BOOK REVIEW: "The Art Of Frozen"

Reviews
by Martin Goodman
November 28, 2013 2:00 PM
1 Comment
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The Art of Disney's Frozen By Charles Solomon; Chronicle Books, 2013  160pp. 

"Art of" books tend to repeat similar patterns; they are typically brief in text, abundant in concept and finished art, and tend to focus on the joy of the creative effort as related by the artisans involved. There is, to some degree, a focus on the technical magic used in production: since the advent of computer-generated animation, these details increasingly find inclusion in such books.

I found it refreshing, therefore, to read and review Charles Solomon's The Art of Disney's Frozen. It must be appreciated that Mr. Solomon is an animation historian and critic foremost, and that appeared to influence his approach to the book.  Solomon's book concentrates far more on the story, writing, and artistic presentation of the film than most books in this genre do. He does not include the typical chapter on the creation of a single scene, and there are no greatly detailed discussions of pixels, fractals, modeling , texturing, wireframes, or hyper-sophisticated software programs.

There are the requisite pages of artwork form various stages of production, many of them full-page spreads. However, what Solomon seems to most appreciate is the difficult and exacting work that goes into writing and designing a modern animated film. In reading The Art of Frozen, one does get a sense of the wonder felt by the creators, but Solomon imparts the sense that, without countless hours of discussion, pre-preparation, and constant redefining of details, an animated film can easily go off track. Righting it again may be difficult to impossible as production continues.

The introduction and prologue of the book alone comprises the first thirty-three pages and is mostly concerned with the history of the film, the writing, storyboarding, and animatics. There are tidbits you would expect from a historian of Solomon's caliber. The original story by Hans Christian Anderson (The Snow Queen) was written in 1845 in five days. The Disney studio considered it as far back as 1938, but it did not come under serious consideration until exactly seventy years later. With material from several interviews, Solomon chronicles how Directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and story head Paul Briggs adapted the original fairy tale until it became a jumping-off point for a fresh treatment. "A princess story" has been eschewed in favor of an exploration of a complicated relationship between Anna and Elsa, two sundered sisters. The fact of Anna and Elsa's royalty is not of central importance to the story, nor is a romance.

Many pages are spent detailing the production team’s visit to Norway, the better to understand Scandinavian architecture, clothing, and motifs. Here you will learn that "rose mailing" means  Norwegian decorative styling applied to interior and exterior design as well as clothing.  Art Director Micheal Giaimo and costume designer Jean Gillmore are given serious due: the section on costume design is nine pages long, many more than are given to any the film’s leading characters. Giaimo, in fact, calls the movie "a costume film."

These are the details that catch Solomon’s attention, and his book has more the feel of an "Art of Frozen Workbook." Take, for example, Giaimo's comment on color keys for Anna’s blue and magenta travel outfit: "But there’s always a little bit of black on the characters: it helps anchor the saturation, so it doesn’t float into the atmosphere."

As the film Frozen readied for its debut, a British artist named David Trumble caused a stir by lampooning Disney using versions of famous women reconceived as "Disney Princesses". Hillary Clinton, Anne Frank, Jane Goodall and Harriet Tubman, among others, were given, in Trumble's words, "The same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, the same homogenized plastic smile." The Art of Disney’s Frozen details how such stylization was avoided. The sisters reflect a more elfin design, with almond-shaped eyes that, according to supervising animator Mark Henn, presented some difficulties when animated.

This book is what you would expect from a noted animation historian. While the gloss is there, Solomon tends to go behind the scenes more than most "Art of" authors to show the sweat, effort, and constant need to adapt to challenges that goes into making a much-anticipated film. His chapter on "Wilderness" captures the essence of what a critic would look for when evaluating the merits of a film. This is not your typical "Art of" book; I hope it is not Solomon's last.

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1 Comment

  • Ju-osh M. | November 29, 2013 12:54 PMReply

    Thanks so much for this fantastic, thoughtful review. As a HUGE fan of Solomon's equally elaborate 'Tale As Old As Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast,' I've been eagerly awaiting this book. Reading the small asides ("Giaimo...calls the movie 'a costume film'") and interesting factoids (using black to avoid saturation) that you included has me even more excited.

    Solomon's previous animation books have been wonderful in the way that they balance the informative and intellectual with the exciting and entertaining. After reading your review, it sounds like he's done it again!

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