Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Frozen: Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

FROZEN Box ArtWalt Disney Animation Studios presents a chilly twist on one of the most humorous and heartwarming stories ever told.  Fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey — teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven — to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.  Bring home Frozen on Blu-ray High Definition — featuring a blizzard of never-before-seen bonus extras with gorgeous animation, memorable characters and unforgettable music. It’s dazzling fun for the whole family! 
Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Disney has made a lot of movies about princesses and all of them have basically followed the fairy tale tropes that Disney excelled at like love at first sight, love conquers all, and some kind of evil stepmother or stepsisters that give the heroine some kind of challenge. Frozen does a nice job playing to those expectations while subverting a lot of them which makes this movie a fresh take on the usual fairy tale. It also helps that the characters are themselves not beholden to the stifling roles they would have had to play in the past, as the princesses are quite modern in both their thinking and speech.

The movie starts off like one of Disney's usual princess movies as we see life in idyllic Arendelle whose resident princesses Elsa and Anna spend their time playing together and enjoying Elsa's magical ability to create snow and ice. When Anna is accidentally hurt during their magical playtime, the blame falls on Elsa who is already grief-stricken about her sister. The King and Queen take Anna to get help from the trolls who are able to heal Anna with their magic but warn the King that if Elsa's magic bolt had hit Anna's heart instead of her head, it might have turned out differently. The trolls also remove all of Anna's memories of Elsa's magic to prevent this from happening again.

Fearful of Elsa's seeming lack of control over her magic, the King and Queen close off their kingdom to the outside world and to pressure Elsa (Idina Menzel) to try to stop feeling emotion since they think that her strong feelings are what caused her to lose control of her magic. Elsa, withdraws from the family, especially Anna (Kristen Bell) since she is afraid of hurting anyone else. Years pass, and the two once inseparable sisters barely see each other and while Anna is still as irrepressible as ever, Elsa has become a hermit and afraid to have any kind of feelings. Everything changes when their parents die at sea when their ship is overturned during a storm.

Being the oldest, Elsa is forced to take up the throne which is great news for Anna since that means that there will be a coronation which means that the kingdom will open its doors again. Anna can't wait to have people to talk to and to be able to venture out into the city streets again, but Elsa is afraid that she won't be able to complete the ceremony without involuntarily showing off her magical abilities. Among the guests arriving for the coronation are the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) who plans on taking advantage of Arendelle for profit. Another new face is Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana) who bumps into Anna during her venture out in the city and the two hit it off right away and decide in true fairy tale fashion to get married right away.

When they ask for Elsa's blessing, she immediately tells them no which results in an argument between Elsa and Anna. During their emotional exchange of words, Elsa's magical abilities are exposed which shocks everyone including Anna. The Duke of Weselton takes advantage of this turn of events and stirs up the crowd into believing that Elsa is dangerous. Already ashamed, Elsa becomes fearful as the crowd turns against her and she runs off into the mountains but in her panicked state she accidentally turns summer into winter.

Determined to find and help her sister, Anna tries to follow Elsa into the mountains but she quickly learns that she isn't properly equipped or knowledgeable enough to track Elsa. Freezing, Anna finds a supply post and it's there that she meets Kristoff (Jonathon Groff) and his reindeer Sven. She bribes them with supplies to get them to take her to the top of the North Mountain where they suspect Elsa is. On the way up the mountain, they run into a snowman named Olaf who was brought to life through Elsa's magic. He agrees to help Anna find Elsa's new ice castle that's she's built for herself on the North Mountain.

When Anna does finally catch up to Elsa, she discovers that Elsa is still very concerned about about hurting Anna and tells her to go away. Now finally able to be herself and not have to worry about conforming to meet other people's expectations, Elsa is happy to be alone. What she doesn't realize is you can't run away from your problems for long and she will need to confront her worst fears to truly be happy. For Anna, she also has her own journey to make and one where she will need to learn who she is and what she really wants.

Frozen is a well made film that smartly updates the usual princess fairytale with several modern touches that makes this movie one of the most progressive films Disney has made. From focusing the story on two very strong independent princesses to including a gay shopkeeper and his family, Frozen does a nice job at adding modern day conventions into this fairy tale in a way that is nicely treated as matter of fact. By doing so, they've also upended their own past approaches such as the idea of marrying someone you just met, or that princesses are supposed to be shy, demure, and needing to be saved by some prince.  

I think this fresh approach along with some great songs and some excellent voice work contributed to the film's incredible popularity. Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell both are fantastic in their roles and both do a great job making their roles distinct, while jointly sharing great chemistry that makes for a believable sisterly relationship. The supporting characters are also  great and they are more fleshed out than these kind of roles usually are. The animation as expected, is also beautiful - especially Elsa's flowing ice creations. Combined with a Pixar-like story and characters, Frozen is one of the best Disney films in years.
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (2.24:1) transfer is simply stunning, with a highly detailed image that can only come directly from a digital source. This level of detail on display is astounding, as you can see every snowflake, every hair, and the various textures on display in this extremely sharp looking transfer. Colors are vibrant and distinct and this movie offers plenty of them to see. The black levels are deep and solid and offer a nice contrast to the dazzle of the white elements in the film. There's no scratches or digital defects to mar this wonderful presentation, as this is a reference quality transfer. Disney has delivered another incredible presentation that looks as better on Blu-ray than it did it theaters.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Equally good is Frozen's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix which makes the most out of every channel. The front channel offers dialogue that is crystal clear while the LFE channel delivers a powerful accompaniment to the visuals. The rear channels offer an amazing surround experience that envelops the viewer completely. The cross channel activity is accurate and the directionality is precise and impressive. The songs and the score come through strong and with a lot of power but they never overwhelm the dialogue. Just wait until you hear Elsa's "Let it Go," to understand just how powerful this mix is. This mix. just like the visuals, is reference quality and easily one of the year's best efforts.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)
The only area that I was disappointed with was the extras as I expected a lot more than this. It makes me think that at some point we will see a fully loaded special edition later on. All of these extras are in high definition.
  • D'Frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen - A seven minute look at the effort it took to finally be made, starting with Walt Disney's desire to make a film about the Snow Queen to it's eventual release today.
  • The Making of Frozen - A three minute "answer" as to how the film was made but it really doesn't answer anything. It would be insulting if it wasn't cute with an appearance from Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and others. This should have provided the most extensive look at the making of the film but it fails that completely.
  • Deleted Scenes - We get seven deleted scenes that are introduced by directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. They are presented though storyboards, concept art and voice-overs. The four deleted scenes include: "Never Underestimate the Power of Elsa," "The Dressing Room," "Meet Kristoff #1" and "Meet Kristoff #2."
  • Music Videos - I really wish Disney would quit worrying about including music videos and focuses instead on extras devoted to some aspect concerning the making of the film. Instead, we get four different version of "Let it Go" with the English version by Demi Lovato, the Spanish and Italian versions by Martina Stoessel, and the Malaysian version by Marsha Milan.
  • Animated Short: Get a Horse! - While I'm glad that Mickey Mouse is finally getting to star in new cartoons again, I really wish that he looked like his usually does, and not depicted in this almost Ren and Stimpy kind of animation. .
  • Original Teaser Trailer 
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)Frozen is a fun movie that really tweaks the usual Disney formula to great effect. It's funny and moving and it's filled with fantastic performances. This Blu-ray offers exceptional video and audio quality, but the extras leave a lot to be desired. Other than the extras however, this is still an incredible Blu-ray and an easy one to recommend!

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