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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper


Or: Thin Ice

I might as well be honest with you, dear reader; it would be laughably easy (not to mention deeply satisfying) to take a blow torch to Frozen, and watch it pool and puddle. I could take the shovel of my pen and scoop up its wince-worthy script, its frost thin characterization, its opaque yet heavy handed Message and pile them up in a lumpy corner to melt. But that’s not my job. My duty is not to criticize, however much I might want to, but too leave some record of what the film’s strengths were. Where it crystalized into a touching and chilling story, and what it was like to sit down before it for the first time. And for all my curmudgeonly grumblings I would be lying if I said the film did not elicit gasps, oohs, awws, and even the odd twang of sympathy from these chapped lips and this flinty heart.

Very very very very very loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen Jennifer Lee’s tale concerns the two princesses of the Scandinavianesque kingdom of Arendelle: Elsa (Idina Menzel) the heir and Anna (Kristen Bell) the spare, close as royal siblings can be. Their happy childhood companionship is somewhat strained by the fact that Elsa, since birth, has been able to summon and craft, (but not control), Ice in all its thousand, thousand forms. Fearing that she might kill her sister with an ill-timed chill, Elsa spends much of her formative years locked up in “ice-olation” (hand, meet face). But on the day of her sister’s coronation. Anna meets and falls hard for the visiting (and charming) prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Upset by Anna’s whirlwind romance, Elsa looses her cool (ha), and reveals her powers to all the assembled guests. Their adverse reaction to having a sorceress as a monarch prompts her to flee into mountains, (not before accidentally calling down eternal winter upon the kingdom). Desperate to bring her sister home Anna enlists the help of Kristof (Jonathan Groff) a wise cracking anti-social ice merchant, his reindeer Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad) a fast-living, all-loving snowman and byproduct of Elsa’s burgeoning power. Together they must find their snow queen, and thaw her frozen heart before the ice creeps into every town and the land is locked in still white death.

Amongst the crowd it is tailored to (Younglings, of the high school and university age) I’ve heard Frozen praised for being a truly surprising story, shaking up the old warn roads of Disney tales and Fairy tales alike. I can’t quite bring myself to agree with them but find that while it still follows the trusted paths, it makes some very interesting shortcuts from twist! to twist!, and its little embroideries of sacrifice and right-living are daintily, if not novelly, stitched. Lee and her cohorts have undeniably made a good story, I just wish they had put better words to it. Don’t get me wrong, all characters have excellent zingers, and indeed one or two kernels of wisdom, but so much their speech is spent wither tossing back and forth the various caps of Captain Obvious, Miss Obvious Moral, and Buffy Summers. The same is true for the songs and score which is absolutely beautiful save for a slew of lyrical gaffs and flat foot falls (see “Ice-olation”, above). Well, E for effort and some lovely, catchy tunes.

Bell does well for her self here as the vivacious and “scrappy” Anna, looking for love, kicking her heels up, and trying to shake life so that all the coins fall out. She benefits the most from the Buffy-speak of the script, flitting through a dozen thoughts in the space of a sentence. Groff matches her pace for pace, banter for banter, adding his own touch of world weariness. Gad is by far the most fortunate of the cast, for Olaf’s happy-go-lucky nature and delight to his newly animated senses, will warm any heart. Never has the life “I’ve been impaled” been spoken so jollily. Menzel does not fare so well, though this is no fault of her own: Elsa is written as a woman ruled by her problems, not one in struggle against them. She only really comes into focus when interacting with her sister, and the strange rivalries and worries and fierce love between them makes some of the films finest moments. I’m not sure I would call their relationship “empowering”, but it is very clear that these are women struggling with deep conflicts, not princesses dealing the inconveniences of the crown and heart.

But for all Menzel’s fretting, and Bells tongue tripping and Gad’s shenanigans the real heroes of this film are the animators. Like their subject matter, they have crafted not only a world of saccharine saturation but laid over it the thousand, thousand forms of winter to take: the pines lying bent under dazzling white blankets, windows glazed over with hoarfrost, bells of dew frozen on a willows bow, the treacherous, all consuming white of a blizzard. Digitized from real winter wonderlands in Wyoming, Canada, and Norway, Frozen creates the most realistic animation I have yet had the pleasure to behold. I’d sit through every squeezed lyric, every painful joke again a dozen times to gape at the beauty of that ice.

There, I’ve said my cents and hope I’ve got it nailed down without too much gall discharged toward Lee and her company. A parting thought: Frozen is like ice in winter: look too close you can see all the little flaws and what beauty there is will evaporate under your probing touch, give it distance and it creates something touchingly present and artfully timeless.

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