Judge Joel Pearce says this Disney sports drama couldn't be a winner even if its hillbilly boyfriend took a lead pipe to its rival's kneecap.
From scholastic…to fantastic!
Well, we all know what to expect from Disney sports movies. Although Ice Princess has a few impressive moves, its generic nature and lackluster delivery keep it…well…on ice.
Facts of the Case
Sixteen year old Casey (Michelle Trachtenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has a great career ahead of her. She has a good chance at getting a big physics scholarship for Harvard, but needs to do a project on her own over the summer. She chooses to study the physics of figure skating, and realizes after a while that she is able to help local skaters improve and quickly develops her own skating ability. When she falls in love with the sport, she has some serious problems to work out. Her mom (Joan Cusack, High Fidelity) wants her to stick to the plan, and local skate trainer Tina Harwood (Kim Catrall, Big Trouble in Little China) doesn't like the attention that Casey is taking from her own daughter. To follow her dreams, Casey is going to have to fight every inch of the way.
Half an hour into Ice Princess, it's clear that they were trying to do something different. The formula has changed slightly, and there is a slight edge to Casey's relationships with her friends and family. By the end, though, everything has fallen back into the same old routines.
I actually don't mind the physics plot device that much. At any rate, it works a lot better than the magic [piece of sports equipment] plot device that gets plugged into so many light Disney sports movies. That's what I expected from Ice Princess before I started. Casey would find a magic pair of skates that would suddenly make her a great skater. Her unpopularity would vanish as she proved to the world that she was something special. The physics idea works a lot better. Casey is already good at figure skating to begin with, although she has never taken the time to develop her skills. She loves watching the sport, enough so that she immediately chooses that as her project. So, there is no magic involved. As she studies the laws of physics as applied to different skaters, she begins to understand why some people are better skaters than others. Through very hard work, she is able to apply these concepts to her own skating. It's even pointed out in the film that her computer program doesn't make the jumps for anyone, it just shows them the way.
Of course, there are problems with this idea. Anyone naïve enough to think that physicists haven't been hired to study the movements of skaters to improve their abilities probably shouldn't be making a film about professional sports. We live in a society that is systematically turning athletes into well-oiled machines that can press the human potential to the limits. We are even shown this in the film, as young children are forced to practice for hours to prepare them for a few short seasons of competitive skating in ten years. Casey's physics equations couldn't expose anything that hadn't already been worked out by professional coaches.
Unfortunately, this change in plot devices hasn't kept Ice Princess from wallowing in formula. The ugly duckling story is still there, once again where it makes no sense. Do glasses really make Michelle Trachtenberg look ugly? I couldn't even tell the difference between the normal Casey and the made-up figure skating Casey. The typical teenage fantasy is played out as Casey and her friends gradually get close to the coolest girls at school. Just in time to graduate, they will be popular. I'm not sure this is the best message to send our preteen girls. While Trachtenberg's performance is strong, most of the other actors fail to deliver. The other figure skaters are particularly generic and silly, although both Kim Catrall and Joan Cusack have more than the usual coach and mother roles to offer. Still, the younger performers don't bring enough sincerity to make their roles resonate.
As well, the wonderful moments of Ice Princess are damaged by the frenetic pacing of the film. The skating sequences are solidly filmed, as are the moments between Casey and her mother. Casey's relationships with the other skaters aren't developed enough, though, and her training is completely skipped. In competition, most of the skaters are barely shown at all, and the long programs last about 15 seconds each. The film would have benefited from a more leisurely pace, as well as the balancing of the major plot threads. These are minor issues, though, ones that won't bother the target audience any. Preteen girls are going to eat this up, and they could do a lot worse. Ice Princess is a film that urges them to follow their own dreams, even if they are different than those of the people around them. We all have to make sacrifices when we choose a path, but those sacrifices are worth it if we are willing to stick it out.
Disney has released Ice Princess on a fine DVD. Unfortunately, I am reviewing the fullscreen version, so I can't give an accurate evaluation of the video transfer. From what I can tell, it is clean and sharp, with no visible print or transfer flaws. The sound transfer is sharp as well, with little action in the surrounds but clear dialogue and loud, obnoxious girl pop music. There are a few extras as well. There are some deleted scenes, none of which would have solved the pacing problem, as well as two music videos that someone out there would be a lot more excited about than I was. The major extra is a commentary track with Michelle Trachtenberg and two of her young co-stars in the film. It is a silly, fluffy track, as teen commentaries tend to be, though they are having a good time and do discuss a number of their production experiences.
Young girls will probably love Ice Princess, and many parents will find it more palatable than other Disney sports films. It doesn't transcend the genre, but it is full of the same old heart-tugging, dream-inspiring nonsense that we have been flocking to for decades.
Although Ice Princess isn't a great film, I don't have the heart to send it behind bars.
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