Some years ago my sons James and Alex introduced a new Christmas tradition. Why – they reasoned – should only children receive some presents in a sack from Santa? Might not adults, too, enjoy unwrapping a selection of cheap and/or funny and/or useless gift items on Christmas morning? They further reasoned that one of the best places to find such items would be a charity shop. (Gifts from a charity shop would have the additional advantage of Not Being New and could therefore reasonably claim not to be depleting the earth’s finite resources through empty consumerism, something the boys suspected might also please their eco-warrior parents.)
In very large supply in charity shops these days are DVDs. No one wants them anymore, apparently. My sons are therefore able to buy a large number of DVDs for next to nothing – perfect for dad’s Christmas sack. The selection criteria are clearly heterogeneous. Some of the DVDs are references or throwbacks to movies we watched when they were younger; some are provocatively or humorously bad; some are gems they’ve heard me mention from my own youth. Some are simply mysterious.
This year, I received eighteen of the things. In a rash and drunken Christmas moment, I pledged to watch all eighteen of them during the course of 2017. This works out at one every three weeks. I’m watching them in alphabetical order: and this, dear reader, is why you’ve been subjected to a series of film reviews this year rather than essays about the economics of enough. (I’m also writing a book, which absorbs a lot of the words I have available, but that’s not relevant here.)
Something unexpected happened with 'Frozen', however. (‘Frozen’, as you know, is an Oscar-winning Disney film, famous for its lead characters being female and for being the highest grossing animated film of all time.) My ‘Frozen’ DVD was STILL IN ITS WRAPPING. Unlike the seventeen other DVDs, this film was NEW. Rather than being acquired in the traditional manner from a local charity shop, this has been deliberately and specifically purchased.
A message is being sent:
- “Dad, we know you’re basically still a child, so here’s a film for children” ?
- “Dad, you need to get in touch with your feminine side, so here’s a film with female characters in the lead” ?
- “Dad, we know you have a well-developed feminine side, so here’s a film with female characters in the lead” ?
- “Dad, we know you love animated movies, here’s one you’d probably never choose to watch” ?
Only one way to find out…
…and for the first few minutes, I’m a little anxious. The opening scenes make no sense to me, there’s a song I really don’t enjoy, the vibe of the thing is a long way from the kinds of animated movies – The Incredibles, Toy Story, Over the Hedge, Despicable Me – that I’ve enjoyed so much.
But then something happens, I’m still not sure what, and I’m invested, involved, transported. The animation is astonishing (the ice and snow are incredible). The two female characters – sister princesses Elsa and Anna – are wonderful: complex, funny, clever, sassy. The support characters – a snowman, a reindeer, a prince, an ice-cutter – are rounded and well-deployed. The baddie (no spoiler warning required) is rendered in a manner far, far away from the classical baddies of yore. (The evolution of character so evident in US box-set culture, in which the goodies have bad bits and the baddies have good bits, obliging us to engage with the ambiguities of life, is evident even here in Disney...) The male characters do not ‘save’ the female characters. The funny bits are very, very funny.
And the music! Bloody hell. I hate musicals. I’ve always struggled with them, those painfully contrived moments when someone suddenly decides that singing is the best thing to do next. But the scene in which the older sister, finally freed from her obligation to keep her (magical) powers under control (and what a fabulous metaphor it is) begins to construct a stupendous ice palace and sings 'Let it go' is sublime. It unzipped me completely and I wept absolute buckets.
In fact, I cried on several occasions during this remarkable film. Me crying during animated films (as James and Alex will attest) is not uncommon. (Seared into their memories, I suspect, is the moment in the cinema when we were watching ‘Ratatouille’. There’s a scene in this outstanding film (96% on Rotten Tomatoes!) where the arch restaurant critic Anton Ego, voiced brilliantly by Peter O’Toole, is first tasting the hero’s food – “Tell your chef Linguini that I want whatever he dares to serve me. Tell him to hit me with his best SHOT!” – and he is transported, in an instant and as Marcel Proust, to the kitchen of his childhood. The animated zoom and the reference to A La Recherche hauled a near howl of grief from my throat and my sons were forced to sit in the dark, surrounded by strangers, while their father blubbed like a baby…).
Anyway. I cried several times during Frozen because it is funny, emotional, clever, wise and a superb piece of story-telling. I laughed a lot too.
It’s not a Pixar movie (see my review of Belleville Rendezvous for an explanation of the difference between Pixar and Disney movies) so it has little interest in political or social themes. It’s a little simplistic in places – but it is, after all, a film mainly for children. And I found some features of the presentation, particularly the disturbingly large eyes of the two lead female characters, somewhat regressive.
But these are minor complaints. At the end of the movie I returned to the real world with a damp face, a big smile and a warm glow. An intellectual bit of me even thought that I had just watched a movie that might well be playing a significant global role in the cause of female emancipation. I can’t wait to watch it again.