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Review: Animated Fairy Tale 'Frozen' Is A New Disney Classic

by Drew Taylor
November 27, 2013 2:51 PM
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For much of the past decade Walt Disney Animation Studios was suffering from something of an identity crisis. The studio's bread and butter—traditional, hand-drawn animation—was falling out of favor with audiences once again. The Disney Renaissance, which began with "The Little Mermaid" and continued through some of the studio's biggest hits, was flagging. The animation was still peerless, but obscene micromanagement from Michael Eisner and a defeated staff, who felt that the studio was paying more attention to Pixar than them, led to increasingly lacklustre material. Audiences preferred the more technologically advanced 3D computer animation that studios like DreamWorks Animation were churning out regularly and the question of what a Disney animated movie was, exactly, remained in the balance. Thankfully, with "Frozen," that riddle seems to have been solved.

Over the last few years Disney Animation has solidified and with "Princess and the Frog" and "Tangled," have refocused on the classic fairy tales that fueled both golden eras of Disney Animation. "Princess and the Frog" was genuinely magical, but it often felt like the audience was resistant to the old school animation, and "Tangled" was an attempt to make those classic tales multi-dimensional, which worked (mostly), but was somewhat sabotaged by forgettable songs and occasionally clunky plotting. With "Frozen," the lessons learned from those previous movies have been sharply utilized. "Frozen" feels like classic Disney animation. If someone had announced "Frozen" as the studio's follow-up to "Beauty & the Beast," no one would blink. It's that good.

"Frozen" is very, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen," a story that proved so difficult to crack that Walt Disney himself couldn't figure it out, back when he was attempting to reenergize the studio after World War II. In "Frozen," we're first introduced to Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), members of a Norwegian royal family, as children, and we learn that Elsa has the power to create snow and ice; it was something she was born with. But after an accident ends up injuring her sister, she is forced to hide her abilities and grows emotionally distant from Anna (particularly after her parents are tragically killed).

The story begins, in earnest, on the eve of Elsa's coronation, where the gates to the kingdom are finally flung open. This is where Anna meets the handsome Hans (Santino Fontana), a prince from a neighboring country, as well as the scheming Duke of Weselton  (Alan Tudyk), which everyone pronounces weasel-town. It's also where Elsa loses her shit, exposing her powers to the assembled masses and, eventually, casting the kingdom into a perpetual wintery state. It's up to Anna and the rugged mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to get to Elsa and convince her to return the kingdom to the appropriate meteorological conditions for the season (she's frozen the fjord solid and all those from visiting kingdoms can't leave). In brief: If they can thaw Elsa's heart then maybe the kingdom can be saved. Easier said than done, of course.

One of the most remarkable aspects of "Frozen," as imagined by director Chris Buck (Disney's "Tarzan") and writer/co-director Jennifer Lee ("Wreck-It Ralph"), is that Elsa is never made out to be the villain. In less nuanced hands, she would have been a witchy sorceress hell bent on snowy destruction, like the Wicked Witch of the West meets Dr. Freeze from "Batman & Robin," but here there's significantly more shading. The movie's big musical number, "Let It Go," belongs to Elsa, and it's not a song of malicious intent; it's one of empowerment. (The second time we saw the movie, this number was met with spontaneous applause). Elsa is emboldened by her powers, comfortable with the icy world she's able to create for herself. She even refashions her wardrobe to reflect her glittery new surroundings.

In fact, for a movie that has gotten such heat for some comments made by an animator about the female characters, "Frozen" is completely female-positive. Anna is a wonderfully clumsy, headstrong young woman, like Belle in "Beauty & the Beast," who thinks she can do just about anything (even if she's done very little). Throughout the course of the movie, she realizes that falling in love is something that happens naturally and not a situation that can she can manifest herself (like Elsa's snowflakes). She also realizes that a true act of love might be different than the storybooks make it out to be. Certainly the credit lies largely with Lee, who does a wonderful job in her screenplay, of nimbly playing with conventions and tweaking the past without ever tipping the whole thing into a world of "Shrek"-like parody or alienating those who love the classicism of the older Disney fairy tales.

"Frozen" is a singularly gorgeous movie, too. Representing snow the way it is here hasn't been attempted before in animation, and the amount of different types of snow, and the way that it it evokes certain emotional undercurrents of the story is truly breathtaking. To some, the snow can bring life, but to others, it's nothing but darkness. The design work, seemingly inspired by classic Disney illustrators like Mary Blair and Marc Davis, some of whom worked on the original Walt-led version of the story, is stunning, especially when the story takes some unexpected twists (we're not revealing anything here, sorry).

Perhaps the most endearing aspect of "Frozen," and the thing that really pushes it beyond the realm of something like "Tangled," are the songs, by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. There are a handful of unforgettable songs, most notably the aforementioned "Let It Go," which we first heard Menzel perform at this summer's D23 Expo, and "In The Summer," a buoyant ditty performed by Olaf (Josh Gad), a living snowman brought to life by Elsa's magic, who more or less steals the show. The Disney Renaissance lived and died by its songs (many written by the dearly departed Howard Ashman); it's very clear that the Lopezes knew how important their songs would be and they do not disappoint.

Disney Animation seems to know where its place is in the company and what kind of movies it should be producing, now, alternating between more modern material and the classic Disney fairy tales of yore, like "Frozen." And this film is an incredibly strong addition to that lineage, one full of genuine magic and awe, where ice castles can materialize out of wintery air and snowmen can dream about hot weather. As far as animated movies go, it doesn't get that much better than "Frozen." It's a new Disney classic. [A]

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  • haha yessss | July 10, 2014 12:36 PMReply

    July 10th, and this movie is STILL on fire! I don't think I'll ever let this go, it's way too good.

  • Noora | March 19, 2014 12:22 AMReply


  • Jillian | March 3, 2014 7:13 PMReply

    I LOVED the movie Frozen. It is easily the best Disney movie I have ever seen!!!!!!!!!

  • shohel | February 19, 2014 1:05 PMReply

    Thanks for this awesome video. I like it much.
    short animated video

  • demandtu | February 7, 2014 5:41 PMReply

    Projected at crossing the $1 Billion mark at the worldwide box office gives you a look into how well this movie was received. It defiantly deserves the critical reception and the attention its been getting. A disney classic!

  • Donna L. Williams | December 13, 2013 10:17 PMReply

    Thanks, this is really good information I have visited this blog to read something fresh.
    Watch Frozen (2013) Full Movie -- http://j(dot)mp/frozen_fullmovie

  • Finn | December 9, 2013 4:31 AMReply

    I think maybe Disney should try another approach with 2D animation. The artistic style should be changed so that it was a fresh look. I would love to see the animation of Paperman in a new Disney film

  • patrick yim | November 29, 2013 10:37 PMReply

    I like movies

  • Shame | November 27, 2013 9:29 PMReply

    Drew Taylor, your comments about the beauty of the animated snow made me cry inside a little for what "Brave" could have been, as Brenda Chapman's original story took place in winter. Pixar would have done a wonderful job portraying snow.

  • ramses | November 20, 2013 4:40 PMReply

    the animation in this movie honestly does not look that good. looks like shrek to me

  • Scott | November 9, 2013 8:29 PMReply

    lee had a LOT if help with her "screenplay," and there's no doubt who told this story well through strong direction: Chris Buck. lee only got co-director credit to appease women upset over the firing of Brenda Chapman from Brave. She couldn't direct herself out of paper bag.

  • Jesse | November 5, 2013 12:46 AMReply

    "Audiences preferred the more technologically advanced 3D computer animation" ... We'll need to do see some polls before I believe that.

  • digcom | November 10, 2013 10:43 PM

    @jesse...yes, lion king is at #2. now look at the top 30...only 2 more hand drawn. a good traditional 2d animated story can do good box office, but i guarantee if the same story was made cg, it would make hundreds of millions more. its just the way it is now. in-house studio research has shown it is the medium.

  • Jesse | November 6, 2013 1:56 PM

    I see The Lion King at #2. It's not the medium, it's the story. (And sadly, the marketing)

  • droop | November 5, 2013 8:19 AM

    you're kidding right?

  • Morgan Richardson | November 4, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    Cell animation never fell out of favor with audiences. That was an assumption made by Disney management under Eisner after the poorly received Home on the Range and again with Iger after the poorly received Princess and the Frog. In actuality they were just lackluster films. It is the close-mindedness of people, like the author of this article, that caused Disney to shut down 2D animation. If Tangled had been animated traditionally it would have done just as well. Story caries a film, not the technique used to animate it.

  • Anonymous | November 23, 2013 3:07 PM

    I was born in 1996, the year after Toy Story was released, and I never had a problem with hand-drawn animation, and neither did my two younger sisters, the last of which was born in 2001.

  • Kirk | November 23, 2013 3:06 PM

    The Princess and the Frog was not awful, and it did not bomb. You are a complete idiot, Scott.

    Hand drawn animation is a wonderful art form, and the fact that people like you seem to be in the majority depresses me to an extreme extent. Why, why, why can people not be intelligent so that hand-drawn classics like Pinocchio and Beauty & The Beast can be made again?

  • Scott | November 9, 2013 8:33 PM

    No one cares about hand drawn animation. I'm glad Disney is focusing on making good movies rather than making hand drawn cartoons. Winnie the Pooh, nesse, and Princess and Frog were awful--and they bombed.

  • digcom | November 5, 2013 10:34 PM

    @shear...spongebob is great as a tv series, but did you see the box office for the spongebob movie? only $80 million. trust me....research has been done about the marketability of both 2d and 3d animated features. studios will consistently be leaving millions and millions of dollars on the table by choosing hand drawn over cg, no matter how good the story is. disney had hoped to reboot the traditional animated feature with "princess and the frog" and "winnie the pooh" but they both did less than half of the box office combined compared to "cars 2", which was a far worse movie than either.

  • Shear | November 5, 2013 4:01 PM

    Nickelodeon has one of the biggest hits on television with Sponge Bob, a 2D animated show. It's not out of favor, it's out of fashion with companies. Why? They think 3D animation is a surer bet but fact is, story is paramount.

  • digcom | November 5, 2013 1:27 AM

    i hate to disagree with you because i'd love to think it should be all about the story, but 2D animation really is all but dead. the children of today grew up on cg animation and they view traditional animation as old fashioned. if you don't believe me, ask any child. i have asked many children this question and almost unanimously they've said they don't like watching hand drawn animated features. it's akin to when i hated watching black and white films as a child while my parents still loved them. internal studio research has actually been done that verifies this.....and since animation is so expensive to produce and children make up most of its demographic, it's easy to see why we probably won't be seeing many of them made anymore. i'm sorry to say tangled most likely would not have done as well if was done in 2D.

  • hg | November 4, 2013 10:53 PM

    hardly call princess in the frog poorly received with it's 84 % on RT

  • Carl | November 4, 2013 8:09 PM

    I strongly agree with you.
    I am appalled that studio executives and "critics" fail to see that simple fact.

    And send talented and passionate animators to unemployment.

  • Ted | November 4, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    Really? If the film is really as good as you say, whoever made the trailer should get fired since it looks awful there.

  • Smeep | November 4, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    Who paid you to write this?

  • Marko | November 4, 2013 5:28 PM

    It's a Drew Taylor review. Of course it's going to be filled with hyperbole.

  • PEEMS | November 4, 2013 5:04 PM

    Indiwire, his employers.

  • B.S. Hunter | November 4, 2013 4:52 PM

    You didn't see the movie, did you?

  • Mr. Freeze | November 4, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    "Dr. Freeze"

  • droop | November 5, 2013 8:21 AM


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