I'm not going to declare a Disney Renaissance just yet. One movie just isn't enough. But! Disney's Frozen is a step in the right direction at last. I'll try to stay spoiler free in this review, but I can't make any promises. It's an incredible film that's deserving of all the praise its received so far, and this is coming from someone who saw the trailers and said “Oh. Disney's doing a Christmas movie.”
Frozen is a love story, but it's not a love story about a princess and a prince. It's the tragic love story of a sister suffering from oppressive fear and anxiety and her younger sister desperately trying to reach out to her to comfort her and help her through her illness. The movie builds this up in a number of striking images. The opening sequence during the parents funeral, where Elsa has hidden herself away in her room demonstrates a character afraid to face the world outside her room. The mantra that becomes a bit of a motif in the first two acts of the movie “conceal, don't feel” is a concept any sufferer from anxiety or depression, myself included, would be familiar with. The idea of hiding your emotions, bottling up what you're feeling so that other people aren't worried, is clearly something Elsa builds up for herself as a defence against the destructive potential of magical powers. This is aided by the connection between her magic and her emotions. When she's happy or feeling strong positive emotions, her magic is creative and even beautiful, as seen in the very famous “Let it Go” scene where she builds her ice palace, and the scene in the very beginning of the film where Elsa and Ana are playing, as well as in the very last scene, where Elsa builds an impromptu skating rink complete with beautiful ice sculptures in the fountains, in contrast to the wicked and twisted fountain she creates when she's first outed as a sorceress.
The movie plays a lot with typical Disney conventions, but never once feels hateful or disparaging of Disney in the way that Shrek did, and also manages to continue feeling like a Disney film. Although I have heard at least one reviewer criticize the animation, saying at times the main female characters felt too “doll-like” for him, I have to say that the animation in this film is incredible. The faces of Ana and Elsa are extremely expressive and engrossing. The men have less expressive faces, but as the main focus of the action is on Ana and Elsa I rarely noticed. The expressiveness of the two main character's faces really helps you to feel for the characters and helps you feel their ups and downs. In particular, Elsa's expressions demonstrate pain and fear extremely well, allowing for subtlety that's so rare in animated films. I also have to commend the animators on the way fabric and hair moves in this film. The dresses and capes let the movie feel dynamic and lively, and they flow realistically. In particular, the image where Elsa is feeling across the swiftly freezing fjord is striking and gorgeous, aiding in the over all epic feel of the film.
A large part of this emotional draw however comes from the cast. Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, is a character I thought I was going to loathe but never quite gets to a point where he's annoying and instead manages to actually serve a purpose in the movie. Rather than using screaming and over-the-top wonky-bonkers comedy, he uses a quiet voice for his best lines. Kristen Bell brings an energy and a youthfulness to Ana, while still being a loveable and relatable character, a beautiful contrast to Idina Menzel's reserved, regal, and suffering Elsa. Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff who is another alumni of Glee, does a good job as Kristoff, and has excellent comedic timing and plays off of Kristen Bell well.
That said, the film is by no means perfect. The first moment that I really disliked was the song “Fixer Upper” sung by the trolls. Unlike most of the songs, it does little to movie the story forward and feels largely like filler. While the scene itself serves some purpose, the role of the trolls feels like it either really needed to be condensed or expanded. For the most part they serve as McGuffin's to explain how Elsa's magic works, and the song felt pretty useless except for a few lines that could have also been delivered well in simple dialogue. This marks the beginning of what is largely a weak third act. There is one twist in this scene that I felt was pretty ridiculous and unearned. At this point, if you don't want spoilers, please turn away now.
Are the “no spoilers, plz” people gone? Good.
Prince Hans, it turns out, is evil. Not necessarily a bad thing, as it becomes necessary as part of the set up for the second big twist, but at the same time it felt unearned. The third act desperately tries to set up its climax, and that's where most of the weakness comes from. To quote Eudora Welty “The hardest thing ... is getting people in and out of rooms.” In this case, instead of getting people in and out of rooms, its getting them all onto the frozen fjord. But the pay off makes it all worth it, and the climax contains easily one of the most powerful images I have ever seen in an animated film, and a striking testament to the strength of love. Not romantic love, but the love of family and of siblings.
Frozen is a powerful movie, with gorgeous imagery, a strong moral that everyone can agree on that still manages to be delivered in a powerful way.