A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Review of Frozen

When it first came out, I had no particular interest in seeing Frozen, but after loving Tangled, hearing a couple of the songs and having it recommended by a friend I thought that I would go to see it. I certianly enjoyed the film, but I have the feeling that there was something off about it.

That thing, I believe, is that the film is undecided about what it wants to be. The first half of the story goes on in the form of musical theatre, which just happens to be animated - a sung opening number with essentially no plot relevance except to introduce the characters of Kristoff and Sven (Frozen Heart), a montage number explaining the rift between Princesses Elsa and Anna (Do You Want to Build a Snowman?), a song explaining the motivation of the protagonists (For the First Time in Forever); Anna and Hans get a jazzy falling-in-love number (Love is an Open Door), a bit of drama leading to Elsa fleeing and singing the musical's most memorable song (Let It Go). So far, so fabulous. This is where the first act ends, and it starts to turn into a drama film. Anna chases after her sister, and via songs meets Kristoff, Sven (Reindeer are Better than People) and Olaf (In Summer).

Got that? We have a first half of the film in which at least half of the time is taken up by songs, and no less than seven songs are used to explain the characters' feelings. Fairly standard for musical theatre. But in the entire rest of the story, there are only two songs, one of which is simply a refrain of For the First Time in Forever and the other of which (Fixer Upper) is, I think it is fair to say, the weakest song in the film. What I would term the third act of the story - from Elsa being captured and Anna being informed that her frozen heart can only be healed by an act of true love - does not include a single song. Every part of the film is good on its own merits, but the inconsistency means that song-lovers will be disappointed by the second half of the movie, while people who'd rather the story moved along will find the first half rather too slow.

That said, what tangential thoughts do I have on the minutae of the film?

First: It's not entirely clear what the Duke of Weselton did wrong. Sure, he's not a nice person. Lots of people aren't. Yes, he only wanted to trade with Arandelle for his own benefit, but so what? It's like the film-makers have never heard of the gains from trade. Yes, he ordered his henchmen to kill Queen Elsa, but to be fair she was a witch and this was back in a time when witches could be assumed to be evil. Besides which, in his eyes she had cursed the whole kingdom of Arandelle and if killing her was the only way to undo the curse, then is her life really to be placed over the thousands of lives her winter is threatening. (Come to think of it, presumably quite a few people died of cold during that winter, even if they did so off-screen). He happened to help Hans in his evil plan, but it wasn't out of malice - he simply wanted someone on the throne who would allow trade between Weselton and Arandelle. You could perhaps justify his maltreatment at the end based on his behaviour at the ball and such things, but cutting off trade is not just unreasonable but plain stupid.

In my review of Tangled I suggested that Disney were promoting a rose-tinted, overly optimistic, and perhaps even dangerous view of love in relation to young women. This film swings so far the other way that I almost think Tangled gives the less dangerous message. Sure, the young man who promises to spend his whole life with you may well not really mean it, but it doesn't generally mean he's intending to kill your sister and probably you too. What I find interesting from a characterisation standpoint is that the reasons for Anna and Rapunzel's naivety is the same in both cases - being kept isolated from the outer world - but they approach the outside world in very different ways. Rapunzel was terrified of the outer world until she encountered it, and prior to leaving the tower was only really interested in seeing the lanterns up close; Anna, on the other hand, was eagerly excited to encounter everything there was to see and meet.

At what point was Marshmallow (the giant snowman monster) actually named as such before Olaf called him that?

The music: if I hadn't already known that the songs were co-written by Robert Lopez (in collaboration with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez) then there's a fair chance I'd have guessed. There's a range of styles used, but most if not all of the songs have little touches which sound very reminiscent of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. The link between the chorus and the second verse of Let It Go is one such snippet; the tune of Do You Want to Build a Snowman? is another familiar kind of musical idea, or alternatively the "With you!" "With you!" sections of Love is an Open Door. The instrumental music was fine - generally unobtrusive, and the climax of the music at the end of the film perfectly matched the mood.

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