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Guys, tell me the truth. Am I going soft?
Do I just not have the same bile and critical killer instinct I once had?
Because I feel like I just don’t hate the way I used to. Maybe the Christmas spirit has managed to claw its way into my chest and lay its eggs along my cardiac wall. To put it another way, I’ve reviewed three Disney sequels/continuations this year and gave a positive review to every durn one of ‘em.
It was with this in mind that I decided to review Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a Frozen short (well, I say “short”) that got people’s dander up something fierce two years ago when it was released preceding Coco. Whereas people were expecting a nice light, seven minute appetiser, they instead got a hefty twenty-one minute late lunch and the backlash was fierce enough that some theatres actually had signs warning ticket-holders that the snowman movie would be taking up more of their precious lives than they might have budgeted for. And, because it’s the 2010s and life is hell, the movie was also accused of racism, with the reasoning being that Disney were too racist to trust people to come and see a movie about Hispanic people without it being preceded by a short set in Scandinavia before the movie about Hispanic people that they had spent $175 million dollars making.
So one of the things that fascinates me about sequels and continuations to canon Disney movies (in the same way that a car crash fascinates me) is how they deal with the tricky problem of continuing a story that, according to common sense, narrative logic and simple decency, simply should not be continued. How do the (more) successful of these movies (or shorts, or TV series) find the narrative juice to keep going? Well, it depends on the movie. Pocahontas 2 actually draws on real history and manages to tell a story that is at least more interesting than its predecessor (if not actually “good” in any meaningful sense of the word). Aladdin drew heavily on its Arabian folklore setting to people its world with all kinds of interesting new characters and challenges for its hero. Tangled took the one magical element in its mythology and went HAM on building a whole fantasy epic around it and more power to it because that show is pretty awesome. But Frozen has a pretty serious handicap when it comes to doing any continuation, particularly shorts. Because Frozen is a musical.
Yes, yes, I know. Aladdin, Pocahontas and Tangled are all musicals. Hell, Aladdin is a FANTASTIC musical. But let me ask you something; if there had been no songs in Return of Jafar or Prince of Thieves, would anyone really have minded? I’d argue that, while Aladdin has a legitimately killer book, the songs aren’t the core of that movie’s appeal.
Frozen though? The songs made that movie. The characters, animation, script are all great, absolutely. But it’s the songs that made it a once in a generation sensation. Aladdin is an action-comedy with great songs, Frozen is a musical with great comedy and action. And that presents a problem. You can’t do Frozen without songs, and musicals are really not a good fit for the short form. Musicals are not known for narrative efficiency. Any genre where the principals have to drop what they’re doing to sing about how they’re feeling every few minutes needs a pretty hefty run-time. This is why tickets to Wagner often come with a free sleeping bag. You see this problem in the first Frozen short, Frozen Fever, whose run-time is taken up pretty much with one song, which is perfectly fine and all but nothing really happens. Well Hans is killed. That’s something.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure has a longer run-time which theoretically should work in its favour as a musical. Unfortunately, it chooses to focus its attention of Olaf, a character for whom the phrase “small doses, please” was invented.
So the movie begins in Arrendelle where the townspeople are getting ready for some kind of winter holiday that may possibly be Christmas but, y’know, do your own research. Olaf keeps leaping out at the poor labouring serfs who are preparing the castle for Vaguemas by leaping out at them and yelling “SURPRISE!”
And yes, were I the daughter of a poor cobbler who had to put a crust on the table by working as a kitchen skivvy for the witch queen who rules the kingdom and her possessed snow-puppet familiar kept leaping out at me and screaming, that would indeed constitute a “surprise”.
So let’s talk about annoying characters. Annoying characters can be great, but they’re like gerbils. You need to keep them well fed, or they will turn on you. You know that great bit in The Simpsons where Krusty the Clown explains that a pie in the face gag only works if the sap’s got dignity? Well, annoying characters only work if the other characters are annoyed by them.
Let’s take one of the all time great annoying characters.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit works so well because you have Bob Hoskins grinding his teeth and generally being one “Puh-puh-puh-lease” away from strangling Roger with a set of handcuffs. His frustration is the source of comedy. Where you run into problems is where you have an annoying character whose antics are treated by the other characters as charming or, at worst, mildly disruptive. Here Olaf is acting like a complete nightmare and all the servants are just rolling their eyes and going “oh that Olaf, he is such a card”. And it comes across as really phoney. I don’t believe that these servants find this charming.
And this changes the comedic dynamic completely. If the other characters don’t acknowledge that Olaf is annoying, then suddenly the movie is laughing at us and not with us. And I think this is the problem with a lot of “annoying” characters. Jar Jar? Jar Jar works great if you keep him absolutely the same but every so often cut to Obi-Wan muttering darkly and fidgeting with his light-sabre. Quicksilver in Age of Ultron is a prick, but nobody minds because you have the scene with Hawkeye almost shooting him.
Anyway, the reason Olaf is so excited is because Anna and Elsa have planned a big surprise because, as Anna says, it’s “Arrendelle’s first Christmas in forever!” which is a weird line. Did Arrendelle just convert to Christianity this year? Or is this a reference to First Time in Forever meaning that Arrendelle hasn’t celebrated Christmas since the gates were closed? Did Agnarr ban Christmas?! What a dick!
This short was originally intended as a TV Christmas special and it really has that TV Christmas special feel to it in it’s dialogue. But, fair is fair, the animation is stunning, far and away what I would expected for TV (and probably why it got promoted to a theatrical release). The animation is more or less on par with Frozen itself, and even the large crowd scenes have all unique models with no copy/pasting, it’s honestly quite impressive.
Anyway, the surprise turns out to be a massive Christmas dinner thrown for all of Arrendelle. Who blow them off because it’s Christmas Eve and everyone already has plans because of course they do. See, it turns out that every family in Arrendelle have their own Christmas tradition like rolling the yule log or spanking the Krampus. This makes Anna and Elsa sad because they don’t have any Christmas traditions what with Elsa being sealed off from humanity like a common Magneto.
Hell, even Kristoff has Christmas traditions, and he was raised in a forest by rock monsters.
Elsa is sad because she thinks it’s her fault that she and Anna have no traditions, so Olaf decides to go and ask everyone in Arrendelle about their traditions and then bring the best traditions back to Anna and Elsa so that they’ll have traditions and basically the word “tradition” gets said until I have Fiddler On The Roof stuck in my head.
First stop is a family who make candy canes together which Olaf of course shoves in his face and gets high off his ass.
This leads to the song That Time of Year where Olaf learns about everyone’s family tradition (The Poppa! The Poppa! Tradition!). Oh and there’s a family who make giant cookies shaped like Norway.
The last house on Olaf’s list is Oaken’s where Olaf decides to join Oaken’s family for their Christmas sauna and OH JESUS GOD IN HEAVEN…
So after melting like a Nazi gazing into the arc of the covenant, Olaf is thrown outside to reform and he and Sven head back to the castle, their sleigh laden down with tradition (Who has to keep a quiet home, a well kept home, a kosher home? The momma!)
Unfortunately, Christmas traditions are like gerbils; you get too many of them together, they start fires. Oaken’s sauna hut sets the other Christmas doodads like the cardigans, Krampus paddles and THE GODDAMN FUCKING COOKIE SHAPED LIKE NORWAY WHY IS IT THERE I HATE I HATE IT I HATE on fire and the whole mess ends up ablaze at the bottom of a ravine. All except for one indestructible fruitcake, because when a fruitcake arrives in hell, the devil sends it right back.
Meanwhile, Elsa and Anna go looking in the attic for Christmas traditions and find an old chest. Sven arrives at the castle to tell them that Olaf is being chased through the forest by ferocious wolves with a taste for snow and coal. Olaf manages to escape the wolves but loses the fruitcake to a passing hawk, which I’m sure we can all relate to. Utterly despondent, Olaf decides it’d be better if he stayed lost and hides in the forest.
But all of Arrendelle goes looking for him, desperately trying to find him before he
freezes starves becomes even sadder. Anna and Elsa find them and Olaf apologises for losing their traditions, and Anna shows him what they found in the attic, pictures of him that Anna used to draw for Elsa and slip under her door like the chick in V for Vendetta.
The girls explain to Olaf that he is their Christmas tradition and the power was in him all along and Rosebud was the symbol of Kane’s lost youth and innocence and Tiny Tim did not die and they all sing a happy song about togetherness, the end.
Bah. Humbug! What cloying nonsense. What offensive banality. What…
Guys, it’s fine. Actually, it’s a good bit better than fine. It’s gorgeously animated, it’s sweet, occasionally funny and it’s just the right kind of mawkish sentiment for this time of year. Would I want to sit through before watching another movie? No. But as a twenty minute Christmas special it does its job and does it well.
Go in peace, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Life a long, happy life as a holiday fixture, bringing mild joy to mince-pie stuffed children everywhere. Merry Christmas, everybody. And God bless us, every one.
How butt ugly is the animation? Is it as ugly as a butt?: 18/20
Actually on par with its prequel.
Are the main characters jerks? I bet they’re jerks: 09/20
Olaf is…yeah, small doses.
Bet the villain’s a real shitpile, character wise: N/A
The Frozen franchise really doesn’t have much time for villains, does it?
Oh what’s this? Supporting characters? Fuck you supporting characters!: 11/20
They’re still the characters we know and love but…yeah, the writing is very much “TV Christmas Special” level, you feel me?
Man, fuck the music. I hope it dies: 09/20
The songs are competent, if a little bland. But oof, much as I love Kristen Bell she hits a few bum notes in this one.
FINAL SCORE: 59%
NEXT UPDATE: Keep an eye out for my end of year update (spoilers, I have big, big, big, big, big news). But I will be taking the rest of December off for Christmas and then I’ll be back with the next review on January 9th.
NEXT TIME: It’s the Merc with a Mouth versus the Mouse with a Mac.