Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from, all he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.
Ok, my first review on this blog, and I have to be honest, I struggled with what would be a good place to start. There are plenty of movies I want to gush about, some I want to tear apart, and a fair few that I think deserve a bit more of the spotlight, all of which I shall get to in time, but to start there is really only one choice. It’s Frozen. Yes I know everyone from here to the South Pole and back has voiced their opinions on it, but for me my feelings on Frozen are…mixed, to say the least.
Now while reviewing this film, I’m also going to have to mention Tangled at certain intervals here. Normally I don’t like to compare films, I believe they should stand on their own, but my feelings for Frozen are too tethered to Tangled for me to pull the two apart. I’m a bit nervous to say this, but I prefer Tangled to Frozen.
Guys? Guys! Put the comments down! Look, Tangled has a special place in my heart. It’s the film that got me back into Disney. I left Disney somewhere around Tarzan, I saw a couple of movies after that, but they just didn’t feel the same as those blissful childhood memories. Then one day I found a DVD of Tangled staring at me in a shop. I’d heard some pretty good reviews, so I took a chance, and promptly fell in love. Sure Tangled isn’t the greatest film, it’s doesn’t have the most depth or heart wrenching story of the Disney films, but it is really good fun. I adore the characters, the side-characters are a blast, and I love the sense of humour it has, pretty much every joke in the film has me laughing, no matter how many times I re-watch it.
And that’s the first problem I have. For you see, it was hype that killed Frozen for me. My expectations where astronomical going into this film. Disney was on a roll (I Love Wreck-it Ralph more than Frozen and Tangled combined), I loved the songs (I’d heard them all about a month prior to seeing the film), and although I knew it would never be faithful to the Snow Queen, it would at least have elements of it in there, so what could possibly go wrong? Let’s find out shall we?
We begin with “Frozen Heart”, a great song that I feel is a little underrated. It does a great job of setting up the themes for the movie. There’s just one itty bitty problem with it. Kristof. You see this movie starts off badly, for me anyway, because this film is terrible at explaining itself. I have the chair and spotlight prepared, so here we go.
Example one, Kristof. We see him here working alongside these ice-sellers as they gather their stock, but none of them acknowledge the kid. They seem content to let a small child run around a dangerous work environment with no supervision whatsoever. Then they just clear off without so much as a glance at the kid. Yes, keep singing, maybe the brat will go away of his own accord. Come on, I’m just asking for a little clarification here. Who is Kristof? Where are this kid’s parents? I know Disney likes to shuffle parents off screen one way or another, but this is ridiculous. Is Kristof an orphan? If so, where are his legal guardians? Who takes care of him? Who feeds him? Clothes him? Explain movie! Explain!
And, oh boy, here we go. That brings me to THE scene, the scene where Frozen fell from the great podium that I had put it upon in expectation. This is the scene where we meet the trolls. Ok, let’s go through this one by one. First, Kristof and Sven have followed the King and Queen and sneak a peek, and a troll proudly declares that she’s going to keep them. That is kidnapping. Guards! Arrest that troll, and find me this kid’s parents, they’re clearly neglectful. Honestly, worst parents ever.
Second, when the immortal lines are uttered. “Born with the powers, or cursed?” “Born, and they’re getting stronger.” Ok, annnnd? What? That’s it? No, no, no movie. I know I was asking you to explain to stuff, and I’m glad you’re finally starting to try, but I require a little more than that. What do you mean she was born with the powers? Is that a thing? Does it happen often? If so, why are people so freaked out by it later in the movie? Where does this magic come from? Did the Queen have an affair with an ice wizard and the king is just too stupid to realise it? Maybe she got a cold while she was pregnant, who knows, if the movies does it’s certainly not telling us.
Err… Can I just interject here?
What? Who said that?
Who are you, voice in italics?
You shall discover that after a long and harrowing journey through the depths of despair and insanity, but that is for another time.
It will be, when I actually figure what I’m going to write.
Wait, write, are you the Writer? The half-mad deity that created me?
You see the reason I’m here is…
Completely ignore me, ok.
You’re little grumble about not knowing where Elsa’s powers come from, to my knowledge, it’s not actually mentioned in the book either. As I recall, they explain it like so, snowflakes are like bees, and all bees have a queen, so therefore snow must also have a queen.
There is logic in that (somewhere). Look, ok, maybe the book’s not much better, but this is a particular bug of mine. I hate it when magic is just used as a kind of blanket term in the hopes that the audience doesn’t realise there’s no actual explanation. Like, why is there suddenly an omnipotent deity speaking in italics in my review?
My point exactly. Where was I? Oh yes, ranting!
Third, why do the trolls have to remove Anna’s memories of magic? I realise we wouldn’t have a film if this didn’t happen, but what purpose does it serve? How will memories of magic hurt her?
And finally, four, the King and Queen are idiots. I mean, they’ve just been told that fear is enemy, so they decide to lock up their daughter in one of the most paranoia, fear-inducing environments they can possibly concoct. Congratulations, you’ve just won the Worst Parents award from Kristof’s family. Ok, ok. I joke about this, I think the entire Internet has joked about it, but I can kind of see where the parents are coming from. They’ve got the wrong end of the stick, they think fear from the outside is the enemy, not helped by the troll’s little light show, so they want to keep Elsa away from that. I can even understand them not telling Anna, seriously if you want to keep a secret, you do not tell small children. Just ask Regina from Once Upon a Time, she’ll back me up on that. It’s just that the King and Queen don’t have more than two brain cells working at any one time to warn them of the psychological damage this will do their daughter, the Queen’s daughter anyway.
Ok, time to bring in Tangled. Because you see no film is without its plot holes, and Tangled has a few. How does Mother Gothel know the magic song she has to sing to the flower? The Queen, a brunette, gives birth to a baby girl, with a full head of blonde hair I might add, and the King, also a brunette, doesn’t question this? Or have the very handsome blonde tennis coach quietly executed? (Again with the affairs, you’d think I was bitter or something.) How does an old lady sneak into a palace and kidnap the Princess? How useless are these guards? Oh my mistake, these are the same idiots who guard a crown by STANDING WITH THEIR BACKS TO IT!!! A horse could do a better job than those morons, and he does! Crime practically vanishes once Maximus takes charge. I love that horse so much. Sorry, I got sidetracked, my point is, yes if you think about Tangled’s opening, it needs to do a little explaining itself, but the one think it doesn’t need to explain, is the motivations of its characters, we know exactly why they do what they do. We understand the mechanics of the magic, it’s a little vague, but it’s better than “Born or cursed?” Frozen just doesn’t explain the thought processes, or its magic all that well. The art of good storytelling it to wrap the audience up in an experience, so that they don’t notice the flaws until after they’ve left, but at this point in the film I’m just asking myself too many questions, and its pulling me out of that experience.
Now just to be clear, I like Frozen, but by this point with Tangled I was in the first heart-fluttering embrace of love. Whereas with Frozen, from this point onwards the film has to work damn hard to win me over, it manages it in the end, but it’s the fact that the film has to try, whereas Tangled is just effortless.
A demonstration of my emotional state at this point of the film, when I first heard “Do you Want to Build a Snowman?” or as I prefer to call it, “Anna Adorable, Gonna Try and Make you Cry Now” (I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s accurate), when I first heard this song, it was on YouTube a few weeks before I saw the film, and I’ll admit it got me a little choked up. But when it’s played in the film, I’m sorry I ain’t crying. I’ve still got a bad taste from that last scene in my mouth, and this is way too early in the film for me to cry. I barely know these characters, I can’t cry over them yet. Come back in half an’ hour, then maybe you’ll get me.
Then the film begins its assault on the hardening defences of my heart. The opening salvo is a kid’s response to having to wear a suit. “Why do I have to wear this?” “Because the Queen has come of age.” “But why is that my fault?” Ok, keep that up and you might just win me back movie, but then we hit another stumbling block.
Alright, I’ve held off on this long enough. Tangled get back in here. I’m sorry but in my opinion Tangled is a much prettier film. The colours are more vibrant, the lighting is fantastic, the animation is exhilarating, especially in the action sequences. Frozen feels like a tiny step backwards, which I admit didn’t help me warm to the movie (Sorry, I’ll never make that joke again, probably).
So now the film comes back with a counter-offensive. Anna. Oh Anna you’re all grown up now, and what can I say? I love you Anna, marry me! She’s nerdy, she’s awkward, a hopeless romantic, full of boundless optimism and guts a plenty. I don’t care how many dolls and lunchboxes Elsa sells, you’re the star of this show and that’s that. Anna is a joy to watch, helped by Kristen Bell’s enchanting performance. She’s like Rapunzel, but more, and I really love Rapunzel. One of my favourite Anna moments, is just how adorable she is when she tries to be all authoritative and Elsa-like as she demands Kristof take her up the mountain. (Stop that sniggering in back, you have dirty minds the lot of you.) And I have to say, after years of Disney putting forward this ideal of true love, where you just have to meet your fated partner and you’ll then live happily ever after with no problems whatsoever, outside of evil sorcerers anyway, I am so glad that Disney is finally done with that. Love has never worked like that, and it never will. I love how this film tackles love, in its different forms and misconceptions. The only real misstep is that they use love as the magic wand to fix everything at the end, though I suppose that’s only so jarring because it comes about so fast. This message is such a huge step forward for Disney that I just want to hug everyone that worked on this film. Well done guys.
This brings me to Elsa. Elsa is a great character, full of depth and tragedy. She is a character archetype that Disney has never done before, and is a milestone character because of that. I must admit though, a part of me would have liked to see Elsa go a bit more ‘villain’, only briefly mind. Just to give Elsa more a chance to be a bad ass and show off, and let’s face it, Elsa is such a good character she could easily pull off being a hero and a villain. She is also played wonderfully by Idina Menzel, who captures the complicated character perfectly. Honestly, Anna and Elsa make this movie for me. I love every single scene where the two of them interact, I just wish there was more of them together. Every exchange is both joyous and heart-breaking all at once, my favourite being at the party after Elsa’s coronation, where Elsa rightly refuses to allow Anna to marry Hans (How can she go out with me if she’s already married?). This triggers a row between the sisters, leading to probably the best performances in the entire movie. The pain and desperation is so raw it hurts. Anna pleading with her “I can’t live like this anymore!” and Elsa whispering to her “Then leave.” And my heart just shattered. The amount of emotion Idina packs into those two little words is just phenomenal. (Now you may play “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” and I will weep a bucket full of tears.)
Sigh. Here we go with “Let it Go” (See what I did there?). Now I love this song, it’s phenomenal (despite the fact that it’s played ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME!). Idina knocks it out of the park. On its own this is a fantastic song, I cannot say that enough and I want you all to keep it in mind when I say this next part, but in the context of the film it doesn’t work for me. This song is about Elsa finally breaking free, letting go of her past and joyously stepping forward into a bright new future, except there’s the little matter of her country being trapped in a perpetual winter! Now I know Elsa doesn’t know that’s happening yet, but still I feel like the song should be cutting back to the town for scenes of people freezing to death. Elsa is running away, and at no point does the song show that this is a bad thing. The song makes it sound like Elsa is stepping into a wonderful new chapter in her life, when in reality she’s making the biggest mistake of her life, and the song doesn’t get that across. (Running away from a problem is never the answer kids.)
Remember how I said Tangled has better animation in my opinion, well I think I know why. You see there is one part of this film’s animation that is astoundingly gorgeous and breathtaking, and that is the snow. The way it moves and flutters. The way it reacts to people falling into it, or scooping it up. It acts just like real snow. Obviously a lot, and I mean a lot, of money went into making those particle effects, and they’re worth every penny. (Yes I’m wearing my animator’s anorak, I never take it off.)
Speaking of snow, now we get to meet Olaf (Can you say segue?). I really like Olaf, I respect the amount of thought and effort that went into him, which is a thousand times more than most other talking magical sidekicks. He’s the embodiment of the happy moments in Anna and Elsa’s childhood, and has a heart as big as they come. Now that’s something that is often forgotten with the comedy sidekicks, they’re not just a series of jokes to keep the kid’s entertained; they’re actual characters with feelings. Think back to the Genie in Aladdin, or Mushu in Mulan, they had some really tender moments. Olaf is just the same. That scene with Anna by the fire is beautiful, and has a wonderful message about what love really is. Some people are definitely worth melting for indeed. It also helps that Olaf’s quite funny, he’s not laugh out loud funny for me, but he does make me chuckle, though that is mostly down to Josh Gad‘s superb delivery.
Now by it’s probably time for me to discuss another big part of the film, and that’s Hans. When we first meet Hans he’s charming, and dashing, and Anna clearly has the hots for him (Back off buddy, I saw her first). And Hans is such a nice young man, there is no conceivable way he could possibly be evil. Ok, I’m sure we all know the twist, and I gotta admit, I had it spoiled for me before I went in to see the film, so I can’t judge how shocking it is, but I do admire it. It’s a really good idea, and there are a couple of subtle little hints to it, it just needs a few more in my opinion, so then it doesn’t feel like it comes completely out of left field when it’s finally revealed.
The hints come at the aforementioned party. When Anna and Hans are walking through the rose garden, not once does he complicate Anna. Even his first line in “Love is an Open Door” is “All my life I’ve been searching for my own place.” Nothing about Anna, just getting his butt on a throne all his own. Still Anna is just too desperate for love and attention to see any of this.
Now I think what Hans needs to sell himself as the villain a bit better, is a villain song. Could you imagine if he sung a dark little reprise of “Love is an Open Door” here? It would have turned him from incompetent to incompetent yet pure evil. Yes, Hans is an incompetent villain. What? Anna is two minutes away from dying and you’re just going to leave her in a room where anyone can find her? (So sorry to take time out of your precious schedule.) And another thing, you clearly need to read up on this marriage lark, because claiming you exchanged marriage vows (WITHOUT ANY WITNESSES!!) is in no way legally binding. And while you’re there, check out monarchy as well. When Anna and Elsa die, the throne will pass to their next living relative, no matter how distant they may be. The only hope you’ve got of getting within sitting distance of that throne is to start a civil war and install a democracy. The people will vote for you I’m sure, but that’s a long way off. You have won nothing by any stretch of the imagination! Moron! Okay, breathe. Yeah, Hans is a bit of a letdown.
There’s one more little bit that bugs me about Frozen, and that’s the set pieces. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but they all feel like they’re on a smaller scale. The wolf chase, running away from Olaf-zilla (I know he’s called Marshmallow, but I prefer my name for him), Elsa’s fight with the soldiers, they’re all kind of mundane. I don’t feel the blood pumping through my veins at an ever increasing speed. Tangled has some really amazing action scenes, the part there Rapunzel and Flynn escape the soldiers, where the dam breaks and water comes flooding down, or the ending where Maximus leaps across the rooftops, racing away at breakneck speed. Now that’s action. Frozen just doesn’t have that.
Ok, that’s a lie, Frozen has one fantastic action scene, and that’s the ending. The entire scene is truly epic as Kristof races across the frozen fjord to get to Anna, with the ice cracking, and ships crashing all around, the camera swooping between our protagonists. The way the storm sweeps away as Elsa collapses in grief, thinking she killed Anna, it’s breath-taking. All of it leading up to Anna sacrificing herself to protect her sister. We see Anna’s last tiny breath leave her as she turns to ice. The entire scene is beautiful, filled with drama and heartbreak. (Where’s my bucket, I need to cry again.) It’s only slightly marred by the rather quick resolution, where Elsa figures out the magic cure, love. You were doing so well Disney.
All in all, Frozen has better performances, better songs, stronger themes, and a great pair of leads in Anna and Elsa. I admit that logically Frozen is the superior film, but I still prefer Tangled (Because when has logic ever had anything to do with love?). I went into Frozen wanting to love it, I feel I should love it, but I just don’t, not completely anyway. I have too many quibbles with the narrative for me to embrace this film wholeheartedly. The parts are so much greater than the whole here, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with that. I may not love Frozen, but I do really like it, and I will be watching it again without a doubt. I’ll just watch Tangled a bit more often.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog should update every Friday.