagonist is actually Elsa’s powers, seeing as they have resulted in her freezing the entire kingdom of Arendelle and have brought nothing but misery to her life.
It’s an interesting premise for someone to feel cursed by a power and not use it for either altruistic or nefarious purposes. Similarly there is an absence of a power hungry miscreant who would wish to use these abilities to their own advantage, all of which leaves the story lacking a truly dramatic edge and something to drive things forward outside of the “love will conquer all” resolve we are obviously heading towards.
Since Disney has never really been about providing anything other than wholesome family entertainment this shouldn’t be much of surprise – unless they are still stinging from killing Bambi’s mother! This doesn’t detract anything from enjoying the film but it does leave us with a somewhat flaccid ending with a sense that little has really been overcome or resolved. The twist that comes might be predictable for some but it is well played in the wake of some masterful misdirection, but it comes a little too late, with barely thirty minutes left for it to be challenged and prevailed over.
This is really the only real cavil to hold against the film since everything else is the usual top notch presentation one comes to expect from Disney. The animation is exceptional with the lush snowy visuals looking a treat in HD on Blu-ray, suffused with whimsical flourishes to accommodate the fantasy aspect of the tale and Elsa’s powers. The character designs represent the modern take on the Disney model with a nod to the olden days, reflecting the film’s origins from yesteryear. And of course there are the songs which are plentiful, sometimes a little too frequent, but nonetheless enjoyable.
The two princesses have rather strong personalities keeping in the tradition of modern day Disney heroines, but still need a strong pair of male hands to support them. Anna is the stronger and more carefree of the two, a result of not being locked away for years, while Elsa is driven by different set of ideals. By comparison the males are rather bland while for many Olaf the snowman will be their choice of favourite cast member. He supplies the witty one liners and expected comic relief but I would also put in a good word for Sven the reindeer, who is just as amusing.
You can argue until the cows come home whether Frozen is Oscar worthy or not but it is another uniformly top end production from the perennial hit factory that is Disney that ticks all the right boxes for those want slick, simple but aesthetically pleasing entertainment.