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When I first saw a teaser trailer for Frozen about a half year back, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was a big fan of 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph (which was robbed of the Oscar) but I never saw 2010’s Tangled, so I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about Frozen, which looked to me to be more similar to something like Tangled rather than Wreck-It Ralph. After watching it in theaters on opening night last week, I took a few days to process what I had seen and gather reactions from friends and fellow moviegoers. My initial impression wasn’t great, and after mulling it over I still don’t think I liked Frozen very much, despite the very positive reactions others have had.
Frozen is an updating on a Hans Christian Andersen tale – something that has brought Disney much success in the past. In the kingdom of Arendelle live two sisters, both princesses. The elder sister Elsa is cursed with a power to manifest snowy and icy conditions, which she at first uses to please her younger sister Anna as the two play together. Eventually, however, Elsa begins to lose control over her powers, and her parents agree to shutter her away from society to keep her powers a secret and to keep her younger sister safe. After a tragic accident, Elsa and Anna lose their parents and Elsa is slated to become queen when she comes of age. She fails to maintain her powers, however, and envelops the entire kingdom in a state of permanent winter before running off in horror. It is up to Anna, ice trader Kristoff, an enigmatic real-life snowman Olaf, and Kristoff’s best pal, the reindeer Sven to save the kingdom.
Two big problems I have with Frozen are that I don’t find its characters terribly well defined or its story all that epic or interesting. Character models are gorgeous and the voice work is pretty great (Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel voice the sisters, Johnathan Groff voices Kristoff, and Josh Gad is great as the snowman), but the story never really takes them anywhere all that exciting. The film doesn’t have the epic, sweeping scope of earlier Disney films like The Lion King or Aladdin. The sisterly dynamic between Elsa and Anna should be far more emotionally resonant, but because Anna is fairly immature and Elsa has been shut away from society and is thus emotionally stunted, I am never able to fully buy into the relationship. The same goes for Anna and would-be love interest Kristoff. I don’t really care if they get together or not even when the film thinks I should. Olaf ends up being the emotional and comedic heart of the film, and Gad is an absolute delight in the voice role. The film really wants us to hate a shoe horned in villain in the Duke of Weselton, but his character is so rote and such a non-entity in the grand scheme of things.
The biggest problem I have with Frozen, however, is that its music just isn’t catchy or interesting to me at all. There are two songs I like, Love is an Open Door (a duet between Kristin Bell and Santino Fontana, who plays a prince in a neighboring kingdom) and Let it Go, which serves as a vocal showcase for Menzel’s great talents. However, even though I like these songs, I don’t really like them all that much. The rest of the music I could just absolutely do without ever having to hear again. There is nothing here on the level of any of the great Disney musicals of the late 80s and early 90s, and that is just downright disappointing. Composer Christophe Beck has done good work in the past, but I just can’t get behind the music in Frozen. It just doesn’t do anything for me.
As noted earlier, the visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Arendelle looks fantastic, character models look great, and the snowy and icy effects are top-notch. I expect the highest in quality with the budget and backing of Disney, and on a purely visual level Frozen does not disappoint. It is just too bad that the story, characters, and music aren’t all that great. I really prefer last year’s Wreck-It Ralph, which had a much better relationship (in fact, it could be argued it had two better relationships) between main characters than what is found here. Having said all that, I am still interested in what Christopher Buck and Jennifer Lee, who co-direct here and have creative credits on Ralph and Tangled, have planned for the future. With a better script and a more epic, sweeping story I think they could make a great movie together.