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Frozen: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Digital Copy Review

Disney's Frozen (2013) movie poster Frozen

Theatrical Release: November 27, 2013 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee / Writers: Jennifer Lee (screenplay & story); Chris Buck, Shane Morris (story); Hans Christian Andersen (The Snow Queen)

Voice Cast: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Josh Gad (Olaf), Santino Fontana (Hans), Alan Tudyk (Duke of Weselton), Ciarαn Hinds (Pabbie, Grandpa), Chris Williams (Oaken), Stephen J. Anderson (Kai), Maia Wilson (Bulda), Edie McClurg (Gerda), Robert Pine (Bishop), Maurice LaMarche (King), Livvy Stubenrauch (Young Anna), Eva Bella (Young Elsa), Spencer Ganus (Teen Elsa)

Songs: "Frozen Heart", "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?", "For the First Time in Forever", "Love Is an Open Door", "Let It Go", "Reindeer(s) are Better Than People", "In Summer", "For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)", "Fixer Upper"

Buy Frozen from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • DVD • Instant Video

After a few efforts that seemed a little too closely modeled after Pixar and DreamWorks productions, Walt Disney Animation Studios seems to have found and accepted a unique, fitting, and relevant identity. Disney continues to rest on the traditions that have served it well for over 75 years,
but they present that classic material in modern ways, meaning computer animation, 3D, and with action, comedy, and pacing that align with contemporary moviegoer tastes. They'd much rather you know the latter than the former. Like Tangled, the department's 2010 blockbuster, Frozen is titled to hide the fact that it is a princess movie. Its marketing also shrouds that it is a musical, emphasizing the comedy and action elements intended to give the film unisex appeal.

Just like Tangled, Frozen is different than advertised and better. While the marketing department's job is to fill seats, the filmmakers have worked hard to ensure those in attendance will not leave disappointed. If anything, Frozen's makers seem to have worked too hard. The film runs through the wide array of emotions one associates with the magic of Disney's animated fairy tales, but it does so with the feel of years of committee collaboration and touch-ups, not the natural bursts of creativity and inspiration that seem to drive the studio's most wonderful features.

Anna is proud to stand next to her sister Elsa at Elsa's coronation in Disney's "Frozen."

The film opens with two young sisters playing in their spacious residence. One, Elsa, can create ice, frost, and snow from her bare hands, a power that keeps the younger Anna highly entertained.
But their innocent indoor recreation goes awry and Elsa accidentally strikes Anna's head with her cold throw. Their parents, the king and queen of Arendelle, bring the injured girl to stone trolls, who can help her but decide it's best to remove any memory of her sister's power. The only remnant of the episode is a white streak in Anna's hair. The two girls grow up with more distance between them than either would like, for Elsa has to keep her gift a secret.

Their parents die in a vague shipwreck, setting up the coronation of the now presumably late-teenaged Elsa. Already, it's clear that this platinum-haired Queen to be (voiced by Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel) is not our protagonist. That role is filled by Anna (Kristen Bell), her down-to-earth, friendly, slightly clumsy sister. On the day of Elsa's crowning, Anna meets Hans (Santino Fontana), a sweet, handsome, mutton-chopped young man for whom she falls head over heels. Within what can't be more than a few hours, Hans proposes and Anna accepts. When they bring their marriage plans to Elsa, she refuses to give them her blessing and in the process, her long-kept secret is revealed to everyone at the reception.

Elsa's unintentional ice-slinging puts Arendelle in an eternal winter. She storms off, prompting Anna to go find her, while leaving Hans temporarily in charge of the family's kingdom. Before Anna can reach her sister, she encounters hunky blonde outdoorsy ice vendor Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his loyal reindeer Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a largely indestructible and upbeat snowman who is happy to tag along for the adventure (and earn the film's biggest laughs).

Frozen attributes its screenplay to a single individual: Wreck-It Ralph contributor Jennifer Lee, who is also one of three credited with the story (not counting Hans Christian Andersen, whose The Snow Queen is also acknowledged) and shares directing duties with Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf's Up). Even if you aren't aware of this project's long development history, you get a sense of it in just how taut and rigid it plays. Though it exhibits some qualities desirable in storytelling, the film suffers from slavish devotion to efficiency. You can practically hear executive producer and Pixar head honcho John Lasseter reminding Lee, Buck, and others of the value of story. It's tough to dispute that story is the most important thing in filmmaking, animated or otherwise. But personality, characters, and heart are important too and Frozen is lacking in these areas, as it constantly introduces and develops easily-resolved conflict, barely pausing for a comic gag or to let a short song advance the story.

Elsa's powers cast an icy beauty to the land of Arendelle, as Sven, Anna, and Kristoff notice here.

The songs are composed by the husband-wife team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, whose past collaborations include 2011's Winnie the Pooh and Disney World's Finding Nemo musical. The two are also stage veterans, with Robert having co-created the Tony Award winners Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. That explains the score's extremely Broadway feel, which doesn't perfectly gel with the rest of this fairy tale's execution. The songs are strong in composition and performance, but more akin to the "Scrubs" musical episode (for which Robert, who just became the youngest EGOT, was Emmy-nominated) than something like The Little Mermaid. More driven by vocals than character or story, they just don't really contribute to a fully satisfying whole.

Frozen inevitably will spark comparisons to Tangled that make it feel lesser and derivative. Tangled has its problems, but it at least proved Disney was up to blending new and old ways into something powerful and artistic (and more so than The Princess and the Frog, the more highly anticipated 2D effort from a year earlier). Frozen relies on uninspired twists you see coming far in advance and gives us two lead characters that are easily mistaken for a shorter-haired strawberry blonde Rapunzel and a blonde, clean-shaven Flynn Rider.

Olaf the snowman's understanding of summer is not without some blissful ignorance. Trolls offer their assistance to Kristoff and Anna.

Us Disney fans ask a lot of a film like this. We want it to somehow remain true to the studio's storied legacy, but we also want it to not be overly familiar. We'd be disappointed if romance, fantasy, music, or comic relief were left out, but we don't want them to announce themselves as integral ingredients.
We want to experience magical new highs reminding us of the most treasured moments of our favorite classics but we don't want to think of past movies and be reminded that new ones can never rival our rosy memories of yore.

In truth, most of us will hold Frozen to a higher standard than your typical new animated family film. That explains some of the disappointments felt here. That humor and imagination are far less prevalent in this brisk outing than they were in the previous November's outstanding Wreck-It Ralph also accounts for something. As does the fact that there wasn't a single terrific animated film released in 2013 and, for most, this was the last hope.

The year's relatively mediocre animated output paved the way for Frozen to at last secure Disney's storied feature animation department its first Best Animated Feature Oscar. Having seen four of the nominees (everything but Ernest & Celestine), I can't strongly celebrate or question Frozen's triumph. Disney was overdue for this award, with Ralph deserving it last year over Pixar's Brave. But Frozen, the department's first Oscar winner since 1999's Tarzan, goes on record as one of the lesser Best Animated Feature Oscar winners.

I really wish I could embrace Frozen or make sense of its out-of-this-world success. The film will soon eclipse the $400 million mark domestically, becoming only the third animated film to do that in a single theatrical run (joining Shrek 2 and Toy Story 3). Shortly after that, it will double Tangled's domestic total of just over $200 M. Frozen recently became only the 18th film to amass over $1 billion worldwide. Adjusting for inflation puts Frozen's attendance into perspective, but there is no denying that its status as one of the year's biggest draws is something Disney Animation Studios hasn't experienced since their trifecta of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

As someone with deep admiration for this tradition, I feel bad that I cannot share the world's enthusiasm for this film. But after two viewings four months apart, it doesn't seem meant to be. I like the film. Disney is getting awfully good at computer animation. But I don't really care about the characters or the story.

The countless masses who do care about the characters and the story (or perhaps just the songs and jokes) will be excited by Tuesday's DVD and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Digital Copy release of the film.

Watch a clip from Frozen:

Disney's Frozen: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.24:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish
Most Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

If you're not into the whole in-home 3D thing, then Frozen's Blu-ray leaves no room for improvement. This direct digital transfer dazzles just as it should, both visually and aurally. The visuals, which measure the non-standard 2.24:1 the case promises, offer much to admire, from freeze-framing Rapunzel and Flynn's blink and miss cameo to appreciating the detail used in lighting shots. The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio commands much notice too with its active, robust, and spry mix of elements. As usual, Disney authors the discs with branching so that your language selection is reflected in the film's text and graphics. The lack of even a Disney Song Selection feature to approximate the sing-along presentation sent to theaters in January points to a superior release down the line.

Josh Gad, Kristen Bell, and Jonathan Groff sing but do not tell about "The Making of 'Frozen.'" Alice Davis (far right) shows her husband's concept art for an unrealized Hans Christian Anderson theme park attraction to "Frozen" directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Studios have been scaling back their bonus feature efforts for years. Disney's treatment of their newest animated features went downhill beginning with Chicken Little. Frozen extends the tradition, getting accompanied by a nice collection of extras but not one that will take you multiple sittings to get through.

First up, "The Making of Frozen" (3:18) is not the routine featurette it sounds like. It's a short music video which finds voice actors Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff,
and Kristen Bell leading a crew of Disney animators (or professional singers and dancers) around the Disney Animation Building. They reveal almost nothing at all about the film's making, which is the joke. Infectious and peppy, though, it is sure to be watched and revisited more than your usual making-of materials.

Next, "D'frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen" (7:28) looks at how Andersen's writings almost made an impact at Disney many decades ago. Costume designer Alice Davis, the widow of Marc Davis (one of Walt's Nine Old Men), shares with Frozen's directors concept art from a snowy theme park attraction her husband was developing. We also learn that besides considering adapting The Little Mermaid back in the 1940s, Disney's studio was sought to contribute animation to the Andersen biopic that presumably was realized without them, with Danny Kaye playing the author. There's some good context, but again no light is shed on the making of Frozen. (In case you're confused, the D in "D'frosted" is in the Disney font.)

Kristoff has kind of a steampunk look in this deleted early version of his introductory scene. Different animation styles collide in the Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse short "Get Horse!"

Four deleted scenes presented in story reel format run 6 minutes and 51 seconds with introductions from directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. They include two early attempts to introduce Kristoff and a scene of the sisters trying different outfits in a dressing room.

Frozen's theatrical accompaniment, Get a Horse! (6:08), whose loss of the Best Animated Short award to Mr. Hublot represented the biggest surprise of this month's boring Oscar ceremony, is included here in 7.1 DTS-HD MA sound. After a terrified child spoiled my big screen viewing, I was disappointed to find I didn't miss much. It opens looking like a newly-unearthed, meticulously restored, late-1920s black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon, but comes to make use of color, CGI, and 3D. Gimmicky and never that interesting, the short loses something without its 3D effects and even with those, this feels like a theme park short you'd be disappointed to have waited in a line for. For the record, this is the eighth Mickey Mouse short nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar, only to lose. Mickey's only win came for his supporting role in Pluto's Lend a Paw.

Demi Lovato makes her Disney return with the music video to her end credits rendition of "Let It Go." Disney can think of no better way to advertise a princess musical than with a reindeer and snowman competing for the same carrot.

We get four music videos (15:42) for different renditions of the end credits version of "Let It Go." First and most familiar should be Demi Lovato's version. The blonde once-troubled former "Sonny with a Chance" star sings in what resembles a vacant palace. Then, Martina Stoessel, an Argentine teenager who's apparently best known for playing the title role of long-running Disney Channel Latin American sitcom "Violetta", records the song in both Spanish and Italian. Finally, Marsha Milan handles the Malaysian translation.
Each video alternates between performance and clips from the film; Stoessel's are just about identical except for the lyrics, while the other two differ slightly with Milan exploring snowy environments. The set's one unsubtitled section, these represent a missed opportunity to teach a language.

Finally, unmentioned on the case, Frozen's teaser trailer (1:32) is included. In the spirit of Tangled's marketing, this discouraging yet apparently wildly effective wordless promo features Olaf and Sven chasing after the same carrot on ice, bearing little resemblance to the film it advertises.

Frozen's DVD gets fewer extras but the same tasteful animated main menu playing clips in snowflakes.

The same DVD sold separately, the combo pack's secondary platter only includes "Get a Horse!", the four music videos, and Frozen's teaser trailer. There's ample room for more, so standard def viewers have sufficient reason to be bummed that the deleted scenes and "making of" song weren't included.

The discs open with trailers for Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition Blu-ray, Muppets Most Wanted, and The Pirate Fairy. The Sneak Peeks listing adds spots for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Adventures by Disney, and Disneynature's Bears, before repeating the three disc-openers.

The menu plays silent clips from the film in snowflakes while playing a bit of suite.

A booklet providing your Disney Movie Rewards code and a sheet promoting Disney Movie Club join the two plainly-labeled discs inside the side-snapped Blu-ray case that's topped by an embossed slipcover.

Ascending an ice staircase, Elsa sings "Let It Go", winner of the 2013 Best Original Song Oscar.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Disney Animation's most widely embraced film in nearly twenty years, Frozen restores luster to the world's oldest cartoon studio. I'm happy for the tradition it advances, but somewhat puzzled by the reception. While I find it reasonably entertaining and well-produced, this musical doesn't resonate for me beyond that and doesn't really stand out among either the canon or 2013's cinematic output.

Disney's Blu-ray combo pack delivers a superb presentation of the film and not so much in the way of bonus features. It's inevitable that Frozen will get a better edition somewhere down the line and I could even see it occurring as soon as this Christmas. At the very least, it's owed a Blu-ray 3D release. If I was a plain old customer instead of a critic, I'd probably be okay waiting to see if a fuller set emerges. But this release will do just fine for those with greater appreciation for the film and the families who have already made multiple contributions to its extraordinary bottom line.

Buy Frozen from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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New From Disney's Frozen! A Winter Wonderland Awaits at Disney Store! Shop the Collection Now!

Related Reviews:
Tangled • The Princess and the Frog • Wreck-It Ralph • Enchanted • Winnie the Pooh
Directed by Chris Buck: Surf's Up • Tarzan | Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid • Ponyo
2013 Animation: Monsters University • The Croods • Planes • Epic • Escape from Planet Earth • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Oscar Winners: Gravity • The Great Gatsby • Blue Jasmine | New to BD: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire • American Hustle
Rise of the Guardians • Jack Frost (1979) • The Santa Clause (3-Movie Collection) • Brave
Pocahontas • Beauty and the Beast • Mulan • Sleeping Beauty • Cinderella • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Reviewed March 16, 2014.



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