Disney's Frozen review

Review Simon Brew 4 Nov 2013 - 12:30

Walt Disney Animation Studios finally - finally! - brings The Snow Queen to life. And you never dreamed it'd be this good...

When I was 16 years old, I took my then-infant cousin to the cinema, notionally as a treat for him. The only thing available for us to see was Disney's Beauty And The Beast. He quite liked it, save for an insistence that he needed a toilet break at an inopportune moment. Me? It blew me away. It still does. It's one of my favourite films of all time, the best Disney animated movie, and the film I've watched more than any other. It unlocked a lifelong love (quite often a tough love) of Disney animation, that's killed my bank account ever since.

The biggest compliment I can thus give Frozen is this: somebody watching it is going to feel the same way about Disney's latest that I felt over 20 years ago when I first saw Beauty And The Beast. At its peak, Frozen is Walt Disney Animation Studios firing with everything, demonstrating why it's emerged in recent years as the most interesting mainstream producers of feature animation (with terrific features such as Wreck-It RalphTangledThe Princess And The Frog and Winnie The Pooh). And this is very much a Disney film, the kind you feel nobody else could make. It's a fairytale, but co-director Jennifer Lee's screenplay manages to modernise it, whilst never losing the feeling of tradition. There's no cheating here - it's the story itself that's been made more relevant, rather than any gimmicks attached around it.

But I'm racing ahead. This is, as longtime Disney geeks (guilty as charged) will happily tell, the final realisation of the many, many attempts to bring Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen to the big screen in animated form. Many brilliant Disney people have tried before, most notoriously when a fascinating-looking hand-drawn venture fell apart just over a decade ago. But the team this time around, led by co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (Tarzan), have utterly cracked it.

They've done it by adjusting the story, and making it the tale of two sisters, Elsa and Anna. This single switch, of making the lead two characters related, has immense pay-off. Courtesy of an excellent opening sequence, we learn that both have magical powers, but an accident puts in place what looks like a lifelong division between the pair. This is most wonderfully demonstrated by the tremendous, moving song 'Do You Want To Build A Snowman?' And to zoom in on that for a second, it's that one song bundles together so much of what Frozen gets right.

Firstly, it demonstrates that this is a film with personal - rather than world-ending - stakes at heart, that matter all the more as a consequence of being so contained. It's a song ostensibly about a physical door between two sisters - giving nothing away - that symbolises them being driven apart.

It's also a song that sees Disney heading back to Broadway - just as it did in the late 80s/early 90s - for its muscial spark. And it finds it, not least in the firm of The Book Of Mormon and Avenue Q songwriting pairing of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who penned the tunes here (backed by a gorgeous Christophe Beck score). They prove inspired choices, as does the lead voice pairing of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, with Disney's casting department eschewing huge movie star names for absolute musical talent and appropriateness for the key roles (further examples: Alan Tudyk, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff. There's not a weak link in the voice cast).

It's a big series of decisions, and pretty much every one of them is bang on. Disney ran away from songs sung by characters as a storytelling device for a while, but in Frozen, it demonstrates that when done properly, that approach can result in something really rather special. It's back to the old adage of economical storytelling through terrific songs. At least three of the numbers here are flat-out excellent, and one of them - 'Let It Go' - will be winning an Oscar next year. You can put me down for a quid or two on that.

Still, it'd be remiss not to note that there are moments in Frozen when you wonder if it's veering a little bit too close to Beauty And The Beast, or possibly taking an ingredient from one or two other features (which I won't name for fear of spoiling the film). Furthermore, as much fun as the supporting characters are - Disney Stores will sell a lot of Olaf toys - we're not quite at the level of Sebastian or Cogsworth here. That said, when the focus is firmly on Anna and Elsa, as it is for most of the film, Frozen is just terrific. Much will be made of the fact that we get two female leads powering a Disney movie here (heck, two female leads powering a blockbuster movie full stop), but that overlooks something even more fundamental: the two main characters are both superb creations, who you can't help but care about and, to varying degrees, root for.

Directors Buck and Lee have clearly approached the whole project with real intelligence. They're adept at spotting when to pull back on the songs, they put some gorgeous cinematic sequences on the big screen - the animation really is something to behold - and they generate more than one goosebump moment in the sublime telling of the story.

Furthermore - crucially - they get that it's the small things that matter, and by getting so many of those less showy moments spot on, the big moments soar. To their further credit, Frozen's also not scared of taking a few interesting left turns, which again, we won't spoil here. That the film's a virtually seamless marriage of comedy, action, drama and music is some achievement as well.

It's an almost pinch-yourself moment when you realise that The Snow Queen has burst out of a sustained term in development hell and ended up as good as it is. It's not a faithful telling of the story by pretty much any measure, and if you're a Hans Christian Andersen purist, chances are you'll be setting up a Tumblr or Facebook protest page in the coming weeks. But as a mainstream family animated motion picture, it finds Walt Disney Animation Studios in incredible shape, the peak of a turnaround that started quietly with Meet The Robinsons, and has been building for years.

Frozen's brilliance isn't good news for everyone, though. Right now, if I was one of the team making Walt Disney Animation Studios' fascinating-looking 2014 release, Big Hero 6, I'd be breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of following it into cinemas. For everyone else? This is the best Walt Disney Animation Studios movie in a generation, and the best family movie - by a considerable distance - of the year. It's an astounding piece of work, and the kind of film that we'll still be buying on whatever's replaced DVD in 30 years' time.

Just wonderful. In the sage words of Marty McFly, "Your kids are gonna love it..."

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Disqus - noscript

Gosh I really hope you haven't oversold it . It sounds like this is better than tangled . The trailer made me a bit nervous but I'm super excited now it's out December yes ?

Personally, I edged this over Tangled. But you can hardly go wrong with either of them!

Wowsers - this wasn't even on my radar at all, but this review might have convinced me to check it out...

Yes I will bring my kids! But first they gotta sit through Thor 2! Think, McFly, think!

Like somebody else, wasn't even on my radar. But i'll be checking it out, great review.

'This is the best Walt Disney Animation Studios movie in a generation'

If this quote doesn't make the poster then I'll be shocked

I would definitely 100% watch this. And I will bring my whole family!

While I love Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast, Disney's versions of classic fairy tales bear little resemblance to the originals. Having the little boy, Kai, and the little girl, Gerda, turned into sisters, Elsa and Anna, with magical powers makes me believe this won't be any different. It still may be beautiful and a great story, but I feel bad for kids who never get to see the original tales. I'm sure 99% of people think The Little Mermaid has a happy ending!

They do! Last year a shocked a few friends when I told them how The Little Mermaid ended in the original tale. They didn't know about it and they were really really shocked. Almost mad at me for telling them.
I have to say that, even if I like the film a lot, I love the sad ending of the tale. I have always had something for bittersweet/sad endings.

I wasn't specially excited about this film, but after this 5stars review, I'll be watching it. In Den of Geek we trust!

In have been waiting this forever and I am so happy about the 5 star rating. I have believed from what I have heard before about this that is this is a good movie, but have been hoping that this is an amazing one, and it seems like it could be.

Hopefully this will motivate pixar!!

Wow, I got goosebumps just reading this review! Cannot wait!

Good this is the one animation film I wanted to see!!

They can still read the original tales. It's not like Disney has locked all copies of the original story away in a vault. Not yet.

Well, I love Tangled, but as with Frozen, the trailers made me want to pass on it. Your review drastically changes my mind (hold on, is Disney paying you or something??) That said, I still by far prefer watching Tangled with its Spanish voice cast (if you've never done so, you absolutely MUST!!)... so I wonder if the same will happen this time? And WHY can't Disney make a movie trailer that shows off how great a film is??

As much as I love these CGI films, I miss the hand-drawn classic animation. Give me Pinocchio, Dumbo or Peter Pan any day of the week. While the story, the characters, the heart & soul of the films may be the same, there's something about seeing drawings come to life that can never be replaced. Plus, 2D animation looks amazing in high definition!

I've been really looking forward to this and now my excitement has hit an all time high. I hope that it exceeds the expectations brought from this review. I'm sure it will, now hurry up December!!!

Starting a review saying 'I love everything these guys make' kind of invalidates the rest of it.

Correct, it would. But then, I didn't say that.

Thanks for the great review, Simon. Based on the trailer (with its groan-inducing humour), I was actually going to give this one a miss; I'm a big Disney fan from way back and didn't want to witness them going down the Dreamworks path. Phew - now I can breathe a sigh of relief!

I'm still bummed i'll never see a version of Sleeping Beauty where Aurora (or Briar Rose) wakes up during child birth

Being upfront about personal biases is a good thing for a reviewer to do though, isn't it? That way, it helps you make up your own mind about whether you want to see it.

I love the movie Tangled so if its gonna be as good and as brilliant as Tangled then im in.

Hmm. Saw this at the cinema today and didn't like it at all. Was very disappointed. Didn't care for the characters, hated that moronic snowman, the humor was childish (groan-worthy as someone mentioned) and the whole thing in general wasn't a patch on the best Disney film in recent years - Tangled.

I went to this movie, dragged by my daughter and I had hoped to just drop her off with her friend…but anyway, I had low expectations.
I truly believe this is the best thing that Disney has produced in years. This movie is in one word "Epic". Idina's voice is stunning and Kristen - well I was so surprised by her voice and was even more surprised to find out she was classically voiced trained (opera of all things!). I would truly encourage anyone to go and see this movie, particularly those with daughters- my little girl and I have been singing the songs for the day since we have seen it. This movie has strong female role models (ok well one of them has a romance, but it isn't the point of the movie), where love and sacrifice are the central themes. You will laugh and you will cry, although I wish more bad things had happened to the baddies!

I'm late to the party having only recently watched it. But was I the only one who felt there was a lack of an emotional pay-off? As in Anna never discovers the story of what happened during their childhood. I felt like it could have been a great emotional moment and kept expecting it to happen but it didn't. The first half of the film though was exemplary there's no denying that.

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