Cold Shoulder, by Tyler Smith
Over the years, for some reason, I’ve found that I’ve really come to adore well-rendered CG ice. From Titan AE to the original Star Tours ride at Disneyland, I’m just a sucker for the cold, distorted beauty that comes from ice depicted on screen. Yes, I know that’s strangely specific, but it’s for this reason that I was very excited to see Frozen, Disney’s latest animated outing. And, on that level, it didn’t disappoint. It is one of the most beautiful animated films I’ve ever seen; a true visual marvel. It’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t put as much effort into crafting an interesting story.
Indeed there are a lot of things that happen in the film, but it all seems very random, as though somebody shuffled three separate scripts together like a deck of cards. There are moments of old school Disney melodrama, mixed with ridiculous slapstick, topped off with songs whose only distinction is how completely ill-timed they are.
The tone of the film is all over the place. It has the stench of “studio notes” all over it, with the filmmakers trying to incorporate every suggestion, but never successfully blending it together into a cogent piece of work. We get characters with hidden powers, rocks that turn into trolls, and snowmen that come to life. We don’t know why any of this happens, and no explanation is given. Not that we need to know why everything happens, but we at least need to know the basic rules of this kingdom, otherwise we just drift rudderless through the story.
For example, one of the main characters has the power to manipulate the cold, creating snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. Very impressive, all the more because nobody else in the film has powers of any kind. That makes this character specifically gifted, but we never know why or by whom.
So, this is a world where magic exists. But only some people interact with it, while others are unaware of it completely. Take those rock-trolls that I mentioned; some in the kingdom are friendly with them and others don’t even know they exist. What results is the feeling that these troll characters were added later and were never meant to fit into the initial story. It just feels sloppy.
There is a template for this sort of world, as seen in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, and most recently Tangled. All Disney movies, all involving princesses, all magical. And all of them take place in worlds that feel complete and lived-in. The characters in these stories know the rules; they’ve lived in this place their whole lives and know how things works. In Frozen, however, it feels like every character is here for the first time, which kept me from really being able to relax and accept the world being presented.
Another thing about those other Disney movies; they knew how to use their music. The songs sprang from intense emotion, or often accompanied a fanfare or character introduction. In this film, the songs- like so many other elements- seem to exist outside the essential story, like somebody realized only after the movie was finished that these types of films usually have songs in them, and then hurriedly crammed them in. It feels very clumsy.
There is one exception. In the middle of the film, a princess with the freezing ability (now the queen) has been driven from her kingdom. She is angry and desperate. However, that anger quickly turns to exhilaration. Having never really been allowed to use her powers, she is now free from responsibility and consequence. As she finally cuts loose and explores what she is truly capable of, we are treated to a dazzling montage of beautiful ice and snow. She creates a marvelous ice palace, all while singing a showstopping song called “Let It Go.” This song is energetic and passionate and I’ve had a hard time getting it out of my head. Everything about this sequence works; the song, the images, and the character beats.
When I see a sequence like the creation of the ice palace, I am faced with what the movie could have- and should have- been. The story elements are there; sadness, isolation, exclusion, discovery, redemption, and reconciliation. All the filmmakers had to do was play to the emotional core of the characters and the tone would have fallen into place. But instead we get a sort of hodgepodge of different elements, tones, and emotions that add up to a film that should be wondrous, but winds up just being forgettable.