From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.
This one, timed as Frozen II arrives in cinemas, is from April 15th, 2016…
It’s hard to imagine a film, let alone just a Disney movie, which has had more of an impact on pop culture in recent years than Frozen.
A loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee’s film went on to be a behemoth almost beyond reckoning; now sitting ninth in the top ten grossing films of all time, with Academy Awards at its feet and songs such as ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’ that have evolved beyond the movie into TV musical talent shows and pop singles etc… it’s without doubt the biggest and most beloved of Disney musicals since the early 90’s successes of Beauty & the Beast or The Little Mermaid, indeed it almost feels at times like a throwback to both that age of Disney musical and the 1960’s classics beforehand.
Frozen, in fairness, deserves to stand toe to toe with such legendary musicals, as beyond the fact the animation is second to none, the whole piece is an absolute delight of a picture; brilliantly written and well performed songs that stay in the memory, terrific performances from Kristen Bell in particular as the voice of Anna, and a genuinely fun, witty script which tells a classic story damn well.
Frozen may have a strong romantic thread running through the core, with the dynamic between Anna and ice-salesman sledder Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), but it’s really a movie about the power of grief and how sadness and isolation can transform everything around you.
The paw prints of Pixar legend John Lasseter are all over this film, which like the best animated pictures tells a very tough, human truth at its fluffy core, and Frozen’s comes through would-be Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), gifted with the Rogue from X-Men-esque power that she can’t touch anything without it turning to ice, and as a child she shuts herself away for fear of hurting little sister Anna in particular. After her parents—the only people who knew of her secreted power—die in a tragic shipwreck, Elsa’s isolation until adulthood before on the day of her coronation as Queen of beautiful Scandinavian principality Arendelle, her emotions boil over and she cascades the world around her into ice as she flees into the mountains.
It becomes a classic story of love driving Anna to desperately attempt to save her sister before her power darkens and begins to consume her soul – though it’s a testament to Lee’s script that Frozen never makes Elsa the villain, rather the victim of her own sadness, and the fact it equally makes she & Anna strong women proves its brilliance.
The whole story doesn’t quite unfold the way you might think either, in a positive sense. Sure the driving central, sparky romantic dynamic of Anna and Kristoff has been told a thousand times before, but its so genuine and heartfelt you feel the chemistry between them leap off the screen. It helps that Bell imbues Anna with such depth; she’s quirky, a bit clumsy, but she’s determined and caring and tough to boot – just a wonderful female icon for children especially to look up to.
Her arc is one of a journey which allows Buck & Lee to sweep up a varied amount of fun supporting characters along the way – Hans, a foppish foreign prince charming, Sven a wonderfully expression-filled reindeer who feels akin to Bullseye the horse from the Toy Story films, and especially Olaf who’s a quite brilliant creation, voiced wonderfully by Josh Gad; a snowman from Elsa’s imagination, conjured by her magic when the ice falls, he’s a terrific conduit for Lee to sneak in lots of dry, witty moments as he bumbles along with delightful cluelessness at who or what he is, with a dream of experiencing summer. He’s frequently hilarious, as are many of the characters interactions with each other, meaning there is so much here for adults too beyond the story, romance or the musical numbers.
You can see once you watch Frozen why so many people took it into their hearts, as it’s genuinely a delightful experience; full of memorable songs and fun moments, lots of dry humour with the odd adult joke, and a simple but fine story with indeed a few strong twists along the way, you are left caring about Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee’s characters in a way you may not have done since Belle or Ariel & Sebastian.
It reminds you of simpler Disney days and that’s something to cherish. Quite how the sequel will top this is an open question…