Frozen (2013)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Music Videos, Mickey Mouse Short

"Frozen" was one of the most celebrated animated movies of 2013 and recently it won the Academy Award for best animated movie. It goes without saying, of course, that I was very much looking forward to giving the film a closer look when Disney sent over a review copy on Blu-Ray Disc.

Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen," the film tells the story of Elsa (Idina Menzel), a young princess who discovers she has the slumbering power to freeze everything around her. But she has trouble controlling her powers, so her parents try to carefully school her as she grows up, isolating her from everyone, even her own sister Anna (Kristen Bell). But after their parents die in an accident, Elsa is left on her own, her powers still raw and unpolished.

During an emotional outbreak during her coronation, Elsa covers the entire palace with sharp icicles and in fear she might accidentally hurt someone, she flees deep into the mountains where she hides herself in a castle made of ice.

But her outbreak has done more damage than she knew. Gradually, the entire kingdom is freezing up and Anna feels she is the only one who can convince Elsa to revert the process. She sets out to find her sister and is soon joined by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer and a snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad) on her quest. But will they be able to bring Elsa to her senses, or will the dark icy power inside her take control?

I have seen many animated movies and in recent years we have had a flood of computer animated films to hit theaters. While the business has been booming, evidently, it has also become clear that animated movies have become mere cash cows, created purely for commercial purposes without much of an artistic vision or light. As a matter of fact, animated movies have become completely interchangeable. They all look the same, they all feature the same formula, they all sound the same. From identical voice casts, recurring character stereotypes, all the way to the mainstream art direction found in each of them, animated movies have, for the most part, become eye candy without depth or real artistic aspiration beyond the visuals.

So, why did "Frozen" win an Academy Award for Best animated Picture? Quite frankly, I do not know, because everything about this film is average, if not sub-par. Even the visuals lack at times, creating an imagery that is plasticky and populates the world with characters that follow the same character template established a decade ago, a template that makes every character look like a barbie-like action figure without any realism. It is full of unnatural mimicry and body movement, and particularly some of the singing numbers are ridiculously overblown, presenting the character's inner monologue like a Vegas stage performance rather than an honest outburst of thoughts. I honestly do not remember the last time I strutted around the room, gesturing theatrically and ending a thought with a hip swing. It is a ridiculous celebration of the wanna-be-famous culture that permeates today's culture, and it is every bit out of place as the anachronisms that filter through the movie. "I don't judge" is a modern day colloquialism that hardly feels in place in a medieval fantasy setting. Walt Disney must be turning over in his grave.

The music is equally misguided. Starting off with a pice that would have had perfect placement in "The Lion King," I am not sure what the filmmakers were thinking when they inserted this theme into a film with a medieval Nordic theme. And while not all bad, the songs are usually tired and of the same artificially convoluted school many Disney songs suffer from these days. Why create a simple harmony with a hook, when you can destroy it with wild variations and have the singer rattle of scales instead, right? The musician in me shudders at the artificiality of it.

There are a few moments where the film truly shines. The rendering of the snow is marvelous, for example, and truly conveys a sense of true snow for the first time in an animated movie, I felt. There are also a few nice payoff moments and, of course, the big shining finale, but in the end it is not enough to cover up what is ultimately a film steeped in mediocrity.

The Blu-Ray version that Buena Vista Home Entertainment has released is glorious to behold, of course. With an all-digital transfer that is bold and highly detailed, colors truly leap off the screen throughout the film. Black levels are deep and give the image good visual depth, adding to the contrast and razor sharp presentation as a whole that easily sets up this release as a reference transfer.

The audio is presented as a DTS 7.1 HD Master Audio track that is every bit as modern as the film. With a deep bass extension, the presentation rumbles and shakes, while the high end of the spectrum remains clean and without sibilance. Surround channels are in constant use, making the best of the format and allowing you to get absorbed in the presentation as a whole. Dialogues are clear and clean, and well integrated and never drowned out.

The release contains a number of deleted scenes and featurettes taking a look at the making of the film. Since the movie is squarely targeted at kids, however, most of the other extras are children's features, such as the included music videos, Mickey Mouse short film and "D'frosted" a featurette that tries to examine the history of the "Snow Queen" source material.

"Frozen" was a disappointment for me. Completely commercialized without grown-up appeal, without real heart and ambition, it is really the assembly line equivalent of an animated movie. Sure it will have its appeal to certain viewers, and it will be delight the kids, but if you are looking for something that is operating on the level of a Pixar movie, both technically as well as storytelling-wise, this is not the movie.