Frozen Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)
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, 2004), 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 (including decades of pre-production, it might still be the most expensive movie ever made), 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 (1953) and Beauty and the Beast (1991) – both films that were reissued in theaters multiple times. Clearly, it struck a chord, 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 (pub: 1995), a novel that sympathized with the Wicked Witch of the West, which (no pun intended) was itself adapted into a wildly popular Broadway production. And this wasn’t lost on the creative staff, who acknowledged their debt by hiring the Wicked Witch herself, Adele Dazeem – I mean Idina Menzel (2019 edit: boy, this joke had a short shelf life) – 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, Disney tropes are lightly subverted, expectations are met, rinse, and repeat – but the simplification leaves room for more complex characters and that’s precisely where the film connected with audiences.
Too much dense plotting would probably have stretched the film to a ridiculous length, anyway, considering how much of the story is told via singing. The way the singing sequences flow into the speaking parts is probably the most impressive thing about the entire movie. I can’t recall another Disney animated musical that isn’t partitioned into a distinct and structured song breaks. Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) opens with an operatic introduction, but quickly returns to form after the credits. The more traditionally structured songs, for instance, the Oscar-winner “Let It Go,” feel kind of anachronistic in comparison and really slow the flow of the 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, Disney seems to be developing a new house style. I’m guessing they’ll keep making more unique-looking animated pictures, like Wreck It Ralph (2012), between princess movies, but, until then, it vanilla humanoids are going to be the flavor. The animators do achieve quite a bit with the characters’ limited expressive abilities, achieving broader strokes with flailing limbs in place of rubbery faces. The plain humans don’t 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, colors 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.
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.
Trailers for other Disney releases
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