Listen, Elsa. Your power will only grow.
There is beauty in it, but also great danger.
You must learn to control it.
Fear will be your enemy.
In the northern kingdom of Arendelle, two young princesses play in the middle of the night. The elder sister, Elsa, was born with the ability to create ice and snow with the wave of her hands, which delights the younger, effervescent Anna. When Elsa slips and accidentally blasts Anna with her icy magic, the King and Queen race Elsa and Anna into the deep woods to seek help from local trolls. The father troll heals Anna, but removes her memories of Elsa's magical abilities. He also warns Elsa that her powers are beautiful, but dangerous. Elsa's greatest enemy will be fear.
The King and Queen immediately shut Elsa away from the rest of the world, closing the castle gates to keep her powers secret. To keep her safe. Elsa, in turn, locks herself away from Anna, who doesn't understand why her best friend doesn't want to play anymore. As the years pass, Anna tries less and less to repair the broken relationship with Elsa, who fears not only her powers, but also any emotions which may cause her powers to flare.
Years later, when the girls have become women, Arendelle opens its doors for Elsa's coronation as Queen. Elsa (Idina Menzel) dreads the ceremony, for she must remove her gloves, the very gloves she believes will hold back her monstrous power. Anna (Kristen Bell) is jubilant; she's been alone for so long she's starved for attention. The coronation is to be her first party ever. All the food and dancing and... handsome suitors. What if she meets one today?
What if she meets The One?
Enter Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana), who literally sweeps Anna off her feet. It isn't long before Anna decides she's found True Love and marches in to get Elsa's blessing. Elsa, meanwhile, is struggling to keep her powers at bay, so when Anna announces her engagement to a man she just met, the two begin an argument that boils over when Elsa freezes the floor and fountains in front of all their guests.
Elsa is horrified. Anna is confused. And the people -- lead by the arch, villainous Duke of Weaseltown (Wezelton!) -- declare Elsa a monster and a sorcerer. Elsa flees across the fjord, freezing the bay and (unintentionally) turning summer into a permanent, never-ending winter. The Duke wants to send his armed men after the monster, but Anna convinces them to hold back, telling Prince Hans to keep Arendelle safe from the Duke's greedy hands. Anna fearlessly sets off alone to bring her sister home and save the kingdom from the deep freeze. Along her journey, she picks up a few sidekicks -- a mountain man named Kristoff, a reindeer named Sven (who does NOT talk), and a talking snowman named Olaf. But, even with Anna's new friends, the questions remain, does Elsa want to come home?
Does she even know how to stop the winter?
Winner of two Academy Awards -- Best Animated Feature Film & Best Original Song, for 'Let It Go' -- 'Frozen' is the 53rd animated film produced by Walt Disney Studios Animation. It has earned more than a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, making it the most successful (non-sequel) animated feature film of all time. And boy does it deserve every penny.
Co-directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, who share story credit with Shane Morris (Lee also wrote the screenplay), 'Frozen' was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Snow Queen', a project Walt Disney himself wanted to make some seventy years earlier. What we have now is both wonderfully modern and classically Disney. Wait, that's not exactly right. A better way to describe this computer-animated fairytale-musical is to say it is classic era Disney fairytales from the '30s and '40s... fused with the blockbuster Disney musical renaissance of the early '90s... animated with the tools of post-modern PIXAR CGI. Its closest sibling is probably the revisionist 'Tangled'.
So why is everyone gaga over 'Frozen'? There are numerous reasons, of course. What we really have here is: two incredibly complex and dynamic lead characters (more on why they're important below) tucked into a tightly structured story, tons of instantly catchy songs, universal themes to which we can all relate, and a clever mix of tones that balance serious emotions with an utter lack of cynicism and clever jokes.
Character, character, character is at the heart of every great story. You can make movies pretty, edit them with tons of whiz-bang bluster, and build engaging atmosphere, but without great characters, the experience remains empty. Everything -- every single beat and moment and motivation -- in 'Frozen' is set in motion by one key (and reasonable) mistake. The King and Queen, in trying to protect Elsa, doom her to meet her destiny on the road they're taking to avoid it. By locking Elsa away, Elsa becomes so terrified at connecting with other people, she avoids her magic to the point that she is a danger, because she never learned to control her growing power. For Anna, the seclusion, especially from her sister, makes her far too eager to quickly over-commit to strangers. These combined fears -- fear of emotion and fear of NO emotion -- spin this whole story. What's particularly wonderful is how many mistakes our two leads make. We don't love them because they're already awesome. We love them because they mess up, learn from their mistakes, and ultimately want to make themselves better, even if they don't always realize it. Another great choice was to avoid making Elsa a full "villain". Who hasn't done something wrong out of fear (or with the best of intentions)?
Because of the strong leads, you might always not notice the airtight script. We can't get into structure too deeply without openly discussing the ending, but let's just say in subsequent viewings, the film is even MORE impressive (from a story standpoint). All the themes of love and fear, all the Disney tropes of true love's kiss and handsome princes, all the magical proclamations of fate and destiny, are all put to use and pay off in really surprising ways. Will some people figure out the twists? Sure. But I'm pretty darn good at calling a film's entire structure in the first ten to twenty minutes, and 'Frozen' kept shifting my expectations again and again. This is a film that knows the Disney genre, and improves it.
Next, we can talk musical numbers. It's been a while since we've had a true blockbuster Disney musical, and this one -- much to the chagrin of parents carpooling daughters and sons everywhere -- is a home run. These songs, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, drive the story forward, condensing timelines and given us a thematic understanding of our characters' desires. They're also super pop-catchy and a lot of fun. Three things stood out in this musical department. One, Kristen Bell is a terrific singer. Who knew? Two, someone call congress to have Idina Menzel's pipes declared a national treasure. You may have seen Ms. Menzel on the Oscars, or on 'Glee', or perhaps you were lucky enough to see her on Broadway in the original casts of 'Rent' or 'Wicked', for which she won a Tony Award. Between "Let It Go" and "For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)", Menzel's voice is an unrivaled powerhouse. Seriously, whenever her musical numbers end, I want to do a one-man standing ovation. Third, the filmmakers were so smart to include the snowman, Olaf, played by Josh Gad from 'The Book of Morman'. Olaf's solo number, "In Summer", is a nice break from the darkness and action. He's also a scene-stealer of a character that, while not exactly the same, is akin to the Minions in 'Despicable Me.' What I love about Olaf is his enthusiasm for everything. To see the world, however briefly, through Olaf's coal eyes, is to experience wonder and joy. Given how well this movie has done, the world is going to see a lot of Olaf in the coming years -- for better or worse.
Lastly, I wanted to chat about how important 'Frozen' is (and hopefully will be) to generations of young women. Yes, 'Frozen' is definitely a movie for everyone. I seriously mean that. But underneath the story and the fun and the singing and the action, 'Frozen' might be the finest example of cinematic Girl Power... well, ever. It certainly is within the Disney oeuvre. Obviously, Girl Power is a fairly reductive term, but I hope as I dig a little deeper here, it's clear there is no intention to "reduce" anything or anyone. It's also important to say that because 'Frozen' is pro... let's say female empowerment, does in no way mean it's anti-anyone else. So no one freak out.
That said, if you're a parent and you have daughters, I can't think of a better Disney Princess movie that puts female characters ahead of every single male counterpart in the film (maybe the 'Tinker Bell' series too?). Honestly, this is incredibly rare in a hundred and fifty million dollar blockbuster. 'Frozen' takes everything we know about the Disney Princess, and gives it a modern twist. I recently reviewed 'The Little Mermaid' and, though not everyone agreed (totally fair, by the way), it really struck me how comparatively-passive Ariel was in the second half the story. When you dig into 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Aladdin', 'Sleeping Beauty', 'Snow White', and many others, it's striking how little the heroines do during action-packed climaxes. To be clear, they're not horrible characters (especially in certain historical contexts), nor does everything need to be changed to be more modern, nor do these Disney Princesses literally do nothing. But almost every one opens with a story about a strong young woman looking for an adventure. She then goes on one and, along the way, meets her true love. When the fit hits the shan, the movie jumps to the Handsome Prince -- because the Princess is a captive or, worse, unconscious -- as he fights the Evil Queen and/or Monster to save the day. It's not inherently wrong, and sometimes, with characters like Aladdin or Beast, they're also lead characters, so it's less of a unwarranted shift.
But our girls deserve better. They deserve their own heroes.
Yes, I know there are female heroes out there. What I'm trying to say is that, when scripting female roles for big budget feature films and animated movies (especially ones catering to the young female demographic), we'll often get either the aforementioned dropped-from-the-action Princess (or Damsel in Distress), the sluggish and depressing Bella from 'Twilight', or Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
Instead, I would argue characters like Hermione from 'Harry Potter', along with Elsa and Anna, are much more interesting. Not because they are perfect or because they never need dudes (sometimes they do). Because they are three-dimensional and complex and flawed. They are heroic and foolish and hot-headed and wrong and strong and noble. And just when you think 'Frozen' is going to make itself about a heroic Prince coming to save the day, it turns back around and forces Elsa and Anna to take control of the story -- to take control of their destinies -- and fight for each other. These are the types of Princesses the modern world needs (and seems to be embracing in a very big way). And, hey, maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe 'Frozen' is just a great movie with great characters. I certainly don't mean to imply anything overtly political, nor do I mean to speak on behalf of women or mothers. I would just argue this motion picture is a cut above, and very, very special.
'Frozen' is an extremely entertaining animated musical that harkens back to classic Disney fairytales while putting a modern spin on things that may or may not be socially important. This is clean entertainment for the entire family. I loved every single frame of it, from the musical numbers to the action sequences to the sight gags, save for one thing. The end credits switch to a pop star version of "Let It Go", performed by Demi Lovato. I'm sure Ms. Lovato is a wonderful person, but compared to Ms. Menzel... it's a little underwhelming.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
'Frozen' is making its North American debut as a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD "Collector's Edition." Inside the "eco-LITE Vortex" case, you will find a Blu-ray, DVD, and the standard Disney booklet with instructions on how to access your Digital HD copy as well as a coupon for $7 off the film's soundtrack. FYI, the instructions specifically mention iTunes compatibility. In the past, I have also been able to unlock a VUDU copy, though I can't confirm this at present. HD trailers include 'Sleeping Beauty' Diamond Edition, 'Muppets Most Wanted', and 'The Pirate Fairy'. The Blu-ray Disc is Regions A, B, and C compatible.
At present, there is no planned 3D Blu-ray release for the US, but there is going to be a UK Blu-ray 3D, and the film is currently available in 2D and 3D via streaming services such as VUDU. HDD will be reviewing the UK 3D-Blu-ray release in early April. Cheers.
'Frozen' debuts on Blu-ray with an vibrant, top tier AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in the film's original 2:24:1 aspect ratio.
Aside from the slightest hint of banding during the Walt Disney Animation Studios logo, aka material NOT created for this movie specifically, 'Frozen' is another reference quality CGI animation Blu-ray. Your display's ability to reproduce the color white is sure to be tested here, as the movie balances many snowy landscapes during day and night sequences. Colors are bright and bold and beautiful, from the elegant costumes to the sparkling magical ice to the auroras in the night skies. Black levels are expectedly inky, in particular a semi-transparent sheet hung over a painting early in the film's running time. Detail and resolution are resplendent as well. To be fair, Walt Disney Animation Studios doesn't render textures in the almost-photo-realistic Pixar way, but wood grains and individual snow flakes and strands of hair make for a visual feast. There's so much to see in the 'Frozen' world, and all of it is here in a two dimension setting so clear, it feels somewhat three dimensional. In a word: gorgeous.
'Frozen' sings and roars its way onto Blu-ray with a dynamic 7.1 DTS-HD MA surround sound mix sure to please the LFE-addicts amongst us.
While 'Frozen' starts out a little light on aggression and grunt, that's okay. We're first rewarded with the room filling orchestrations of composer Christophe Beck, who partners with Norway's Frode Fjellheim for "Eatnemen Vuelie" ("Song of the Earth"). From there we race through time and musical numbers where the voices are crystal clear and the effects nice and punchy. Once the action moves out of the castle's safety, the track really rises to the aural occasion. Blowing storms and growling wolves and wooshing sleds highlight the mix's articulate panning. And then there's the thunderous LFE. It first appears when Elsa creates, er, a new friend to guard her fortress of solitude ice castle, and my apartment was shaking (sorry, neighbors!) during the film's climax. It's definitely a lot of fun if you like that sort of thing.
For a film this successful, Disney has really dropped the Bonus Materials ball. Not only do we in the US not get a 3D Blu-ray, but there are a total of six special features (three HD exclusives are listed below) that clock in at less than 40 mins. What a shame, given the many Diamond Editions in the past.
'Frozen' is quite simply one of the best Disney Princess movies ever made. This engaging musical is firmly grounded in its classic Disney roots while blazing a new path. It is also an important display of fully-rounded female characters, balancing heroics and flaws and fears.
As a Blu-ray, the movie looks and sounds fantastic, with reference quality visuals and a thunderous 7.1 surround mix, but the overall package stumbles a bit because it lacks in the special features department and, in North America at least, there is no 3D version available. However, the movie is such a joy it's easy to overlook these potential drawbacks. If you don't care about 3D, this domestic Blu-ray recreates the theatrical experience wonderfully. However, if you're a fan of 3D visuals, you might want to order the UK 3D Blu-ray package. We'll be reviewing that early next month. Based on the film and this sparkling presentation, 'Frozen' is highly recommended.