Early Cinematic Joy
The first film I ever saw on anything larger than the (now) tiny television my parents had was Disney‘s The Jungle Book, at Bircotes swimming pool – or rather in a room fittingly full of monkey bars and ropes. It was great, and began a lifelong love of Disney films (enhanced no end by the astonishing stroke of genius that had Jungle Book characters recurring in Robin Hood). They made many splendid films before a sad decline. It was arrested briefly by the brilliant but apparently loathed The Emperor’s New Groove but it seemed to be just a minor boulder on the mudslide of invention.
Disney’s bouncing back! It may be an effect of putting John Lasseter in charge, recognising his influence on Pixar’s earliest and best films (I try to forget about Cars, which I find to be the worst thing Pixar ever did, to say nothing of its sequel or Disney spin-off). I’m not too fussed about the reason – I’m just pleased they’re recovering (though with Cars 2 and Brave, possibly at Pixar’s expense).
Weirdly that recovery comes with startlingly awful trailers. Tangled for example, I almost didn’t go to see because the trailer made it seem so abysmal. But I dragged myself out, hoping that Disney would have made a new Aladdin. They bettered it, especially with the horse-that-thinks-it’s-a-dog and chameleon partnership. Happily, they’ve done it again with Frozen. The trailer is appalling, making it seem dull and flat like the worst of their straight to DVD films. Olaf (the snowman) looks like the worst thing ever put in a cartoon and I determined to never suffer him on screen. The only thing that looked interesting was the ice and snow, and that’s not really enough to draw an audience in.
The Perfect Setting For Disney
Despite my Olaf-rage we did go to see it, on Christmas Eve with very low expectations. The screening was packed with children and parents taking pictures of their children and a reasonable amount of crying. Oddly it’s the perfect setting for Disney – an equal mix of delight and misery. The trailers were for more dreadful looking Tinkerbell films (game suggestion – swap the term ‘blue pixie dust’ for ‘meth’ while watching the trailer – it makes more sense) and the mind-blindingly awesome-looking The Lego Movie which left me in a state of considerable pre-film excitement.
Before Frozen they have a short – I was really hoping it would be with the horse from Tangled but instead it was a new Mickey Mouse ‘toon. It crushed my hopes for the main event. The cartoon is clever but reminded me how without merit, appeal or interest Mickey Mouse and his cohort are. They drag the black and white slapstick out into colour and 3D, presumably to wow the kiddies. but instead simply perplexed them. We heard a child in front of us ask a parent “Mum, why is this on?” It’s sad to report that the only laughs the cartoon got from the audience were when Pete is repeatedly stabbed, electrocuted and crushed by the sadistic mouse. In fairness that was after Pete abducted Minnie, with his lascivious tongue action and bulging eyes. Then there’s the bit where the lady cow (Clara?) lifts her skirts in alarm but raises her udders instead. It was just peculiar, really really peculiar…
Thankfully Frozen vastly exceeded my lowered hopes. The opening is strange, but effective – we see the ice cutters in the mountains hacking out cubes of ice (also introducing the hero Kristoff and his comic reindeer sidekick) which provides gorgeous dawn views of the mountains and a work shanty song about cuttting ice. That shifts to the two young princesses in a charming magical ice romp through their ballroom. An accident – an icy blow to the head leads to the decision to erase all memory of her sister’s (Elsa) magic from Anna’s mind. They are separated and grow apart until… their parents are summarily wiped out in a storm. It feels like a curious development in childrens’ films that parents are so frequently killed off – I’d have thought we could empathise with the main characters without them being bereaved. Oh well. With the parents gone the kingdom will be repoened to the public and secret-snow girl Elsa is to be queen. It all goes wrong very soon afterwards.
The particular highlights of Frozen for me were the beautiful ice and snow effects. It’s clear that the artists have spent months studying the process of freezing and replicate it to wondrous effect. The ice palace that Elsa builds is stunning, and the snow provides opportunities for unexpected and predictable comedy and alarm throughout. There are a number of chases through snow and ice and a very dramatic scene across the frozen harbour in an ice storm. Maybe this is what Disney have really learned from Pixar – the value of making the environment as real as possible. It certainly pays off here, with the creeping deadly ice frosting up the insides of buildings.
A Song Of Snow And Ice
The snow also brings us Olaf, the snowman. I hated him in the trailer, but he’s actually likeable and funny in the film. Oddly self-deprecating and cheerful he provides one of the best and funniest songs ‘In Summer’. It’s about how excited he is about the prospect of summer and doing whatever it is that frozen water does in the sun… There’s an innocence and sarcasm in the other characters’ responses to him that I rather enjoyed. He’s not quite as much fun as the relationship between Kristoff and his reindeer (and their “Reindeers Are Better Than People” song), and there’s no real reason for him to be in the film at all, but he still made me laugh.
Frozen has a full on West End / Broadway musical style to all of the songs which I found arresting. It helps that the leads are proper musical stars who can belt out a tune. I always find counterpoint style songs very affecting and there are several which punched me in the heart strings with hopes for freedom, independence and resisting conformity (“Let It Go”, the song accompanying the creation of Elsa’s palace is a great example). It’s the first soundtrack for a film that I’ve bought in ages, and I made sure I got the deluxe edition which includes unused songs, outtakes and acoustic versions so you can sing along!
Take Me Up The North Mountain
As I said, Frozen exceeded my expectations (possibly because the short lowered them so much) and I laughed and possibly even came close to tears at some points. Two lines in particular had us weeping, largely for the wrong reasons I concede: “I want you to take me up the North Mountain” (repeated twice for emphasis) and “*chuckle* I’ve been impaled”. I thought it was great and I’m looking forwards to enjoying the soundtrack for years.