Monday 18 November 2013

Frozen Review - Believe the Hype

Not that you would have believed it six months ago, when you couldn't find any decent advertising for the film to save your life, but there is a considerable amount of hype surrounding Frozen right now. The 53rd animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios has been called "Disney's best since Beauty and the Beast;” particularly coming off massive successes with Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph - in addition to critically acclaimed, if less financially impressive, films like The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh - there's a lot of expectation. Surely it can't be that good? Surely it's not all that? It can. And it is. I was extremely privileged to see the first UK screening of the film this morning, and can now tell you, with full confidence, to believe the hype. Frozen is the best Disney Animated film in about 20 years.

The film has been on quite the journey to get here though: Walt Disney and his team considered adapting Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen way back in the 40s, but couldn't figure out the title character and ultimately dismissed the idea. Going off the success of fellow Andersen adaptation The Little Mermaid, Disney Animation (back then it was still Walt Disney Feature Animation) put The Snow Queen back into development in the late 90s. That too fizzled out. 2010 brought another attempt, but still no one could get a handle on the project. The film seemed stuck in development hell. Then Chris Buck (Tarzan) was put in charge, Peter del Vecho (Winnie the Pooh) started producing, John Lasseter oversaw, the film became a CG project, and things just started to click. Later, Jennifer Lee (screenwriter, Wreck-It Ralph) was added as the film's second director. Then here we are.

The story of Frozen - while bearing little resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen's original The Snow Queen - is brilliant. Anna and Elsa are two widely different characters; varied and distinct, one outgoing and optimistic, one introverted and terrified, yet the two make one magnificent, enthralling, grandiose whole. Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) is tonnes of fun. The character - particularly her design - drew a lot of comparisons to Tangled's Rapunzel a while back, and certainly there is a bit of that in there. But that similarity will only be a fleeting thought, because she is thoroughly her own character: quirky, a bit dorky, a little rough around the edges, and fearlessly hopeful. Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) is an intensely layered character; having to deal with her immense powers and the effect it's had on those she loves has made her into an entirely different person, to the extent where she's shut everyone out ("Turn away and slam the door," as the film's central song says). Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Hans (Santino Fontana) and the Duke of Wesleton (Alan Tudyk) are all very enjoyable characters too, with clearly defined arcs. One of the film's most sincere delights, though, is - surprisingly, if you'd been subjected to the irritating advertising focused around him - Olaf. Voiced by Josh Gad (Jobs), Olaf is charming, funny, innocent, naïve and utterly, totally loveable; he honestly might be the most thoroughly loveable Disney character since Bambi's Thumper.

The story is a lot of fun (the songs in particular), and Olaf provides constant levity (but never becomes annoying or distracting like, say, the gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame), but it is really rather dark in places too. The first ten minutes or so features a lot of quite serious tones and ideas, and the path to the resolution of the film is very powerful and, at times, draining (and incredibly cinematic, too); it definitely bears resemblances to The Lion King in that respect.

Disney have actually done something that I don't often get the chance to praise with animated films, re the story of Frozen: they've kept it reasonably secretive. Most of Elsa's arc isn't touched upon in the trailers (not, I think, due to not wanting to advertise her, so much as wanting to maximise enjoyment and surprises for people watching the film), and the majority of the last two thirds of the film (and, in fact, the very start of it) will be a complete surprise to most people. It certainly was to me.

The visuals aren't as breathtaking as that of, say, Pixar's Monsters University (Pixar films do tend to be the most visually impressive when it comes to CG), but it is absolutely top-quality nonetheless, and the animation is fluid and impressive. Elsa's magic snow, in particular, is visually spectacular. Though some of the eyes, strangely, I thought seemed a little unfeeling in places; for instance, I thought Elsa's eyes felt a little dead at times. It was a mild quirk, but it kind of took me out of the film a little. But that's pretty minor, the only major gripe I really had the film was the 3D: it was completely ineffectual, to the extent that I didn't even notice it for the majority of the film. Alas, for the sake of enjoying the accompanying short film (more at the bottom of this review) in its full glory, you kind of need to see the film in 3D.

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee co-helmed the film, and both deserve big props for the brilliant execution. Some worried about what it meant for the film's progress when Lee was added as second director, but clearly there's no negative impact on the end result. It's clear from this Bleeding Cool interview, though, that it was mainly a time matter, and that Lee was added, thanks to her quick, implicit understanding of the film and story, to help get things finished. "In story planning we’re always together," said producer Peter del Vecho. "That's myself, the head of story, the songwriters and Jen and Chris; you can't do anything until you get that story working. But after that, we have the ability to keep Jen working on story while Chris is working on animation, and then they come together again in editorial.”

This year's been a bit of a downer for animation; particularly after 2012 brought great films like Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman and The Pirates!, 2013's been a little uninspired, with decent-to-good films like Epic and The Croods, alongside the odd really good film like Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University. I thoroughly enjoyed Monsters U, but it was a much more modest films than some of Pixar's best. Frozen is the first animated film this year to really wow me. It's also worth noting that this is the third consecutive year that WDAS' film has bested Pixar's; not to say I think Pixar are missing something of late, Disney are just on tip-top form right now!

As you may have gathered, this is a rather gushing review; there's a lot to praise - story, characters, direction, it's all top-notch - but what I want to hammer home the most is just how fantastic the songs in Frozen are. I loved The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, and, while they did have some really good songs, Frozen has the sort of songs that the Disney Renaissance was packed with. Kids seeing Frozen this year will be belting out "Let It Go" and "For the First Time in Forever" in ten years' time in the same way that we all sing "Part of Your World" and "Circle of Life" now. While "Love is an Open Door" feels a little cheesy and High School Musical-ish, it is in fitting with Anna's über-optimism and the general tone of that section of the film. "Fixer Upper," sang much later on in the film, certainly seems to channel the same barmy energy as Beauty and the Beast's “Gaston” or Tangled's "I've Got a Dream" - ditto for Olaf's hilarious "In Summer" solo. "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and the cute, emotional, narrative-driving scene that encompasses it was also one of the highlights of the film for me. It's worth noting that some of the songs did have a slightly operatic, Les Mis-y tinge to them too - like, for instance, the reprise of "For the First Time in Forever."

The music in Frozen really is the perfect combination of a lot of great factors: husband and wife duo Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez's (The Book of MormonWinnie the Pooh) utterly phenomenal songs, fantastic singing by, in particular, Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell, and a great, powerful score by Christophe Beck (Paperman) add up to an unforgettable musical sensation. The music will be in your head for days, weeks and years to come. Now the wait for the soundtrack to be released just got a little more excruciating...

To cut back to the chase, Frozen is a triumph: a musically thrilling, narratively gripping, gleefully enthralling feat of animated excellence. It’s the best Disney film since The Lion King and, yes, it is the best animated film of the year.


Frozen is released in the US on 27th November and in the UK on 6th December.


*If you want to go into Get a Horse! completely blank, skip this paragraph*
It's a tradition Disney are returning to (similarly to their sibling studio Pixar), and the short films preceding WDAS releases (starting with The Ballad of Nessie before Winnie the Pooh, and followed by the superlative Paperman before last year's Wreck-It Ralph) have all been of great quality. The latest, Get a Horse!, continues that trend. Directed by Lauren MacMullan (The Simpsons; animator, Wreck-It Ralph), Get a Horse! was inspired by some recently discovered Mickey Mouse drawings and vocals by Walt Disney, and features hand-drawn traditional animation (supervised by Disney vet. Eric Goldberg) designed to mimic the original 1928 style. It then transitions into stereoscopic, colour CG, with the characters bursting through a fourth wall screen into the 'audience'. This is the sole reason to see Frozen in 3D; it's an unabashedly fun and vintage cartoon, but the 3D definitely adds to the whole experience. It's not as layered as Paperman, but it's a whole lot of fun.

Stars at the UK premiere of Frozen (left-right): Radio 1's Jo Whiley and daughter;
Doctor Who and Star Trek Into Darkness star Noel Clarke; Wicked star Willemijn
Verkaik at the screening. Via Daily Mail.

The whole event was perfectly put together. The screening was held in the massive Odeon Leicester Square in London, with cameras and press on hand to attend the British star-studded event, including Bill Oddy, Jo Whiley, Mickey from Doctor Who, Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson and more! Reindeer, fake snow, giant Olafs and more completed the image. Then, after they showed Get a Horse!, we were treated to a roof-blowing-off live rendition of "Let It Go" by the brilliant Willemijn Verkaik (Elsa in the Dutch Frozen, and Elphaba in the West End version of Wicked starting tomorrow). All in all, it was just a really good day! Thanks again to Disney UK for the top-notch show and the invite.


  1. I'm so thrilled that all the hype was worth it! And best of all, I'm glad much of the plot wasn't spoiled in trailers... I love cinematic twists and turns. Can't wait to see this film, which is sounds like it'll as wonderful as I hoped!

  2. This movie will be amazing!!! I've really been getting excited for it, and I can tell it's going to the one of Disney's best films ever made :D

  3. I mean, I'm always cautious about giving super-positive reviews, because I'd hate someone to enjoy a film less because I've over-hyped it for them. But I went into Frozen with *really* high expectations, and still enjoyed it a tonne! So, yeah, it's great.

  4. Meh thought it was boring, The Lion King will always be the best Disney Movie for me