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Out in Theaters: ‘THE BOSS’

Melissa McCarthy extols virtues of bullying as hardball go-getter in The Boss. McCarthy’s latest, a rags to riches to rags to brownie empress saga, is a decidedly un-PC yet still paint-by-numbers comedy-cum-drama, written and directed by husband Ben Falcone. Falcone and McCarthy last collaborated as writer/director and star/writer on the critically reviled Tammy and if anything can be said of The Boss, it’s that the duo has still not perfected the formula. A gaffe-a-minute affair puckered with sequin turtlenecks, trite physical gags and the occasional guffaw-worthy ribbing, The Boss continues Hollywood’s trend of planting the theoretically funny McCarthy in mostly lame-brained, decidedly derivative and narratively bankrupt outings. If not entirely without laughs, The Boss is still poor enough in them to qualify for unemployment.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: FROZEN

“Frozen”
Directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Starring Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds, Chris Williams, Stephen J. Anderson

Animation, Adventure, Comedy
108 Mins
PG

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Although still lacking the gilded touch that made the likes of Aladdin, Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast such timeless classics, Frozen is a rock solid addition to the post-hand-drawn Disney musical stable and is the best animated feature of the year by a good margin.

Made up of a relatively unknown vocal talent, Frozen values story and song more than an all-star cast and kitschy pop culture jokes, making it an experience that’ll warm the most curmudgeonly of hearts and a film rich with beautifully-realized animation that keeps the wow factor buzzing for children and adults alike.

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The new roster of tunes sound inspired by an alluring amalgamation of Inuit folk songs and bubbly fad-pop songs the likes of Katy Perry. And while some songs are a little too bright for the taste of a self-respecting mid-twenties male, each has a narrative purpose accompanying its infectious melodic tendencies that all blend perfectly into the fabric of the story.

Eight new songs from Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit, Winnie the Pooh) and Tony Award winner Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Avenue Q”) are sure to inspire a whole new generation set to commit these catchy songs to memory. The best of which is the opening, near teary-eyed, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and the witty anthem courtesy of reanimated snowman Olaf (Josh Gad)- who is destined to be a favorite for all – in the openly hysterical “In Summer.”

Listening to these tunes, it’s clear why A-list celebrities have been sidelined for more undecided stars – they can all sing…and they can sing well. Unlike earlier Disney musical endeavors, no voice performer is swapped out for a sound-a-like. Keeping this narrative bridge consistent allows character to enliven their songs with the necessary emotional weight or comic vibrancy needed for the scene. But will they stand the test of time to join the ranks of “Tale as Old as Time,” “Circle of Life,” or “A Whole New World”? Probably not.
 
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Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” a non-Grimm fairy tale from 1845 that sees evil trolls, amnesiac kisses, and the Devil himself, Frozen pursues the sugarcoated stylings we’ve come to expect of Disney that champions heart over heinousness and works all the better for it.

In the royal town of Arendelle, we meet a newly crafted version of Andersen’s Snow Queen in Elsa (Idina Menzel), a withdrawn but hopeful young girl with magical powers of icy consequence. Quartered out of site after a childhood accident that nearly saw the death of her fearless younger sister, and this story’s other central heroine, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa’s loving but misguided parents instill in her a mantra the close cousin of Gandalf’s “Keep it secret, keep it safe.” But throbbing beneath Elsa’s poised veneer is an unflinching desire to break free of the taut regulations that years of secrecy have instilled in her.

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Since we all know the most perilous job in the Disney kingdom is parenthood, it’s no surprise that the young princesses’ parents are lost in a storm at sea, leaving Elsa to take up the mantle of Queen when she reaches the ripe age of womanhood. Years later, on her coronation day, Elsa’s buried abilities are shaken loose by an overeager Anna whose heart is newly set on marrying prince Hans (Santino Fontana), whom she met just hours earlier. Unhinged by a sense of crumbling familial guardianship, Elsa unwittingly lets loose years of repressed icy powers to cover her island community in a blanket of eternal winter. Finally, the town’s people see her for what she really is – a sorceress lacking the most basic semblance of control.  

Deemed a monster by the unscrupulous tradesmen passing through Arendelle on a business trip, fatally cute, and morbidly naive, Anna employs the help of ice salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer BFF Sven to locate her escaped sister and return the city to prosperity before it’s too late. The normative fairy tale lessons of “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “Be true to yourself” are pounded home but the dichotomy of two princesses each struggling with their own separate but equal identity crises is a new chapter in the Disney princess manual.

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After absolutely dominating the 90s with some of the best animated features, Disney suffered a nosedive in quality that saw the likes of Treasure Planet, Bolt, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Meet the Robinsons flail and fall into obscurity, a side effect of their unwillingness to change with the ebb of culture. Halting their dominant reign (that unarguably stopped after 1998’s Mulan), newcomers Pixar started their own golden age which took the wind out of Disney’s sails. Bookending the period of Disney’s supremacy and the coming of Pixar’s rising star, Disney faded from the spotlight.

But with their recent string of successes, made up of 2010’s Tangled, last year’s Wreck it Ralph and now Frozen, it seems that Disney is finally back on top as the animation studio to beat. Although the hand-drawn days of animation have come to a close, the same immaculately rendered, noticeably loving detail is put into each and every breathtaking sequence in Frozen. This not only has resulted in an animated feature worthy of Disney’s legacy but it’s essentially is assured Frozen a win at this year’s Oscar ceremonies.

Adapting to a new generation of tech-savvy, open-minded youngsters, the House of Mouse also gives some much-needed wiggle room for Frozen to step away from Disney’s legacy of antiquated sexual identities, chartering a new and exciting course for post-feminist Disney princesses. Our main heroine may still be a landlocked princess but a smooch from a prince may not be the ultimate life bandaid we’ve seen in a thousand children’s tales before. Rather, true love is found in self-discovery, or simply etched in the fiber of the nuclear family. This is a new brand of lesson in a new social climate, one where the tenants of yesteryear cease to dictate the values of tomorrow.

B+

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Will Disney's FROZEN Freeze Up Animated Competition's Oscar Odds?

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With Pixar in a bit of a tailspin following their triple-decker slump in quality (Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University), “rival” studios like Disney (who actually owns Pixar, but that’s neither here nor there) and Dreamworks have been given more of a chance to step into the spotlight and try and carve out their own day in the spotlight. It seems clear that Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, and The Croods are shoe-ins for Best Animated Picture nominations but none of them seem primed to take home gold. Considering this largely lackluster spread of animated features (the best of which, in my opinion, has been Turbo), Disney’s Frozen stands a good chance at nabbing the coveted top spot come award’s season.

Directed by Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (in her first directorial gig), Frozen follows Anna, a fearless optimist, who teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encounters Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

At this point, what sets Frozen aside from the approach of many other similar budget animated features is the voice talent (or lack their of.) While most animation studios these days spend a pretty penny on well-known celebrity voices, Frozen‘s vocal department is characterized by Hollywood outsiders, but cult-favorites, Kristen Bell and Alan Tudyk.

Frozen is directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and stars Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad. It hits theaters on November 27, 2013.

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