The success of Disney’s animated behemoth Frozen is something that was hard to imagine last November. The studio had not put a lot behind the film’s marketing campaign (save a misleading trailer that focused on comic relief characters Sven and Olaf) and sandwiched the release between two major box office guarantees, the sequels to The Hunger Games and The Hobbit. But, audiences of young girls and their parents could not get enough of the touching story of two sisters, as well as the delightful musical numbers. (We really need to let it go with all of the “Let It Go” videos online.) Word-of-mouth quickly spread and at the time of the film’s Blu-Ray and DVD release, it still lingers in the lower part of the weekend box office Top 10 – 16 weeks after it opened. Also, the film is the biggest animated hit in Disney’s history, internationally (although it’s probably sold about roughly the same number of tickets as Aladdin state-side).
Frozen is certainly an appealing film, although there’s something missing from Disney’s newest animated classic that would catapult it to the upper echelons of the studio’s finest modern efforts, like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Mulan. Like The Little Mermaid, Frozen is a loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story (a bit of trivia: the names of three characters in the film derive from that author’s name). In fact, Walt Disney had been trying to figure out how to crack Andersen’s The Snow Queen since the late 1930s, but to no avail. Nearly 75 years later, directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (co-screenwriter of Wreck-it Ralph) revised the story’s gothic roots into a tale of female empowerment. Does it work though? Yes, or at least, for most of the time.
For the dozen of you who hibernated through winter and did not catch it on the big screen, Frozen centers around Arendelle, a Scandinavian kingdom ruled by Queen Elsa (voiced by Broadway legend Idina Menzel). As a child, Elsa was gripped by magical powers, allowing her to create ice, frost and snow from the flick of her fingertips. However, an accident with these powers also freezes the heart of her younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell, as an adult). Elsa is locked away from her sister for much of her youth, hoping to learn how to control her powers. On Coronation Day, Elsa reacts strongly to Anna’s decision to marry a handsome suitor, Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), that she just met a few hours before. Provoked and slightly jealous of her sister, Elsa unleashes her chilly grip and freezes Arendelle, resulting in the land falling under an eternal winter.
The finest thing about Disney’s latest animated film is the maturity of the storytelling: almost nothing in it seems to pander to young kids. Remember, Disney mastered “family entertainment,” animated stories that appealed to parents and their children, during their Renaissance of the late 1980s and 1990s, through telling stories that evoked more adult themes (the loss of a parent in The Lion King, for instance). There is a dark, mystical backstory and a rousing adventure climax here that hardly makes the film feel like a princess fantasy.
On the bright side, Frozen subverts our expectations of the classical fairy tale ending – the heroic male does not rescue the damsel in distress – by foregrounding the relationship between Anna and Elsa at the climax. Although this moving conclusion has been praised as a “feminist” twist, it is also a bit of a contrived finish. For a film praised for embracing the ties of two sisters, Anna and Elsa hardly get any time together during the story. Their relationship feel slighted and even less developed than the burgeoning friendships Anna has with the two male protagonists, the manipulative Prince Hans and the sheepish, but sweet Kristof (Jonathan Groff). As a result, the heart-warming conclusion, while certainly a welcome surprise, feels unearned.
Thankfully, Frozen’s cracks do not break it entirely. The plot moves briskly and there are a number of emotionally resonant scenes. The comic relief, much of which comes from giddy snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), is well timed but does not distract from the story. Furthermore, both Elsa and Anna are good role models for young kids. Anna is headstrong, kind-hearted and determined to find her sister after she deserts the kingdom. She can stand on her own two feet and learns that she does not need a dashing prince to support her.
The songs from husband-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and EGOT recipient Robert Lopez hold up better on Blu-Ray than in the theatres – although that may be due to their ubiquity on the web keeping them catchy and constantly playing through the chilly winter. The highlights, besides the Oscar-winning tune “Let It Go,” are the poignant “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and the sly “In Summer,” as the snowy man with the warm heart imagines what it would be like to live in a warmer climate.
As expected from a contemporary animated film, the 1080p high-definition transfer is stunning. The Scandinavian landscapes, filled with snow-capped mountains and views of the Aurora Borealis, look magnificent. Meanwhile, a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is perfect to drown out the voices of the kids who may want to sing along to the soundtrack. From the rumbling as Arendelle natives cut the ice in the film’s opening scene to the rustling of the bitter winter winds, the sound mix is all-enveloping. It is an unsurprisingly flawless audio-visual presentation.
Over the past decade, Disney re-released several of their modern classics, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, on DVD/Blu-Ray for the first time. These releases came with hours of bonus material that featured contemporary interviews with archival footage from the making of those films. Since Disney’s classics have such a legacy in the world of cinema, these were invaluable glimpses at the genesis, challenges and creative decisions made that would go into an eternal classic. One expects that a film of Frozen’s stature will receive a more comprehensive behind-the-scenes treatment on a Blu-Ray disc someday, as this release had a rather scant menu of extras, which were a mixed bag.
First off is The Making of Frozen, which begins as a delightful twist on the regular making-of featurette. Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and Kristen Bell lead a three-minute song-and-dance routine with several youthful Disney animators, many of whom are dressed in light blue. The song lyrics hint that we are about to embark on a journey into discovering how the film came to be – except that once the buoyant number is up, the stars shrug and admit they don’t know how the film was made. Along with the rest of the dancing Disney crew, the stars walk off camera and the featurette ends. So… the build-up to this special feature turned out to be the only special feature here. I was expecting a “Reel Missing” image to pop up.
Nevertheless, there is a fascinating, if short featured called D’frosted: Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen. In this eight-minute segment, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee chronicle Walt Disney’s journey in trying to get an animated adaptation of The Snow Queen onto the silver screen. The filmmakers sit down with the wife of late Disney animator Marc Davis, who designed some sketches for a Disneyland attraction of an enchanted snow palace, inspired by Andersen’s work. Some of these drawings are magnificent and we notice how Davis’s artwork inspired some of the sets and costumes featured in the film. There are also some interesting tidbits about Disney’s hope to develop a Hans Christian Andersen biography and how elements of The Snow Queen were to fit in with that film. It is a satisfying behind-the-scenes look – although a bit short given the story’s 75-year journey to the screen.
Buck and Lee also introduce four Deleted Scenes, shown in their original storyboard outline – it is presumed these sequences were never rendered into animation. It is obvious to see why they were all excised. One shows Elsa behaving more like a typical Disney villain who shouts menacingly and murders people with snow and ice. According to the directors, Elsa was supposed to be more of an antagonist, but this was a short-lived prospect. Additionally, a dressing room scene shows Elsa and Anna interacting as they pick out dresses for the Coronation. Likely cut for pacing reasons, it would have been nice to see the characters have more screen time together. Finally, there are two short introductions for adult Kristof and Sven – one that shows the male as a heroic mountain man, the other as a news bearer who arrives in Arendelle to talk about Queen Elsa’s whereabouts.
Beyond this, the Blu-Ray features the Oscar-nominated animated short “Get a Horse!” that precedes the film in theatres, as well as the misleading teaser trailer for Frozen, featuring Sven and Olaf fighting over a carrot in a very slapstick-y routine. Finally, for anyone interested in hearing what “Let It Go” sounds like in other languages, Disney equipped the disc with four music videos of the Oscar-winning tune. One is of pop star Demi Lovato’s version, which plays over the end credits. Martina Stoessel sings both the Spanish and Italian versions, while another singer gets the chance to belt out the Malaysian adaptation. Sadly, these four music videos run nearly 16 minutes in total – more than twice the length of the “D-frosted” behind-the-scenes featurette.
Frozen is an enchanting animated film that falls just short of excellence due to an unearned emotional climax. However, with powerful tunes, memorable characters and dazzling animation, there is enough warmth and tenderness here to make it a movie that the family returns to again and again.
With catchy tunes and a heartwarming story, Frozen is another instant classic for the Mouse House – although given the film’s popularity, the slim number of bonus features on the Blu-Ray is a letdown.