Frozen (US - BD)
Gabe was going to make a cold weather pun, but decided he should let it go...
Fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey — teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven — to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom. (From Disney’s official synopsis)
Following one too many financial disappointments ( Home on the Range), Disney Animation announced that they wouldn’t be making any more traditional 2D animated films. From here on out, it would be nothing but CG-animated cartoons. To boot, they’d already started shying away from the traditional fairytale template in the previous decade, leading to a trilogy of mediocre action comedies – Chicken Little (2005), Meet the Robinsons (2007), and Bolt (2008). Then, when Pixar chief John Lasseter was assigned chief creative director of Disney’s animation, he vowed to return to the studio’s roots and helped produce The Princess and the Frog (2009). That film was successful, but not outrageously so, at least not as much as Disney’s 2010 follow-up, Tangled, an outrageously expensive, CG animated feature that resurrected the princess formula and restructured it for ‘hip’ modern audiences. A second fairytale princess ‘re-imagination’ was put into production under the title Frozen. They don’t appear to have a third princess story in production yet (or fourth, if you’re counting Pixar’s Brave), but I assume whatever it is, it will also have a single word title. Probably a verb. Maybe an adjective.
Frozen was a massive hit. Without adjustments for inflation, it is the studio’s largest grossing animated film and, even with inflation taken into consideration, it made more stateside than Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast – both films with multiple theatrical releases throughout the decades. Clearly, it struck a cord, despite the popular belief that fairytale musicals were no longer en vogue. The screenplay, by co-director Jennifer Lee, is based on a story by her, co-director Chris Buck, and Shane Morris (most likely including dozens of contributions from various producers, storyboard artists, et cetera) and is loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. It isn’t exactly a folklore ‘deep cut,’ but is certainly less ingrained in the popular culture psyche than the likes of Snow White or Andersen’s most popular story, The Little Mermaid. According to this disc’s supplemental features, a Snow Queen adaptation had been in the works at Disney since Walt was still alive and a live-action/animation hybrid Hans Christian Andersen bio-pic was planned (that film was eventually completed at RKO with Danny Kaye in the lead role). Then, sometime after the studio’s second renaissance, a different version of The Snow Queen bounced around Disney and Pixar before finally sputtering out.
Lee and Buck’s vital contribution appears to have been turning the story’s villain, Elsa, into a more complex and sympathetic character. Of course, this breakthrough wasn’t exactly original – Gregory Maguire had already written Wicked, a novel that sympathized with the Wicked Witch of the West, which (no pun intended) was itself adapted into a wildly popular Broadway production. This clearly wasn’t lost on the creative staff, who acknowledged their debt by hiring the Wicked Witch herself, Adele Dazeem –I mean Idina Menzel, to play Elsa. However, Outside of charming-up the villain and making her a familial acquaintance of the heroine (another element borrowed from Maguire), Lee and Buck haven’t really done much else with the material aside from applying conventional morals and traditional Hero’s Journey elements not found in Anderson’s original tale (Elsa’s emotional trials are very X-Men-esque). On a storytelling level, Frozen is made to appeal to a wide audience – plot twists are minimalized, expectations are met, rinse, and repeat. But the simplified story frees the filmmakers to complicate their characters without overwhelming the little tykes watching. They subvert many of the classic Disney tropes, but don’t press the point enough to alienate audiences looking for a little light-hearted entertainment.
Too much dense plotting would probably have stretched the film to a ridiculous length as well, considering how much of the story is told via singing. The way the singing sequences flow into the speaking parts is my favourite thing about the entire film. I’m not sure if Disney has ever made a musical that isn’t broken down into song breaks before. The closest I can recall is the super-operatic opening of Hunchback of Notre Dame. The more structurally separated songs, like the Oscar-winner ‘Let It Go,’ feel anachronistic in comparison and really slow the flow of the otherwise efficient narrative momentum. The most awkward such changeover comes when the movie flips from the goofy troll anthem ‘Fixer Upper’ into the sad news of Anna’s fate, then directly into a surprisingly violent action sequence. It feels very much like a scene was deleted to make room for the song.
Between Tangled and Frozen, it seems that Disney is developing a new ‘house style.’ I’m guessing they’ll keep making more unique-looking animated pictures, like Wreck It Ralph, between princess movies (the Marvel property Big Hero 6 is the next thing on their docket), but, until then, it appears that we’re stuck with vanilla-looking humanoids and their generalized animal counterparts. The animators do amazing things with the characters’ limited expressive abilities, achieving broader strokes with flailing limbs instead of rubbery faces. The plain humans don’t really detract from the film’s overwhelming beauty anyway, at least not on the macro scale. The Tangled influence is obvious, but the better comparison is actually Sleeping Beauty – both feature modest character designs that serve a larger, more intricately decorated world.
Frozen is presented in 1080p, 2.39:1 (their first letterboxed movie since Atlantis if I’m remembering correctly) HD video and looks about as perfect as most big budget, CG-animated movies on HD disc. Who’s surprised? No one? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, Frozen is a very attractive movie and it looks very attractive here. Details are needle-point sharp, colours are vivid, and element differentiations are dynamic. The silkier and softer images are actually the most impressive, because they’re so clean and perfectly textured. The harsher edges are just as tight and clean, but look more stylistically ‘digital’ and, as such, I found them less attractive (all these years after Monsters Inc., snow storms still look weird in CG animation). Fine textures, like the flecks of snow that accumulate on the character’s fuzzy costumes, and complex patterns, like the ones that adorn the castle’s interiors, are tight as can be, without any notable haloes or compression effects. A lot of the film takes place in the cold whites and blues of the winter environments, but there are a number of scenes with more eclectic palettes, including lush, green country sides, lavender and gold-infused interiors, and a pastel-spotted town square. These colors are tightly constructed without any noticeable blocking effects.
Perfect CG-animated video is usually met with perfect audio and this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is no exception. This is a big and busy track that forced me to turn down my sound system more than a couple of times. It includes a number of boisterous action effects alongside a deeper, more immersive, subtle noises. The action and magic-heavy sequences have the more obvious directional effects, but simple additions, like vocals and incidental effects regularly flow throughout the channels as well. Of course, Frozen is a musical – the first of Disney’s CG movies to entirely embrace the format – and, as such, the songs require the most of the soundtrack’s attention. Composer Christophe Beck (a steady workhorse who collaborated with Bret McKenzie on The Muppets and with Joss Whedon on Once More with Feeling, the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and songwriters Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez (a husband and wife team most famous for their work on The Book of Mormon and the 2011 Winnie the Pooh) pool their efforts well to create a consistent set of themes that underline and accentuate the beautiful imagery. The pieces that feature group singing are especially impressive, spreading the vocals across the front speakers without losing the more intricate instrumentations.
The extras include:
- Get A Horse (6:00, HD) – The animated short that preceded Frozen in theaters. It’s a clever (slightly dirty) meta toon where old school, black & white Disney characters are tossed out of the screen and into the theatrical audience. I’m guessing it worked better in 3D, but it’s still awfully cute in 3D. The sound design is fantastic.
- The Making Of Frozen (3:20, HD) – A musical short where the cast and crew sing about making the movie without actually telling us anything (that’s the joke).
- D’frosted: Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen (7:30, HD) – A look at the film’s origins at the studio (including the Andersen biopic and a plan for a ride) and Disney’s history with fairytale films.
- Four deleted/alternate scenes, including introductions by Buck and Lee (6:50, HD)
- ’Let It Go’ music videos (15:40, HD) – Including English (by Demi Lovato), Spanish, Italian (both by Martina Stoessel), and Malaysian (Marsha Milan) versions of the song.
- Teaser trailer
- Trailers for other Disney releases
Frozen is a more than worthy follow-up to Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph – a better than average, super-pleasant, family-friendly experience that makes the viewer feel all warm inside. It doesn’t transcend its intended child audience like the best animated films do, but it is entertaining and very attractive. This 2D, 1080p transfer is absolutely perfect and the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack is among the best you’ll probably hear all year, but the extras are disappointing, including only an animated short, a mock behind-the-scenes featurette, brief deleted scenes, and a quick look at the film’s history with the studio. I’m guessing the four different ‘Let it Go’ music videos will please the little ones enough that there won’t be any complaints, though (and I believe there are Target and Best Buy exclusives with more substantial extras than what I saw here, anyway).
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 18th March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DVS 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish & French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French Subtitles
Extras: Get A Horse Short Film, The Making of Frozen, D'frosted: Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Anderson to Frozen, Deleted/Alternate Scenes, 4 'Let It Go' Music Videos, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy and Musical
Length: 102 minutes
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