Frozen is as flat as its title. It is easy to see why Disney’s newest mediocre movie is a hit. The animated film is more serious than most family films. Characters are easy to tell apart. Source material is strong, themes are clear, music is melodic. But this film, like Disney’s other recent animated efforts, including Up, Wreck-it Ralph, and Tangled, remains an example of modern, jokey filmmaking. It’s prettier.
The story has great potential. Based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, the children’s storyteller whose The Little Mermaid was adapted by the studio in 1989 as a perfect work of art (read my review), Frozen sets up the tale of two sisters in a northern kingdom of faraway magic, trolls and love.
Royal sisters are adorable playmates as children. The older one is possessed of powers that can’t yet be controlled and, by accident, she hurts the younger sister. After the parents take the damaged girl to magical trolls in the distance, the younger child is healed (and her memory erased), the older is consigned to a lonely life of concealing her powers (which make everything frozen) and soon the sisters are separated at the castle, though only the older one knows why. Meanwhile, their parents, the king and queen, are killed in a storm at sea.
Everything happens too fast, without proper exposition, and this problem continues throughout Frozen, which plays as separate episodes strung together only by recognizable character types and, at the core, the forementioned simple and epic split to be resolved. It is rare to see sisters depicted as loving and misunderstood in pictures, and it is therefore easy to see why pent-up demand for this theme might fuel Frozen’s box office. Broadway-scale songs such as “Let it Go” and strikingly rendered scenes of winter, ice and stormy conflict add to the picture’s larger than life sensibility.
But the feeling is fleeting and unearned. The older sister is brooding as an adult and when she lashes out after meeting her naive younger sister’s intended husband she is too easily driven off into the wild, where the popular song is delivered in a beautiful scene that seems taken from another movie. “Let it Go” (sung by Wicked’s Idina Menzel) gets attention, as her character swings her hips and sashays about an ice castle made from raw anger born of liberation against repression, but the lyrics, style and show are too modern to match the character.
Where did the shut-in snow queen in waiting get the pipes, the manner and the wisdom of the song and its deliverance? The answer is as likely as what happens to another major character in a twist that’s so abrasive it distracts from other good scenes. The younger sister, too, alternates between clumsy and cavalier with no real development. A male character named Kristoff, Frozen’s best and most consistent and heroic character, has an indelible moment in childhood that is left dangling and unresolved. A cute animated snowman offers comic relief that is also too modern.
Frozen’s pace is ultimately too fast to make the final resolution involving. The climax is pasted together, with toilet jokes, stunning blue-white winter visuals, song performances that belt it out and that abrupt and unearned plot twist, and all ends happily, if superficially, ever after.