Saturday, 14 December 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Man-Child At The Movies (Frozen)

A few weeks ago I rambled on about a screening of a wonderful new Mickey Mouse short called 'Get A Horse', which I viewed and promptly left before watching a sneak peak of the new Disney film, Frozen. I walked out early because a) I had to purchase champagne flutes, and b) I was fully convinced that purchasing champagne flutes would be more enjoyable than watching Frozen, which appeared to be just awful from the trailers I saw.

Then the reviews started coming in. Critics shoveled praise on Frozen like freshly fallen snow. "A return to form", they said. "The best thing Disney has put out since Aladdin", they said. And the more "they said", the more interested I became to watch the movie.

Well, I finally watched it last night. And I feel guilty for acting so cold towards something that's garnered an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating. But I stand by this chilly reception.

Let's talk positives first. Based on that first teaser trailer, I guess Frozen has to be considered a triumph of marketing. That clip makes the movie seem like the zaniest comedy of the year. But it is in fact the least zany film of the year. That reindeer and snowman probably only appear in about 20% of Frozen's running time. And I still can't figure out if that's a good or bad thing. I was so desperate for laughs about an hour in, I was just hanging on their every grunt and giggle.

It's also proof positive of the effectiveness of word-of-mouth. Based on those trailers, Frozen did not seem well-marketed to me, but it's still proving a money-maker, which has to be partially attributed to the positive reviews. It makes me wish I could sit in on the Disney marketing meetings, to learn if these decisions are indeed the acts of genius I expect them to be, or just happy little accidents.

Other positives: Some of the design work, especially in the ice palace, is quite beautiful. Apparently the animators did a brief retreat at the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec City to study how light reflects and refracts on ice surfaces. When you watch some of these scenes, you can tell their studies paid off.

And without ruining it for you, I will say the ending is a great surprise. It leads to what you'd expect to be a stereotypical Disney denouement, but then it confidently veers to the right at the last minute. It's a great example of how progressive the Disney machine has become. And it's nice to see two female characters given the lead for a change, even though they're still made to look kinda foolish at times.

Now here's the problem - unfortunately, being a "return to form" isn't really what I wanted to see. Although I can recognize the improvement in the music and songs, I simply didn't want to watch a musical. And that's largely what Frozen is, despite what that above wacky carrot chase implies. It's a "return to form" of the sweeping, animated musical, reminiscent of movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. If you love those "vault" classics, you'll probably love Frozen. But if you're a casual Disney fan like me, than you'll likely spend a large portion of your time wondering how you ended up in the theatre.

I also don't want to seem like I'm against musicals and other forms of high-brow entertainment. It's just that if it's done well, it should seem effortless. And Frozen seems like a bit of a chore to get through at times.

I dunno, I was starting to enjoy the more unconventional side of Disney - that edgy Mickey Mouse short, the perfect Pixar blend of heart and humour seen in Toy Story 3, the imaginative irreverence of Wreck-It-Ralph. I like that they found a formula that went against their traditional "epic princess" grain, and presented it in a way that was fun and engaging for all audiences. True, I'm a man (sticks out chest), and I like movies featuring lumpy 8-bit jerks, not princesses! But if it was genuinely good, I wouldn't notice those things. Comparatively, I really enjoyed Tangled, which had a great mix of traditional fairy tale and contemporary fun. Also, horseplay.

I also found myself comparing Frozen to Disney/Pixar's Brave. Both featured independent female leads and fanciful storylines, but somehow Pixar has more of a gift for reigning in everybody - men, women, young, old. Even though Brave is probably one of my least favourite Pixar films, I still found myself undeniably entertained. And while Frozen unabashedly skews young girls, and has adult elements that should keep some moms engaged, I still have to expect a lot of them were bored and found themselves wishing that Wreck-It-Ralph would suddenly appear, to smash that ice palace good. (sticks out chest)

I'm glad people watch Frozen and think that Disney got its groove back. Because if its financially viable, it only means more great cartoons are on the way. I just hope that some of their future films can showcase less music and more fun. Or at least equal parts of each. Balance is all I'm looking for, people. And an extra manly Wreck-It-Ralph sequel*.

*NOTE: Jennifer Lee, the writer and co-director of Frozen, was also a screenwriter on Wreck-It-Ralph, so I'm well aware of the irony in that last request.

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