Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Frozen

frozen poster

Title: Frozen

Rating: PG

Cast: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Josh Gad (Olaf), Santino Fontana (Hans)

Director: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

The Basics: Frozen, Disney’s latest animated feature, is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Sisters Anna and Elsa are separated from a young age after Elsa’s ability to magically create snow and ice put Anna’s safety in jeopardy. While Anna craves companionship and romance, Elsa’s powers and her fear of them being exposed make her crave solitude instead. After a disastrous Coronation Day for Elsa in which her powers are revealed, Anna goes in search of her sister to stop the eternal winter Elsa has wrought upon their kingdom. Along the way, Anna meets Olaf, a snowman who longs for summertime, and Kristoff, a young ice salesman who challenges her naïve beliefs about falling in love. Frozen has all the makings of a classic Disney film: great songs, stunning animation, a surprisingly strong sense of humor, and a heart worn firmly on its sleeve. But what makes this film special is the way it adds something new to the tradition of great Disney princess films. Frozen is a story about true love, but this true love is not the stuff of princes and princesses and love at first sight. Rather, it’s the love between sisters that drives this film. Frozen is an empowering film that celebrates all kinds of love—familial love, romantic love, and love for ourselves.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Frozen is the first Disney film to focus on two princesses, and both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell carry this film equally with their unique vocal skills. Menzel’s voice is peerless, and she gives Elsa a power and edge unlike any other Disney princess. Her control over her voice perfectly suits Elsa’s journey through the film—from the quiet tension in her part of “For the First Time in Forever” through her complete unleashing of her power in “Let It Go.” No other actress could have given this character the kind of depth Menzel gives her. Elsa is unlike any other Disney princess who came before her, and it seems fitting that she was given life by a woman whose voice is unlike any other.

The same can be said for Anna—she’s certainly not your stereotypical, poised and perfect princess. She’s awkward, naïve, and overly eager for companionship at times, but she’s also fiercely loving, brave, and warm. Bell brings a vivacity to this princess that jumps off the screen, but she’s also able to communicate a very real vulnerability in her voice. Bell’s pure, gorgeous singing voice was a huge surprise to me.

Menzel and Bell have very different but equally beautiful voices, and listening to them sing—alone and especially together—was a feast for the ears to rival the best Broadway performances.

Scene Stealer: Olaf the snowman is a character who could have gone extremely wrong, but instead turned out to be one of the highlights of the film. A lot of credit for that should go to the fact that he was used just enough to be entertaining and consistently funny but not so much that he became obnoxious. Also, a lot of credit should go to Josh Gad for the way he’s able to make Olaf silly enough for kids to love him and sweet enough to feel important to the story beyond just comedic relief. (“Some people are worth melting for” was one of my favorite lines.) His big music number, “In Summer,” is a highlight of the film and a fantastic moment of musical comedy. Gad makes the silly and the smart facets of the number work perfectly, and I found myself surprisingly charmed by this addition to the list of great Disney sidekicks.

Bring the Tissues? Frozen worked my heartstrings with a dexterity usually reserved for Pixar movies. It hits you with a sucker punch of heartbreak at the start (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” somehow manages to be both a cute and devastating musical number.), and the rest of the film has moments of real emotion that sneak up on you with their power. The climax of the film put more than a few tears in my eyes, and I have to imagine I wasn’t the only one moved by the film’s message of love and acceptance.

Most Memorable Scene: Every Disney princess movie has a moment where the heroine sings about what she really wants and who she really is, and those are often my favorite moments in the film. “Let It Go” is another one of those moments, where Elsa embraces her power and vows to leave behind a lifetime of repression and fear of letting her true self be seen by the world. Sung with Menzel’s characteristic power, this song is sure to become an instant Disney classic. This is a love song a princess sings about herself, and it’s one of the best songs a Disney movie has featured in a long time.

The animation in this scene is just as incredible as the vocal talent on display. As the song builds, so does Elsa’s ice castle, and the combination of stunning visuals and inspiring music combine to make this scene a moment worthy of its place among others that defined their respective Disney films: Ariel singing as the waves crash behind her; Belle and Beast in the ballroom; and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider watching the lanterns.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Monsters University

MU Poster

Title: Monsters University

Rating: G

Cast: Billy Crystal (Mike Wazowski), John Goodman (James Sullivan, aka “Sulley”), Steve Buscemi (Randall), Helen Mirren (Dean Hardscrabble), Peter Sohn (Squishy), Joel Murray (Don), Sean Hayes/Dave Foley (Terri/Terry), Charlie Day (Art), Nathan Fillion (Johnny Worthington III)

Director: Dan Scanlon

The Basics: In this long-awaited prequel to Pixar’s 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., we travel back in time to when Mike met Sulley as freshmen in the prestigious Monsters University Scare Program. The monsters initially clash (Mike is a hard-working bookworm while Sulley tries to get by on pure talent and family reputation), but they learn to work together when both join Oozma Kappa, a fraternity full of lovable outcasts. This colorful, hilarious, and surprisingly deep film is more than just Pixar’s take on Revenge of the Nerds. It’s a story about what happens to our goals and dreams as we grow up and learn that sometimes life doesn’t go according to our best-laid plans. While it may not be as narratively original as the best of Pixar’s films, Monsters University is still a great example of what this studio does better than any other.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): The animators on this film deserve to be singled out for their incredible achievements. No two monsters look exactly alike (with the exception of the PNK sorority sisters), and that’s no easy feat. The color palette in this film was brilliant. The vibrant colors were a great fit for the energetic and youthful tone of the film; when you first go to college, it’s like entering a bright new world filled with colorful new people, and the animators captured that feeling perfectly. Also, they did an incredible job with the amount of detail shown on each monster. From the scales on Don’s skin to each strand of fur on Sulley’s body (especially his totally in-character spike of hair), I was blown away by the care taken to make each monster look as lifelike as possible.

Scene Stealer: While the entire voice cast was stellar, I cannot get over how genius it was to cast Helen Mirren as the voice of Dean Hardscrabble. Her voice oozes class and poise but also a sense of controlled intensity that was ideal for the character. Every time her character was onscreen, I found myself hanging on every word she said, which is exactly the way students feel when addressed by such an important faculty member. Pixar always manages to surprise me with the talent they put in their films, and this was no exception.

Bring the Tissues: Monsters University may not be a sobfest like Toy Story 3 or the opening minutes of Up, but it still offers some very powerful scenes about the realities of growing up and the struggles we all face in trying to determine if the dreams we had as children are compatible with the realities of who we are as adults. To make a long story short, if you’re 18 or over, you should probably be prepared to shed a tear or two.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? If you stay until after the (very long) credits, you’ll be rewarded with a cute and funny scene referencing an earlier gag in the film. It has no bearing on the plot or any future films, but it’s fun and gives you a chance to hear Bill Hader’s voice again.

Most Memorable Scene: I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the end of the film, so I’ll just say there’s a nice twist that takes Monsters University from being a cute film about a group of outcasts overcoming obstacles to a much deeper film about one of the hardest lessons of adulthood: Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you think they’re supposed to. With that twist (involving Mike, Sulley, Dean Hardscrabble, and a scare simulator), this film joined the pantheon of great Pixar films about growing up. It has lessons for kids about honesty and the importance of working hard, but it also has an important message for young adults struggling to carve out their identity: There’s more than one way to be successful, and being unable to live up to the expectations we put on ourselves (or our parents/teachers put on us) doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It just means we get to find a new dream—one more realistic to who we’ve become. Without that plot twist, this film is just another typical underdog success story, but with that twist, it becomes so much more.

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Just Keep Swimming: My Favorite Pixar Movies

As my Disney World journey continues, I felt it was only right to follow yesterday’s countdown of my favorite Disney movies with a countdown of my favorites from Pixar. I shortened my list from a Top 10 to a Top 5 because Pixar is still a relatively new studio. Though it may be new, it continually produces animated films with both exceptional visual artistry and incredible emotional depth. If you can find an adult who hasn’t had tears in their eyes during at least one Pixar film, I’d be shocked.

5. Wall-E (2008)

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Wall-E is such a quietly powerful and visually impressive film. It’s such a bold, brave movie; it’s a “family film” that spends nearly the first half of its runtime without dialogue and doesn’t suffer at all for it. Instead, the film achieves a level of intimacy that wouldn’t have been reached had the subject matter been approached in a “normal” way. Besides the big risks and big rewards of its first half, the film itself is simply a beauty—especially the gorgeous scene of Wall-E and EVE in space. Wall-E is Pixar’s greatest love story and one of the sweetest cinematic romances to come out in recent years.

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Tales as Old as Time: My Favorite Disney Movies

To celebrate my current Walt Disney World adventure, I thought it was fitting to count down my Top 10 Disney animated films for you. Do you agree with my choices? Which movies make your list?

10. Cinderella (1950)

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There’s something so quintessentially magical about this film that I smile just thinking about it. Even though Snow White was the first Disney princess, Cinderella will always be the epitome of a Disney princess to me: elegant, beautiful, kind, hopeful, and strong in her own way. The scene where Cinderella’s torn dress is transformed into her iconic gown will always be a Disney classic, and the image of the prince trying that glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot will always fill me with renewed belief in “happily ever after.”

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