Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Immediate Thoughts on Frozen

So I'm just back from seeing Frozen and I want to get out my immediate thoughts before I forget them all which is happening rapidly so I'm typing as quickly as I can. I was in seeing-a-movie-with-my-best-friend-mode and not semi-professional-movie-critic-mode so I wasn't taking notes or trying to think about the movie very critically. I just wanted to get lost in it. Also, there is no way I'm editing this post though I may take the time to write a proper review in the future.

1) Opening 
I wasn't in love with the opening of the film as the choral music in the opening credits kind of threw me off and I started to wonder if they were playing a preview for that other animated film they have with a female protagonist coming down the line. Yes, I know I'm being vague. Also, I did not love the "men at work" vibe. I think it still positions the audience with the male characters. It reminded me a lot of the opening of The Little Mermaid and a little of the opening of Pocahontas though the opening of Pocahontas had female characters. Also, it creates some confusion about who the star of the movie is as like The Little Mermaid opening featured Eric first, the Frozen opening took the time to introduce us to Christoph first. Come to think of it, the Tangled opening also introduces us to Flynn first as he serves as the narrator. Why is it so important for us to connect with the male perspective first in one of the few films that feature female protagonists?

2) Anna
I actually really liked Anna. I thought they found a nice balance between making her a little spunky and modern without just turning her into a minority feisty who happened to be the protagonist. She built on the foundation of Rapunzel (as well as the other Disney heroines before her) in a way that felt more realistic and she didn't have the false spunk of a lot of Dreamworks characters. She was capable and eager to try things but she wasn't too capable. That is, she helped Christoph fend off the wolves (which felt like a nod to Beauty and the Beast) and tried to climb the mountain but she didn't suddenly display amazing martial arts skills for no good reason (Fiona in Shrek).

3) Voice Work
Speaking of Anna, I think a large part of why I liked her was the choice of Kristen Bell as her voice actress. I thought she did a fantastic job with the songs and I greatly preferred her to Mandy Moore. I never watched Veronica Mars, but I thought she brought a nice attitude to the part that made her a believable character without making her too modern. It's not like she started spouting Juno-style slang but she felt very real and her awkwardness and excitability felt genuine and understandable given the plot. I did have some problems with the voice work as I though Santino Fontano (Prince Hans) sounded too much like Jonathan Groff (Christoph) during both the speaking and singing parts though once I did hear Jonathan Groff sing I could tell the difference. Groff has more of a natural warmth to his voice. I was worried about Idina Menzel as Elsa and I kind of still have mixed feelings about her casting. On the one hand, she rocked the songs and it felt a lot like Wicked so I loved that. On the other hand, while I thought her voice work was fine, and I enjoyed the singing, during the singing portions it did not seem like her voice was coming out of Elsa's body. I think part of this is because I know what Idina Menzel looks like and she looks nothing like Elsa but I also think that maybe her singing voice was too mature for a character Elsa's age.

3) Contemporary Musical Theater Songs
I'm also a bit conflicted about the music. I enjoyed all the songs but they were definitely "contemporary musical theater songs." They were very wordy and sometimes the lyrics... weren't my favorite. They didn't have the natural elegance of those old fashioned 50's-60's musicals where the lyrics sound bland when you just read them out loud but I felt like they were restrained by the subject from really being that biting or dark or witty. I did enjoy the songs more than the songs in Tangled and The Princess and the Frog but it does feel like they're turning away from the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman style musical and the music was almost too modern for the visual style. "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" reminded me a lot of the musical version of Shrek, particularly with the way it aged the character of Anna as "I Know It's Today" did with Princess Fiona in Shrek. I don't listen to as much contemporary musical theater but I'm sure those who are more in the know could make more references.

4) Visual Style
As for the visual style, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed. At first I thought it looked a bit too much like Tangled and like Pixar. It reminded me a little of Pixar's One Man Band short mixed with Shrek mixed with Tangled. But as the film went on I fell in love with it. I saw some early stills and concept art and I think I saw a trailer or two and I was worried the film would look very flat but I think they actually did a marvelous job with all the snow and ice. The snow monster and some other things could have been a little better but I thought they really pushed themselves in this film, as opposed to Tangled. The movie just sparkled and I was impressed with how creative they were in building the world of Frozen. And I'm glad they kept those visuals hidden because it was fantastic to experience them for the first time in the theaters.

5) Homage and Imitation
You can make the argument that a lot things in the movie feel like they're recycled from other movies and you can also make the argument that a lot of things in the movie are intentional homages. I've already made a note of some of them. For me, Disney films are always in conversation with other Disney films so I decided to take most of the similarities as homages instead of imitation. Feel free to disagree with me.

6) Gender
OK, this is way too complicated to cover in a quick post after only seeing the movie once but in general, I thought they did a good job. I was worried at first because of the opening and the way they handled the initial incident that set up Elsa's powers. I would have to rewatch it, but there was definitely a lot of the king taking charge and doing most of the talking and basically playing the hero. However, I thought young Elsa and young Anna were adorable. As I said, I thought Anna was a well-realized female character. Yes, she dreamed of finding true love but that was after being rejected by her sister and I think she would have been equally happy to just have someone to talk to. But female characters usually don't sing songs about how they wish they had female friends. More's the pity. I thought they did a really nice job with Hans. It felt like a Princess and the Frog approach to rewriting the Disney formula instead of a Tangled approach to rewriting the Disney formula. I don't want to ruin it for you but I thought it was a nice way of playing on the tropes and addressing the issues people have with Disney princess movies instead of just an attempt to make modern, quirky characters. I loved where they ended up. Though, I'm sure I've seen it in a movie before. First of all, fairy tale/romance is kind of my favorite genre and second of all, it's not a new idea. But I thought they handled it really well. I wasn't as in love with the development of the Christoph/Anna romance. While I get what they were going for, I think it could have used a bit more development and at the end, I didn't believe they were truly in love yet so I liked where they ended it. Again, it felt like they were aware of the problematic gender stuff in other movies and I was grateful for the consideration. Oh, and I also appreciated the way gender was never a factor in whether Anna or Elsa were considered capable. Each time it could have been, the writer neatly sidestepped the issue. Hans said he didn't want Anna to go off on her own because it was dangerous. Christoph didn't want Anna to help with the wolves because he questioned her judgment after getting engaged after knowing for someone for a day. No one ever questioned whether a woman was capable of running the kingdom and there was nothing in the plot about her needing to find a husband. Instead, the only issue was Elsa's powers. It's a subtle distinction but an important one.

7) Trolls
And this is part of the reason why I had issues with the Christoph/Anna romance. Freaking rock trolls. I haven't decided whether or not I think they're a step up from the Vikings in Tangled. I know Tangled calls them something else but they're pretty much Vikings so deal with it. It felt kind of cheap. I mean, the animated chia pets looked cute, don't get me wrong, but I think there's a right way and a wrong way to handle your comic relief/goofy characters and this was not the right way. We already had Sven and Olaf who were adorable. I did not need the rock trolls. They could have just been the magic characters. They didn't need their own dorky matchmaking song. It felt like the female dwarves in Happily Ever After (1990) mixed with the Upendi number in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride mixed with a lot of other devices in animated films that I've seen that could have been handled better. Freaking rock trolls. But it'll probably sell toys, so whatever.

OK, I think that's all for now. As I said I might eventually write a full, formal review if I get the chance after seeing the movie again but I'm not making any promises because as I've noted, I'm really bad at finishing projects. 

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