Judge Erich Asperschlager has a carrot appendage, but it's not his nose.
"Do you want to build a snowman?"
I doubt anyone at Disney knew how big Frozen would become. I'm sure they had high hopes after the critical and commercial success of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, but who knew that a fairy tale about two sisters, a talking snowman, and a whole lot of ice would go on to be the highest grossing animated movie of all time? Since it came out last November, Frozen has broken box office and home video records, won major awards, amassed an army of superfans young and old, and is probably why we had such a long winter.
Facts of the Case
The king and queen of Arendelle have two daughters—Elsa (Idina Menzel, Rent) and Anna (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars)—and a secret. Elsa has the ability to conjure ice and snow, and while the girls are playing she accidentally hits Anna with a stray icy blast that causes her to collapse. The king and queen rush Anna to the king of the trolls (Ciarán Hinds, The Woman in Black) who heals her but warns that as Elsa gets older her power could become a threat to those she loves.
To protect the girls, the troll king erases Anna's memory while the king shuts the castle gates and tells Elsa to stay in her room and away from her sister. Things stay that way until Elsa's coronation day celebration. Anna is excited about the big party and all the visitors, but Elsa is terrified. A quarrel between the sisters ends with Elsa losing control of her powers. She freezes the town and runs away to the mountains. With the prospect of Arendelle stuck in eternal Winter, Anna sets off to find her sister and save the town with the help of her true love Hans (Santino Fontana, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), an ice seller named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, Glee), his reindeer, and a talking snowman (Josh Gad, Jobs).
Frozen was a long time in the making. Walt Disney tried back in the '40s to adapt several Hans Christian Andersen stories, including The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen. Ariel and her undersea pals got their adaptation in 1989, kicking off a '90s Disney renaissance, but The Snow Queen took considerably longer. The project went through multiple iterations before emerging as Frozen under the co-direction of animator Chris Buck and screenwriter Jennifer Lee. One of the biggest problems with early versions of the film was the Snow Queen character. She is a villain in Anderson's original, and for a long time she was a villain in the Disney version, too. In the end, the filmmakers decided to make the character misunderstood instead of evil, and that change made all the difference.
Disney movies are known for memorable baddies, but Frozen wouldn't be the same with a villainous Elsa. The lack of big villain (sort of…no spoilers) is just one of the ways the film subverts the Disney formula. Frozen might look like another princess movie, but Lee twists familiar elements to create a new kind of Disney princess movie. This isn't a movie about a damsel in distress. It's a movie about the complicated relationship between two sisters who can take care of themselves. Frozen doesn't feels ahead of its time so much as it makes previous Disney movies seem out-of-date.
It's the kind of princess movie I want my daughter to see more of—which shouldn't be hard judging by how crazy she is at the moment for all things Frozen. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly she loves about the movie. As a hardcore Disney princess fan, she's a sucker for the pretty dresses and castles, but she seems to respond most to the characters. The morning after I showed her Frozen for the first time I found her standing in front of her bedroom window with a scarf cape playing "ice castle." She pretends to be Elsa as we walk to the bus stop, throwing ice spells into the air. While waiting to watch the movie one afternoon she laid down on the kitchen floor with her feet up on the wall "tick-tock"ing along with the clock, just like Anna does.
She also loves the music, for good reason. Frozen has the best Disney soundtrack since the '90s, with musical numbers composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The husband-wife team wrote songs for 2011's Winnie-the-Pooh, while Robert Lopez is famous for co-writing Broadway hits Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. He brings that wicked sense of humor to Frozen with sophisticated music and lyrics that aren't dumbed down for kids. "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" is equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking. "For the First Time in Forever" sets the stakes for Elsa and Anna. "Love is an Open Door" and "Fixer Upper" are peppy tunes that take on new meaning as the story progresses. The film's showstopper is the Oscar-winning "Let it Go"—a song about self-acceptance and freedom from fear that gives me chills every time I hear it.
As good as the songs are the lead performances by Broadway veteran Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell as Elsa and Anna, with supporting vocals by Jonathan Groff as Kristoff and Santino Fontana as Hans. Book of Mormon's Josh Gad as Olaf the snowman is Frozen's not-so-secret weapon. Part sidekick, part comic relief, Olaf could have been an annoying distraction from the film's profound ideas. Instead, Olaf is endearing, sympathetic, and genuinely funny. His delightfully delusional solo number "In Summer" is one of the best scenes in the movie. The talking snowman embodies all the things Frozen does right, balancing tones and appealing to the audience without falling into the trap of "one for the adults, one for the kids." The only sequence that doesn't entirely fit involves a giant snow monster attack, and even that's too fun to care.
Since the original Toy Story, Pixar has been the gold standard in CG animation. Frozen is at least as good as any of their recent movies, thanks to co-director Chris Buck, art director Michael Giaimo, and their talented team. The characters, costumes, and setting are beautiful, but the star of the animated show are the convincing ice and snow effects—the chilly equivalent of Pixar cracking fur animation in Monsters, Inc..
Frozen (Blu-ray) makes the transition from one digital source to another with a flawless 2.24:1/1080p transfer. Character and costume detail are sharp as ice crystals, with deep blacks and glowing blues. It's a gorgeously designed and animated film, and it looks stunning on Blu-ray. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is active and encompassing, balancing environmental effects with crisp dialogue, Christophe Beck's sweeping Scandinavian-inspired score, and the Broadway-style musical numbers. There's no better way to experience Frozen at home.
That's not to say this Disney Blu-ray is a fully rounded release. The film may look and sound great, but those looking for extensive bonus features will be disappointed. Where Pixar packs their sets with audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes, storyboards, concept art, and in-depth featurettes, Frozen barely scratches the surface on what must be a fascinating making-of story. It's not a complete wash, but the superficial bonus features suggest there's an "Ultimate Collector's Edition" in our future. Here's what you get right now…
• "Get a Horse!" (6:00)—This retro Mickey Mouse short that played before the movie in theaters is required viewing at home (too bad there's no option to automatically play the short and film together). Its clever hook pays homage to the earliest Disney cartoons while taking advantage of modern technology. It's great.
• "The Making of Frozen" (3:18)—In this fluffy featurette, Gad, Groff, Bell, and various Disney staff pose the singing-dancing question "How did we make Frozen?" and then don't answer it.
• "D'frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen" (7:28)—Co-directors Lee and Buck give a basic history of the project, looking back at Disney animator Marc Davis's early concept art for a Disneyland "Enchanted Snow Palace" attraction that never came to fruition. Neither did Walt Disney's idea for a part animated/part live action Hans Christian Anderson biography.
• Deleted Scenes with introductions by directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (6:51)—These four storyboard and animatic deleted scenes give a peek into early ideas for the film, including a scene where a more sinister Elsa uses her ice powers to attack pursuing soldiers.
• "Let It Go (End Credit Version)"—Frozen's most popular song gets four different music videos (around four minutes each), recorded by different artists in English, Spanish, Italian, and Malaysian.
• DVD copy
• Digital copy
Frozen is a juggernaut whose record-setting run in theaters was slowed only by its record-setting release on Blu-ray. Now that hordes of young fans have the ability to watch the movie any time they want, it looks like Winter just might last forever. That's just fine by me. Unlike too many record-setting blockbusters, Frozen is a great movie. It upends the Disney formula and establishes a new template for princess movies, with strong characters and some of the best Disney music in decades. The Blu-ray release delivers pristine audiovisuals; if only the bonus features were worthy of the "Collector's Edition" moniker. The few deleted scenes and making-of overview are a taste of what we will hopefully see once Frozen gets the comprehensive Blu-ray set it deserves.
The movie's Not Guilty, but this Blu-ray is a bit of a fixer upper.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Animated Short
Review content copyright © 2014 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.