★★ / ★★★★
Princesses Anna and Elsa were really close siblings as children. Elsa has powers to generate ice either by whim or accidentally which seems harmless until playing around with Anna, without magical powers, becomes life-threatening. To protect her younger sister, Elsa devotes her life staying in her room and minimizing contact with everyone. She hopes that by hiding for so long, people will either forget or not discover her abilities. Years of secrecy is undone during coronation day: Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), upset of Anna’s proclamation that she is to marry a prince she just met that day, inadvertently sets off an eternal winter and runs away to North Mountain. Anna (Kristen Bell) goes after her.
There is a lot to like in “Frozen.” The animation is beautiful, it has enough comic moments for children and adults, one or two characters are memorable, and a few of the songs perfectly fit into the story being told. However, despite the flowery confections, the picture lacks a strong core—a story with layers, sharp insight, and power to move audiences beyond cute images and one-liners.
The screenplay attempts to deliver a message about female self-empowerment. During Anna’s journey to North Mountain, she meets an ice deliveryman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). What is interesting about their relationship is that they save each other when one is weak and the other is strong. Though Anna is a princess, she is not a typical damsel-in-distress. She is courageous, she can be tough, she is willing to take risks.
But the problem lies in the approach of the character. It reminded me too much of a vastly overrated Pixar film called “Brave,” winning the Oscar over more deserving contenders like Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” and Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s “ParaNorman,” how Merida is supposed to be this tomboyish character but one cannot get the feeling that she is made that way because there is money to be made in merchandises. I did not feel as though the lead character, Anna, is a character of her own—even if she is supposed to be an independent figure. I wondered why Disney cannot seem to get its lead female characters exactly right.
One character steals the picture. Olaf, a snowman who likes warm hugs and loves the idea of summer (and all things hot), is a complete joy to watch, a breath of fresh air, magical visually, and the voice work by Josh Gad hits the mark every time. Even though it is shown time and again that he is essentially indestructible—unless exposed to a heat source—I found myself protective of him. For example, when his fluffy body is struck by a very sharp icicle, I chuckled out of horror—then relief—as he joyfully declares, “Oh, look at that. I’ve been impaled!”
Most songs caress the eardrums. When they avoid trying too hard, like in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “For the First Time in Forever,” “Let It Go,” and “In Summer,” it is easy to enjoy them from melodic and lyrical standpoints. However, there are a couple of songs that the film could have done without. A standout is “Love is an Open Door” which sounds like tires screeching on the pavement both in melody and lyrics. I felt like I was enduring teen angst gone bad and rotting by the second. It could not end any sooner.
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, “Frozen” needs more danger to give it a bit of edge. It juggles too much cute, not enough sour or spice. As a result, the journey from Arendelle to the North Mountain feels short, straightforward, and quite bland at times. In addition, because appropriate time and depth are not given to Anna and Kristoff, thereby failing to give them a chance to evolve as a unit and as individuals, there is no strong core to bind all the elements together. The story feels incomplete.