I’m a sucker for Disney’s animated musicals. Not that I grew up on them mind you. As a child of the ’60s, Disney’s best days were behind them. And on the rare occasions that I had a chance to see “Snow White”, “Bambi”, “Cinderella” and the other classics, I can’t say that I was all that impressed.
But then came the “neo-classics”, Disney’s rebirth, with “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Lion King”, and many others. This was the era of my own children and I loved bringing them to the theater, getting the soundtracks and then eventually bringing them to the theme parks so that they could meet Belle, Ariel, Jasmine and the other neo-princesses. It was a second golden age, largely due to the wonderful songwriting of Alan Menken (and others) and a newfound commitment to quality over quantity at Disney Studios.
But perhaps all good things must come to an end as the films dried up. Disney stopped focusing on full scale musical movies, perhaps because its Pixar Studies was drumming up a new set of successful computer generated animation feature films (“Toy Story”, “The Incredibles”, “Up” and many more).
But Disney has been revving up, releasing strong movies such as “Tangled” and now, “Frozen”. “Frozen” is loosely based on “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson and features an entire musical score written by husband and wife songwriting team, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Borrowing from Pixar perhaps, the film uses computer generated animation… but to good effect. The motion flows seamlessly and doesn’t reek of video game plasticity as some such similar films can.
It’s a story primarily of two sisters, bad parenting, misunderstandings, the peril of snap decisions and yes, true love. No spoilers here but it’s refreshing to see the cliched “true love’s kiss” device turned on it’s head. And unlike many Disney flicks, the sidekick characters aren’t peripheral and, as is often the case, annoying. No, these come-to-life characters add to the story line and amuse. And one is downright funny.
But it’s far from a perfect tale. The songs are strong but they’re not Alan Menken-strong. Our children’s children’s children will be singing “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” and “Under the Sea”, but not these tunes. Don’t get me wrong — they work and work well, but they are just not timeless. And the story is a bit uneven at times, adding dramatic spins that seem placed mostly to fill out the 102 minute docket.
And interestingly, Disney offers a Mickey Mouse short at the beginning which, while its story is unremarkable, does a nice and even clever job of bridging the gap between the original black and white animated version of Mickey and the newer computer constructed one. I would imagine that today’s kids probably have very little idea of who Mr. Mouse even is, let alone his importance to the Disney enterprise. That could be a problem in the theme parks which still roundly stress the importance of the founder’s favorite character. I expect the trend to continue and that we’ll see a lot more of him in the near future.
I don’t have any grandkids yet but if I’m blessed with them, I’m hoping that Disney is gearing up for another substantive revival run. In fact, I’m counting on it…