Monday, January 27, 2014

Frozen - It's Kind of Sort of a Little of a Disney Movie (...It's a Good Thing)

Well, as anyone up in the Northeast knows, two weekends back saw snow. Quite a bit.

I was meeting up with my girlfriend and we figured, hey, why not see a movie?

At that point, we were looking at two options: The Wolf of Wall Street or Frozen. Now, I will admit, cheeky fuckery DID give the latter an edge already. But to be honest, the reason we went with that came down to, at least for me, two big points:
1) she has already see The Wolf of Wall Street, so this way it was a new film for the both of us (for the record, she was fine with seeing it again. Just got asked to clarify that.)
2) I'm still gonna see The Wolf of Wall Street regardless. But that's also a film I can go into solo and not have anyone bat an eye. Anyone who knows me knows if someone looking like me walks solo into a movie like Frozen, the theater's staff are gonna be like "Keep tabs on that guy. Something's wrong here."

...I guess that's my roundabout way of saying that, yes, there will likely be a review for The Wolf of Wall Street here soon, and that, as the title suggests, today I'm reviewing Frozen.

This was a movie that I went into kind of unsure what to make of it. I mean, the promos seemed kind of vague, outside of the fact I felt like Olaf the snowman was gonna get old REALLY fast. Still, the film had been generating enough fairly positive buzz I figured it could be worth giving a shot. To my surprise, this surpassed what I was expecting. In fact, this film really feels like Disney is starting to try and shake off a lot of the more dated conventions that have become such common practice that they're practically punchlines. In fact, the center story at this is really surprising to see coming from Disney in some regards for how much it breaks from their traditions. Of course, it does have some of those more tried cliches that DO kind of hurt it. Not so much because they're cliches, but because they REALLY clash with everything else in the film.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story on this one is part of the traditional Disney style - it's a variation on one of the classic children's stories: Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen (to Disney's credit, at least this time it's a story that's unlikely to inspire a flood of "The Original Story Was MUCH Darker" articles that others have tended to inspire. Yes, I like those bits of trivia as much as the next person, but after hearing them enough times it gets tiresome.) I stress variation here, because they actually put the story through a considerable rewrite, for the better arguably. Most notably, the titular character, who they had initially written as an antagonist, was given an overhaul that makes for one of the more interesting themes of this story.

From the start, we're introduced to our two protagonists, sister Anna and Elsa (voiced as kids by Livvy Stubenrauch and Eva Bella, and for the majority of the movie by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel) Elsa, we learn, was born with the ability to control ice and snow, which sounds like a REALLY cool ability at first, until you start having problems controlling it. Long story short, there's an accident that nearly kills Anna. This drives their well-intentioned (Editor's note: incredibly stupid and filled with fail), if not particularly smart parents to do two questionable things: for Anna, they consult with the local trolls (yes, trolls) who decide it's for the best if Anna has any memory of her sister's powers taken away. For Elsa, seeing as there is no period equivalent of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, they opt for isolation while trying to encourage her to suppress her powers. Again, not exactly the smartest way to go - especially since they don't even live to see the end of the prologue. One song-fueled time skip later, both sisters have lived in utter seclusion (but family friendly seclusion, so the closest they come to any sort of madness is the fact Anna has a relationship with common sense that's about as close as her current relationship with her parents.) Elsa is finally of age to ascend the throne, so the kingdom is opened up and all manner of other countries are coming for the coronation. For a girl who has a hard time controlling her powers when she's nervous, you can just tell THIS will end well. On top of this, Anna's ongoing war with common sense rears its head when she meets and is wooed by Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), every bit the classic Disney prince archetype. She locks horns with Elsa who, understandably, questions what her sister's been huffing to want to marry a man she's just met. Things get tense and Elsa's powers are revealed to the world.
It's okay. No biggie. This happens. Well...except for the part where she accidentally invokes George R.R. Martin-grade winter.
Determined to correct the mistake, Anna heads off to find her sister and try and set everything right. Casting a lot in with her is ice merchant and the film's designated comic straight man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff,) and Olaf (Josh Gad) a talking snowman who, thanks to marketing, you're going to know whether you want to or not.

Dressing For Inclement Weather - The Right Way and The Wrong Way.

Well, that was probably a bit more a primer than was necessary, but the groundwork is about all laid out there.

Like I said before, I will admit - this movie largely surprised me. I mean, yeah, at its core it still has several of the Disney elements to it, but at the same time, this also broke away from the format in several key ways. This is thanks in no small part to the script by Jennifer Lee, who, as trivia goes, is the first woman to direct a feature length Disney animated film (as well as the first to write one solo.) While there are a few minor slipping points - which we'll be coming to soon - this has a strong concept at its heart. Though the film does loosely toy with a romantic storyline in a very fleeting sense, the core of this story is focused on the relationship between Anna and Elsa as sisters. With this as the lynchpin, the movie carries itself with a surprising degree of maturity. This is further added to by the performances from Bell and Menzel, who, though only acting through voices, still convey quite a degree of emotion, both speaking and singing.

With a look here that seems to say "Let's mess with the Internet on this one..."

On this note, I do have to give this movie some extra brownie points for the fact it did take one very good page from Disney's earlier playbook: fact that the voice cast isn't there just to be big names for the movie's draw. Going back to some of their earlier styles, much of this movie's cast are actually Broadway alumni, which also grants the bonus of them being able to both act and sing their parts. This may seem like a minor thing, but personally, I've got some strong feelings about how underappreciated voice acting tends to be these days. So when a film like this actually does take it seriously, I automatically give them some extra bonus for that.

I realize we're in an age where, culturally, darker, edgier reboots are what sell. Still, this Frosty the Snowman updates feels like we may be scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas.

As far as the above-mentioned music goes, the film isn't bad. I'm not sure it's necessarily one of the all time greatest of the great as Disney scores go (especially thanks to something that, again, will be coming up shortly) but it does still have its share of good tracks in it. In particular, the Oscar buzz for 'Let It Go' is merited, as it is easily the most memorable song the movie has going for it. Which also makes it a little surprising realizing it's the only full song Menzel has. For her Broadway chops, it almost feels like underutilizing her. Then again, one could argue it's better to have one REALLY good track to your credit than a few okay ones, so I'll take the trade.

The biggest drawbacks of the movie, as partially mentioned above, are the areas where the movie still retains a couple of the more problematic tropes that have created the Disney stereotype. The first of these-and the more prominent- is the character Olaf. Now, there seems to be a lot of split sentiments with regards to Olaf among viewers and critics. While there is a lot of acknowledgement that he could be a very trying and somewhat shoehorned character, there are also many who have argued him to be one of the show-stealing elements of the movie. Personally, I can't say I agree with that sentiment. At the same time, however, I can't say I fully hate the character so much as I feel like he feels like a rather awkward fit within the movie. The one thing that really does give Olaf much of an edge, at least to me, is the performance by Josh Gad. Thanks to his contribution, the role doesn't feel as awkward as it could, and a few of the jokes sell in large part thanks to his delivery. Though I have to admit, it WAS very odd when he first appeared in the movie, since when Olaf spoke, I just heard Elder Arnold Cunningham from The Book of Mormon. Suffice it to say, that in a Disney movie feels no less than ten different brands of wrong and two different varieties of "How do I edit this together?" So it's not enough of a problem to hurt the movie, but I don't find myself in agreement with a lot of the assessment of him being a high point to the film. The other big drawback, and this is one it seems a lot of people are in agreement on, is with regards to one of the song numbers. Anyone who's seen the movie already knows which I'm talking about. Now, on their own, I didn't think the trolls were bad characters. In fact, they provide couple of decent chuckles, and they're used just enough to not be overloaded. Except for their song. It's a poor piece not just cause it's not a particularly catchy tune to begin with, but also because you can practically hear the clank as it sets to work railroading the movie's romantic subplot forward. Which is especially a shame since, the song aside, the romantic subplot is actually handled with a very light touch. Said light touch is a pretty welcome change from Disney's usual style, and for this story, it feels more natural to have it being a side element that ends with more of a "maybe" than making it a front and center definite piece like this song number tries to force. The movie does manage to dial back after this, but for those few minutes, it got kind of painful to go through.

"...and there's a whole song in it about telling God 'Fuck you!' and it won a whole bunch of Tony Awards! Pretty cool, huh?"

Overall, I can't say this movie disrupted my previously established top ten of 2013. It's certainly not a bad movie on its own, mind you. In fact, for Disney, this is showing a lot of promise for where they can go from here. It's more just the fact that, compared to some of the other offerings, it doesn't really shoot above and beyond other competition from last year is all. On its own though, it's still quite entertaining as Disney fair goes, and has me interested in seeing if this is a sign of something new on the horizon for the company.

And now, I am going to discuss one last point on this movie, but this one gets into a spoiler area. For those who haven't seen it, now's the time to turn around and walk the other way after the closing paragraph just below. For those who have...stick around after the closer and Simon Pegg's warning face.

Well, that marks the first official writeup for this year. I've got at least one more lined up before the end of the month. So keep an eye out!

For what issues I may have with Star Trek: Into Darkness, it DID give me this image, and I will always be grateful to it for that.

Okay, now is spoiler time.

There is one other thing I have to give this film, and it's one thing I couldn't mention in the main review cause...well, like Simon Pegg suggests, it IS a pretty big spoiler.

Some of you likely already know what I'm referring to.

That's right - it's the reveal on Prince Hans as the film's real antagonist after spending much of the movie building up the Duke (Alan Tudyk) to seem like the main bad guy. I have to admit, this twist was actually pretty well executed. It's that rare one that manages to both keep itself completely on the sly, but still makes a surprising amount of sense when you look at it afterward. Even more surprising is how this further adds to the sense the movie is skewing some of the Disney cliches. Starting off, Hans smacks of every possible Disney 'Prince Charming' archetype out there. He is almost insufferably perfect. Then the reveal happens. It's not a big, dramatic moment. In fact, he transitions into the villainy quite naturally. We see that, for all he charm he pours on before that point, Hans is effectively a card-carrying sociopath and top of the class graduate of the DENNIS system (for those who don't watch It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, click here. Suffice it to say, there IS a language warning here.) Alongside the film's focusing on the family bond between Elsa and Anna, this shift is the second most memorable skewer of Disney cliches for this movie, and also a pretty damn gutsy one at that.

The boat - a setting that looks romantic, but also makes it THAT much easier for disposing of the body.
...why yes, I AM a horrible person, why do you ask?

Now if we can just keep the internet from trying to spin him as just misunderstood, things will be gravy.

Hey, let me have this much, guys.

Till next time!

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