I just watched Frozen. It’s about what you would expect. Well, that’s not exactly true. The script was certainly far less carefully crafted than most animated features. And it does seem to be falling into what seems to be a trend in animation: plot padding. There is far too much action for action’s sake. Scenes go on far too long with nothing happening even as the story leaves enormous amounts of material unexplained. And its attempts at humor are obvious and blunt.
But unlike most animated features, Frozen does not just have songs in it; it is a musical in its own right. It would be quite easy to turn this into a Broadway musical. And shockingly, I think it would work. Unlike most dramatic songs these days, the ones that fill Frozen are mostly quite good. “For the First Time in Forever” and “Fixer Upper” really stand out as catchy without being cliched. Of course, there are also songs that are straight genre like “Love Is an Open Door” and “Let it Go” which could have easily have been written by Elton John and Tim Rice. But not every song can be a winner, and many my favorite musicals have only a few standout songs.
The songs were written by the husband and wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. I’ve never heard of them before, but then I don’t stay up on this kind of thing anymore. I get the impression they haven’t worked much together before Frozen, so that may have added a little spark to the work. I don’t expect great things in the future, not because they aren’t talented, but because musical songwriting is a field that will accept just about anything passably professional. Great art need not apply—or even reasonably interesting tunes or lyrics.
It would be nice if musicals could move in some different directions. I’ve thought for a long time that there is room for very small musicals. And maybe they are out there being done and I just don’t know about it. You know: something like The Fantasticks, but with the ability to use the songs in new ways and to not be limited to a certain kind of song. To some extent, I think Godspell (see my discussion: Godspell Positive Vision of Christianity) fit that bill, at least for that moment. And then, we got a whole bunch more of that.
It seems to me that when it comes to a musical, almost everything is off limits. Certainly there’s a reason for that: people like them as they are; they are popular. But given that you could produce a musical with exotic music and a challenging plot for almost nothing, I wonder that people don’t. I wouldn’t expect to see such things on DVD, but maybe at Berkeley Rep? Maybe if one-tenth the effort that goes into making Shakespeare vital went into making interesting musicals, we’d have a revolution. Meanwhile, I’m just pleased when a Disney musical has a couple of catchy tunes and nothing that really offends me.