I wish I were kidding. Part of this illuminating interview has been helpfully transcribed for the podcast-reluctant. Nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Such a shame, then, to see Walt Disney Pictures fly in the face of Cartoon Network programming logic and gamble on a theatrical release like the action-heavy Frozen, in which the humor isn’t locker-room crude, the animation sets new standards, and the main characters are two sisters who pass the Bechdel Test cum laude. Sure, it’s quality entertainment, but if the girl power in a cartoon overwhelms the manpower, why even bother? This cartoon chick flick will be lucky to make more than twenty bucks at the box office. And you can forget about merchandising sales.
…oh, wait. As of its fourth weekend, the movie’s cleared $160 million domestic so far, and it’s still in the #2 box office spot and barely slowing down. How’d that happen? Conspiracy, maybe?
Loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, Frozen centers around two sisters. The elder, Elsa (Tony Award Winner Idina Menzel, known far and wide for Wicked), was born into royalty as a mutant with Iceman’s powers (the movie calls it “sorcery”, but whatever) and spent her teenage years in self-imposed house arrest after a power accident left her psychologically scarred. Her kid sister Anna (Kristen Bell, TV’s Veronica Mars) never understood why her big sister used to play with her but then stopped forever. Family tragedy accelerates Elsa’s rise to the throne, but her reign is suspended after a sisterly spat escalates into tearful exile and kingdom-wide off-season winter. If this sudden climatic disruption is left unchecked, they’re looking at an icy-cold version of the Dark Phoenix Saga.
For the sake of crops, survival, and life as they know it, Anna hits the road to change her sister’s mind, along with three strangers as companions: Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, a Broadway vet who’s been on Glee), an orphaned loner whose livelihood as a freelance ice-block salesman is in jeopardy; his trusty reindeer Sven, who’ll surely starve if carrots can never grow again; and, unknowingly brought to life, a childhood snowman named Olaf (yet another Broadway vet, The Book of Mormon‘s Josh Gad) who’s much funnier in the movie than he was in the trailers. Meanwhile back at the throne, second-in-command Anna delegated authority to a visiting, lower-rung dignitary named Hans (Santino Fontana, from Broadway’s Billy Elliott) whom she just met and who is now her fiancé. Waiting in the wings with impatience and another pompous accent is a duke played by Firefly‘s own Alan Tudyk, who previously ruled in Wreck-It Ralph and is more than welcome to costar in all future Disney movies ever as their answer to John Ratzenberger.
Fair warning about one secret the trailers don’t reveal: there are songs. As you might have guessed by the recurring “Broadway” casting theme, the film’s first half is chockablock with musical numbers, Broadway-style in the sense that they’re nearly back-to-back and move the character intros forward without being particularly memorable after you leave for home. Of the two exceptions, Best in Show is Menzel’s soaring Oscar-nom shoo-in “Let It Go” (which Disney officially posted online a week ago), in which Elsa finally stops hiding who she is and learns to cut loose with her gifts. Winning the comedy side of the soundtrack is “In Summer”, in which Olaf’s dream of life in July could use some friendly advice from Frosty. Suspense trumps singing during the second half once the stakes are raised, but all throughout the animators likewise outdo themselves in creating a winter wonderland filled with reflection, refraction, translucence, ethereal snowfall, and aggressive, spiky danger.
During and between those moments, Frozen includes and subverts the usual fairy-tale requirements — the dashing prince, royal succession as a key motive, and the healing power of true love all play their parts, but not as predictably as they could have. Under the guidance of writer/directors Chris Buck (who also directed Disney’s Tarzan and the underrated improv cartoon Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (who cowrote Wreck-It Ralph), Frozen is a superb, family-friendly adventure about lifelong secrets, cutthroat royalty, disaster recovery, and, above all else, a rarely explored little thing called sisterly love. Good luck finding a free substitute on Cartoon Boys-Only Network.
And to answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the Frozen end credits, along with a joke buried in the fine print. For those who fled the theater prematurely and really want to know without seeing it a second time…
[insert space for courtesy mild spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship]
…a giant spiky snow monster — presumed dead in all the chaos — returns to a now-abandoned ice castle, finds a discarded tiara on the floor, puts it on, and feels oh-so-pret-ty.
Also, a disclaimer near the end reads (loosely paraphrased), “The views expressed by Kristoff regarding all men eating boogers do not necessarily reflect the views of Walt Disney Pictures or its affiliates, and any resemblance to…” and so on. (You, uh, had to be there.)
Also also, for those who think Idina Menzel’s rendition of “Let It Go” is too, too good, the end credits kick off with a pop-radio understudy version by Demi Lovato, tailor-made for preteens and clubbers who can’t handle triumphant Broadway gusto.