Adventure Animation

Frost-Free Blu-ray Review: Frozen

March 27, 2014Ben MK

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Something frigid this way comes

By Ben Mk

A Disney adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen has been three quarters of a century in the making. Ever since Walt Disney first made official his intent to bring the 19th century fairy tale to cinema screens in 1939, moviegoers have waited with bated breath to see those classic characters come to life. But it wasn't until 2013 that they finally got their wish — sort of. Disney's Frozen isn't a by-the-storybook adaptation, but you can be certain that directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee's version will melt the hearts of audiences everywhere.

Hans Christian Andersen's original story hews more closely to the conventional dichotomy between good and evil than Buck and Lee's modern interpretation; but those familiar with it will be able to see the seeds from the original that have been sown throughout Frozen. At the heart of this retelling is the relationship between Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), sisters and heiresses to the kingdom of Arendelle. But while they're bound by blood, there's one fundamental difference that separates the two — Elsa has the unique ability to summon the forces of Winter from her fingertips. Still, that doesn't prevent them from being close as children; if anything, it only strengthens their bond, with Elsa frequently using her powers for her younger sister's amusement. That is, until one day, when she accidentally strikes Anna with them, rendering her younger sister unconscious. And even though Anna is able to recover — thanks to the help of the trolls who live in the forest — Elsa never forgives herself. From that day forth, the kingdom closes its gates to all outsiders, and Elsa goes into self-exile — forbidding herself from having any contact whatsoever with her sister, even when their parents are lost forever at sea.

But everything changes on Coronation Day — when the kingdom finally reopens its gates, so that visitors from near and far can see the newly-crowned Queen Elsa ascend to the throne of Arendelle. It's also the first time that Anna will be able to meet anyone from outside of the kingdom since that fateful day of her accident. And since then, Elsa's powers have only been growing stronger. Though Elsa manages to keep her abilities hidden during the Coronation Ceremony, she isn't as lucky during the Coronation Ball, when flaring tempers during a heated conversation between her and Anna (over Anna's impulsive decision to marry a suitor she's only just met) cause her powers to inadvertantly manifest, plunging the entire kingdom into an everlasting deep freeze.

Driven out of the kingdom by the shrieks of citizens and visitors alike — some of whom call her a monster — Elsa flees Arendelle, making her escape across the river and into the forest, eventually heading up the North Mountain. Anna is quick to give chase, eventually gaining the assistance of a gruff but charming ice harvester/salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his trusted reindeer, Sven. As the three of them make the trek up the mountain, they also encounter a snowman-come-to-life named Olaf (Josh Gad). And when they finally arrive at the summit, they find that Elsa has used her powers to build a massive ice castle for herself, complete with a giant ice monster to guard it. But despite Anna's pleas, Elsa is reluctant to return to Arendelle; and to make matters worse, Anna is accidentally struck for a second time by Elsa's powers. But this time — with a sliver of ice left behind in her heart — there's nothing that the forest trolls can do to help. Only an act of true love — perhaps true love's kiss — can save Anna from an icy fate.

Anyone who's familiar with fairy tale animated films might start rolling their eyes right about now, because it would seem like the film is headed down a predictable path — which would be a shame, because up until this point, it's been anything but, especially considering the character of Elsa (who's both Beauty and the Beast, all rolled into one). But the film continues to throw audiences for a loop in its third act, pleasantly defying expectations. Like Disney's Enchanted before it, Frozen may seem like a traditional fairy tale at the outset, but its lessons in female empowerment, love and the true meaning of family — all centering on the relationship between two sisters and told through a memorable medley of songs — will resonate with viewers much more than any fairy tale ever could.

Disney thaws out Frozen for Blu-ray with a spectacularly pristine transfer that can be summed up in just one word — perfection. Computer animated films have always been go-tos for showcasing the quality of high definition, and — unsurprisingly — Frozen takes the crown. Image quality is as crisp as a Winter's day, with a razor sharp clarity that's best evidenced by the intricately detailed snowflake patterns, the ultra-fine particles of snow, and the fine edges of the crystalline formations created by Elsa's power. The picture is defined by a very storybook-looking aesthetic as well, thanks to its color palette, which is reminiscent of the animated films from Disney's Golden Age. From the pastelle colors of the Coronation Ball gowns to the blue and purple hues that light up the many snowy landscapes — all of it is represented in striking fashion, with exceptional color contrast and balance. The disc's robust DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack serves as the perfect complement to the flawless image, by rendering dialog and effects smoothly and effortlessly; but where it really shines is in replicating the rich vocalizations of the film's many singalong-worthy songs, especially the Oscar-winning power-ballad, 'Let It Go'.

The Blu-ray release comes bundled with a DVD copy of the film and a code redeemable for a digital copy in one of a variety of formats (including iTunes and the new "Disney Movies Anywhere" service), as well as roughly 41 minutes of HD special features. Naturally, some of these are geared towards younger audiences, such as the 6-minute theatrical short, "Get A Horse!" — which begins as a hand-drawn, black and white cartoon (in which Mickey must rescue Minnie from the clutches of his arch-nemesis, Pete) but becomes CG animation when Mickey and friends literally leap off the screen — and the 3-minute The Making of Frozen — which isn't a making-of at all, but rather a gag music video featuring stars Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff and Kristen Bell. And then there are the bonus features with a slightly more grown-up appeal, including D'frosted: Disney's Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen — a 7-minute featurette in which directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee pour over artwork from The Walt Disney Imagineering Library, to see how their film compares to previous attempts at bringing The Snow Queen to life — and 7 minutes of deleted scenes in storyboard form — with introductions from Buck and Lee, providing viewers with a glimpse at four scenes from earlier drafts of the script. A set of four music videos — for 'Let It Go (End Credit Version)' in different languages, totalling nearly 16 minutes — and the film's original teaser trailer round out the disc's bonus features.

Frozen isn't so much an adaptation as it is a reimagining of a classic; but once you've seen the film, it's hard to imagine it turning out any other way. It dazzles with typical Disney charm and humor — especially in the music department — but it also surprises — avoiding some of the genre's tropes and clichés. Disney's Blu-ray release features an exemplary (if not flawless) A/V presentation, and there's something in its set of bonus features for fans young and old alike, making Frozen on Blu-ray definitely worth melting for.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★½

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