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Thursday, 19 December 2013

On-Screen Advent Adventure: Days Eighteen & Nineteen

Since the success of Up and Toy Story 3, both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios have repeatedly sought in vain to create a new bonafida animated classic. As it happens, all it took was a reignition of one of the key generic aspects that engineered the latter studio's acclaim with beloved projects like The Lion King- the art of the musical. Frozen is (in this reviewer's mind) Disney's finest CGI triumph in years, a holiday treat for younger and elder generations alike.

Unlike our initial venture to Pride Rock, this festive excursion to the fantastical kingdom of Arendelle doesn't house a sizable number of famed voice actors. Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Kristen Bell and Wicked/Glee's Idina Menzel are the most noteworthy cast members here, taking on the roles of the brilliantly subversive Princess protagonists, but relative newcomers like Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad put up extremely memorable performances, acting as a reminder (if ever one was necessitated) that star factor rarely must define the potential quality of a motion picture production. Cult favourites including Jack Whitehall and Ciaran Hinds do receive brief cameos, admittedly, yet they play a proud second fiddle to the instantly engaging central ensemble of the piece.

Frozen's narrative in itself is an unrelenting marvel, its screenplay artists evidently recognising the various deja vu-laced pitfalls of recent Disney animated efforts. They use such iconography as a shroud of deception, a shroud which ultimately unveils a far more intelligent and compelling entry of cinema than its immediate predecessors, Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled included. Although Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen can be considered an influence of sorts upon the general premise of the plot, that the film's scribes seek to continually subvert their textual inspirations is wholly apparent. Scarcely a single layer of the plot acts in a manner which is contradictory to some form of inspired satire, an approach which in the case of a U-rated motion picture is as dangerous as it is ambitious, and one might argue that Disney are the only studio with that necessitated level of audacity and storytelling finesse to pull the trick off as successfully as they do here.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the production team's return to that allegedly overzealous and bygone era of musical drama is at the icy heart of their reclamation of Walt's ever-intended magic. Do You Want To Build A Snowman?, For The First Time In Forever and Winter's Waltz were my highlights and already litter this reviewer's Spotify 'Previously Played' list as we speak, but such is the variety of the setlist that each individual viewer will find multiple contrasting melodies which resonate most strongly for them at this festive time of year. Make no mistake, Frozen has all the makings of a Christmas classic, set to be replayed endlessly in years to come unless any sudden box office or hidden critical maelstrom commences in the days following its UK release. For its marketing campaign to have been such an understated contradiction to that of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or Anchorman 2 comes as an incredible surprise, since Disney have every right to exhibit as much promotional pride as financially possible with their latest venture.

If Jennifer Lee's storyline does falter at all, then it's only minutely noticable in the midst of its climax. Frozen tails off in a traditionally uplifting fashion, which is to be expected from Disney, and yet the early chapters of the narrative suggested that a more sombre and heartstring-tugging denouement might be in store. What is offered up here as an alternative works brilliantly in the context of the film's release window within a season of goodwill, and this remains one of the best motion pictures of 2013, but perhaps for Walt's legacy to truly carry through, the next step for his company is to take a leap of faith and venture into braver narrative territory still in years to come. For now, the kids will leave the auditorium stunned and in great merriment, and their parents will probably echo many of the same overridingly complementary sentiments of their overall experience as viewers, having been reverted to much the same infant-esque state of magical wonder induced by Toy Story and Snow White upon their worldwide premieres.

Improbable as it may have seemed, then, Walt Disney Animation Studios have thrown a curveball into the mix as to the rankings of 2013's superior big-screen presentations. A throwback to the studio's days of undisputed fame and a simultaneous mission statement for their future cinematic endeavours (not unlike Steven Moffat's 50th Anniversary Doctor Who episode The Day of the Doctor), Frozen revives the animated musical genre for a present day audience and does so with such unparalleled dramatic levity that it can never be passed off as cheesy, self-indulgent or otherwise. If this is to be the first omen of Disney's post-2013 direction in animated filmmaking, then the future has never appeared brighter for them, nor have the expectations on their competitors ever been so great in requiring them to match this chilling masterpiece. Once upon a time, DreamWorks reigned dominant with Shrek, Ice Age and Kung Fu Panda, but that era has long since passed, and the animated genre's throne has been repossessed by its rightful owner- it's the Circle of Life, my friend.

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