Friday, November 29, 2013
Twenty years ago, I would have taken my small daughters to see this movie on a chilly day after Thanksgiving and they would have loved it. It has music and funny characters and two princesses. They would probably fight for the rest of the year over which princess they got to be when they played together. I have no doubt that there will be 1000s of little girls and their parents enjoying the same kind of enchantment I might have enjoyed then. The problem however is my kids are grown, and while I did take my youngest with me (she is 25 now) we have grown more critical in our willingness to embrace a movie on mere concept. Execution matters. There is a lot to appreciate in this Walt Disney Pictures Release, but it falls far short of being a classic that you will want to return to time after time.
I love musicals, so when I say this film falls a little flat on the musical side, know that it is not because I object to the format. I have noticed that many musical films, especially children's films, start heavy in the first half and then as the narrative gets denser and more convoluted, abandons the musical sequences. Except for the Umpa Loompa song in Willie Wonka, once they go through the tunnel, the only distinct song is the "I Want it Now" Veruca Salt number. In "The Wizard of Oz", after they meet the Wizard the first time, there is only the guard song and it hardly counts as a song at all. This film has a dozen musical sequences in the first half and none in the second. When all those songs are stacked on top of one another in the first part of the movie, none of them gets to stand out. They are also pretty much the same style and sung by women's voices that are strong but not particularly distinct from one another. The Disney films of the early nineties knew that you needed a show stopper, not just a character piece. All the songs in this film feel like showcases for the singers but not for the story or the song. None of them advances the story or reveals anything surprising about the characters. They sound very "Broadway" with a little bit of contemporary teen pop to make them radio friendly. We need a "Prince Ali" or a "Be Our Guest" to make the show distinctive.
The set up of the dilemma with the two little princesses is nicely done but the reason for Ilsa having special powers is not explained and is taken as a given before we know it. There is a crisis that immediately follows our discovery of this gift and it is resolved by another unexplained phenomena, a village of rock trolls. The magic seems arbitrary and the explanations are rapidly zipped through. The loving parents are made to vanish for no particular reason and in a manner that seems to belie the circumstances in which they live. The whole first part of the movie skips over the relationship between the sisters after the opening incident. Since that relationship seemed so intense in the start of the story, it feels sadly underdone after that. The appearance of a love interest and the ease with which he is accepted by all but the new queen is another oddly undeveloped point. I also felt that the animation style, computer generated images, sometimes seemed to be used for display of ideas rather than telling the story. The best part of the artwork is not the magic of the frost covering the land, but the characters faces and the charm of the non-human characters.
As in most Disney films, the hero has a horse (or in this case a Reindeer) who has personality plus and steals the scene from under the lead. The nice touch in this story is that the hero provides a conversational voice for the animal and then carries on dialogue with himself as if the Reindeer were answering. Most of you with pets know what I am talking about. I liked the fact that this forces the hero Kristoff, to make decisions for himself but blame it on his reindeer Sven. The relationship between Kristoff and Princess Anna develops nicely through the adventure they travel through together. The introduction of the Snowman Olaf is a little less effective. As a character he provides comic relief and a narrator perspective on things, but he also seems to be obviously shoehorned into the story for just that purpose. There is also a villainous Duke from a neighboring kingdom who meddles in the affairs of Arendelle, the kingdom of the new queen and her princess sister. There is a sudden turn in the way the story plays out that is a bit of a mean cheat for the kids following along. It also feels like a convenient plot device rather than an organic twist in the narrative.
OK, enough with the grousing, the movie is perfectly fine family fare. I don't think it stand up next to "Tangled" or "Bolt", two other recent Disney brand films that have more going for them, but is is servicable for the holidays. I wanted to like the film more than i did, and I was inclined to because I was surrounded by parents with their small children who did seem to love it. The film was packed and there were lines for the next showing, so it will clearly be a hit with the audience it is made for. It just won't be as big a hit with those who have reached a different stage in their life. Enjoy it but don't expect to feel a need to revisit it. It is a clockwork piece of entertainment that has too many rough edges.