Disney continues their non-Pixar hot streak
Loves: Animated movies, Bobby Lopez
Likes: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell
Dislikes: Chick flicks, simplistic comedy
Hates: Weak bonus content
Even so, when I saw the first trailer for Frozen, which featured a wordless battle for a carrot on an icy pond between a moose and a snowman, I immediately shot the film down as more of Disney's usual kid-pandering. That it would feature several Broadway-style musical numbers and was an adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen book, The Snow Queen, only served to further pre-sour me on the film. But, as the father of an excited young girl I want to develop into a cineaste, it was my duty to take her to the theater (though I admit I tried to pawn this trip off on my wife.) But once it started, and I heard Idina Menzel sing the words of Avenue Q genius Bobby Lopez, any resistance I had (pardon the pun) melted away quickly.
Frozen tells the tale of Elsa (Mendel), a young royal with the power to freeze things with her touch. When she accidentally uses this ability on her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), her parents lock her away to protect the kingdom from her touch, an imprisonment Anna, who was always close with Elsa, cannot understand. After some time, Elsa eventually emerges, but things don't go well, sending Elsa off into exile, the kingdom into unending winter and Anna in search of her lost sister, aided by an explorer named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff.) What's great, especially for the female part of the audience, is how the film doesn't rely on old fairy-tale tropes, despite a set-up made for them. Anna doesn't need to be rescued, she's not defined by her relationship with the dashing leading male and the solution to her problems isn't found in a kiss.
The biggest reason to watch Frozen though is to luxuriate in the Broadway-ready songs Lopez has written for stage veterans Menzel, Groff and Josh Gad (of Lopez' The Book of Mormon,) as well as Bell, who proves to be a fine singer in her own right. Naturally, it's Menzel who sets the tone with the Oscar-winning "Let it Go," which offers a high-point to match her career-defining "Defying Gravity" from Wicked. The film's soundtrack is more than its key anthem though, with several memorable numbers, from the heart-rending loneliness Bell exudes in "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" to the young love expressed in "Love is an Open Door" to the soaring duet Menzel and Bell share on "For the First Time in Forever." It's a bit ironic that Frozen works so well, since the dependence on show tunes is what made Disney films once seem stale, but apparently absence has made the heart grow fonder of musicals. Or perhaps it's just Lopez' talent.
Aside from the introduction of a race of Smurf-like mystical creatures, which are almost wholly incidental to the film aside from offering some deus ex machina opportunities, where the film could have taken a wrong turn is in the character of Olaf (Gad), a living snowman, who's paired up with Kristoff's reindeer pal Sven to create comedic relief (an element that's already in good supply through Bell and Groff's performances.) Gad is very good at lending the character that sense of ceaseless positivity that Jack McBrayer specializes in, but with more emotional heft, with the spotlight song "In Summer" clearly showing everything he brings to the film clearly. In Gad's hands, Olaf transcends the role of cutesy sight gag, and becomes a part that entertains kids on a surface level, but appeals to adults as well (along with delivering the film's biggest laughs.) It's emblematic of a studio that has embraced the Pixar ideal of delivering something for everyone watching, which has resulted in the original home of Disney animation matching and often surpassing the upstart of late.
The outstanding video on this disc is paired with an equally excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. The film, with all its bold music and epic mountain vistas is made for a strong audio presentation, and this delivery doesn't disappoint. You are placed in the middle of a maelstrom of aural activity that features crisp differentiation between the channels, precise placement in the surrounds, impressive dynamic mixing that moves the action around the room and strong presence in the low-end, which combined make the action scenes a fantastic experience. Voices, especially in the songs, are clear throughout and there are no issues with distortion, making for an extremely enjoyable and immersive listen.
Up next is "The Making of Frozen." This is certainly what fans would love to see, but when you notice it's only three minutes long, one wonders what they could cover. The answer is, basically nothing. Instead, we get to follow a trio of Disney Animation employees named Jonathan, Josh and Kristen on their way through the offices, as they happily sing and dance about going behind the scenes. Problem is, they don't ever do that, and there's nothing here that really does, so joke's on us. Even so, it's a fun bit of amusement.
The brief seven-minute "D'Frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen" does a better job of revealing more about the film, focusing on the history of the long-gestating film, which started development under Walt Disney, before eventually being made 85 years later. Directors Buck and Lee take the lead, talking to long-time costumer Alice Estes Davis, whose husband did original illustrations for a Disney attraction based on the Andersen book. The stories told here are very interesting, but the key is the beautiful archival art that's put on display. More material like this would have gone a long way with fans of the film.
Seven minutes of deleted scenes are next, presented via animated storyboards with voices, representing four moments cut from the film, including a look at a villainous Elsa (who really wouldn't have worked.) Buck and Lee return to provide introductions for each scene, explaining why they were cut, which should be mandatory for such features.
"Let it Go" has become a musical phenomenon, with everyone of YouTube offering their own interpretation. This disc includes four official variations (running a combined 16 minutes.) First up is a video for Demi Lovato's radio version, which looks like a Celine Dion video and doesn't quite match the greatness of Menzel's. Then Martina Stoesel offers a pair of nearly identical videos with the song sung in Spanish and Italian, while Marsha Milan represents for Asia with her Malaysian edition, which feature the most unique of the four video presentations. Honestly though, I'd rather have seen Menzel perform it in person.
Also in the set is the film's two-minute teaser trailer, and a code for a digital copy of the movie.
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