E’s film review: Disney’s Frozen

Frozen (PG)

Running Time 102 mins

Genre Animation, children (and those young at heart)

Voices Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds

Co-Directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Screenwriter Jennifer Lee

Story

The plot is linear enough. Elsa, the older sister has cryokinetic powers (the ability to create and manipulate snow & ice) but one day accidentally injures her younger sister Anna with it. From then on, her power is deemed a ‘curse’, resulting in her extended self-incarceration for fear that her burgeoning powers would cause harm to her sister and others. When her powers are revealed, she is forced to flee the castle – presumably, from a combination of her inability to accept that others will understand her due to years as a recluse and also her fear for the safety of others – whereupon said fear is then physically manifested by encasing the kingdom of Arendelle (ahem, Scandinavia) in an eternal winter. Naturally, Anna, the younger princess sets out across sprawling white winterland to bring back her sister.

Commentary 

The elements of a traditional Disney ‘princess’ tale are all there – true love’s first kiss, a dashing prince and beguiling princess(es) (who in more recent times have been injected with a dash of ‘feminist spunk’) battling one peril after another and on the way, encountering allies in the form of humans (here, Kristoff, a mountain man with a reindeer named Sven) and magical creatures, endowed with the gift of the gab (here, a winsome snowman named Olaf whose role is to provide both comic support and sage advice to the protagonists, as the occasion requires).

Let’s be clear here, Disney, like most well established behemoths of their industry, have followed the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This makes it difficult for Disney to create a batch of truly original characters that would appease the critic (and possibly, feminist) in all of us. Not to mention, the fairy tales which Disney draw upon to re-hash for the modern audience themselves have tendancies of depicting its heroines in a fragile-and-therefore-needs-to-be-rescued light. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t denounce Disney films altogether or say they lack originality. Instead, we should rejoice at how far the modern Disney princesses has evolved in more recent years (mostly, in response to the backlash from the viewers themselves) as seen in Tiana (The Princess and the Frog) realising that she did not need a prince to financially support her dreams, Rapunzel (Tangled) realising that she did not need others to fight her battles for her, and Merida (Brave) realising that you can’t just use magic to avoid having those awkward come-of-age conversations with the your folks (and often the misunderstandings which ensues are not worth it).

The contemporary Disney princesses  all encounter internal conflicts. They are not impervious to the human foibles of human error, familial clash, trust, naivety and self doubt –  in stark contrast to the first Disney princesses, who were more often than not perturbed by external forces as a result of their position at birth.

Disney may have marketed the film as a ‘feminist’ film, but in truth, it really isn’t.

Realistically, the word ‘princess’ can be taken out of this film and the essence of the film would remain. (side note: I’ve always wondered why Mulan was classified as one of the Disney princess even though she clearly isn’t – this only reinforces the notion that ‘princess’ is an arbitrary/easy terminology used merely to sell merchandises and proliferate the franchise with no real meaning other than, sadly at times, to be attacked by those who brashly associate it with patriarchal values).

On a personal level, I am greatly relieved that the central theme, which persists previous Disney films, steers away from love between a man and a woman (and in turn, the cause of unrealistic romantic and marital expectations everywhere) but something we can actually teach our kids, or rediscover whatever stage we are at in our lives. It is something so vital, and at times, so debilitating to our own success, and yet we have the greatest dominion over:

That our greatest adversary lies within ourselves.

Creative Team 

The film is co-directed by Chris Buck (TarzanSurf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph). Lee is the first female writer, not just at Disney but at any major animation house, to become a director.

That is not an easy road. See, the usual course is to start as an animator or story artist and slowly work up the ranks to eventually becoming a director. Lee also didn’t become a co-director immediately, she was employed by Disney/Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter to work on the script of Frozen, but was then meritoriously promoted to co-direct alongside Buck (probably because her success with Wreck-It-Ralph).

Another glass ceiling broken.

Visuals

Enough said.

Soundtrack

 The songs are compelling, and why wouldn’t they be. It took the married duo, Tony-award winning composer and lyricist Robert Lopez (Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, two years to flesh out the right songs. The result is lustrously theatrical and catchy numbers and at times, surprisingly cheeky lyrics. What’s even more sensational is that Kristen Bell not only voiced, but also sang her  own parts – who’d have known that she was classically trained and studied opera since a young age? I don’t think I have to say anything in relation to Idina Menzel – she’s a super-star in the musical industry (check her out in Wicked The Musical and Enchanted).

E’s Verdict: Another leap in visuals and characters. Disney uprooted for a modern audience. 7/10

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