Archives for March 2014

Mom-Son Superhero Party

Every year, all across the country around Valentine’s Day, community centers have Father-Daughter Dances, which is great, but why should Dads and their little girls have all the fun? What about the moms and their boys?

With that in mind, the Delaware Community Center YMCA hosted the 2nd Annual Mom-Son Superhero Party, and the Heroes Alliance were honored to be invited out as a part of the event, along with several local real heroes in the form of Firefighters and Police Officers.

Batman, Batgirl, Captain America, Doctor Fate, Gambit, Rogue, Spider-Man, Supergirl and Superman were overjoyed to be on hand, meeting the kids and their moms, joining in on the dancing, playing superhero-themed games, and signing autographs.

Thanks to Stephen Blanzaco and Carol Martin for out-of-costume support and photography!

This was the second year for the event, and over 200 moms and their sons turned out for the evening. The members of Heroes Alliance Ohio had a blast, and really hope to return next year.

To find out more about the Delaware Community Center YMCA, check out their website at http://www.ymcacolumbus.org/delaware

To find out more about the Heroes Alliance, visit http://www.heroesalliance.org

Disney’s Frozen: Review

I’m resurrecting this post in honor of Frozen being released to home video yesterday. Enjoy!

frozen_posterby Aaron Einhorn
I try to be a fair and unbiased reviewer when doing my film reviews on this site. I’m aware that I have personal preferences that have nothing to do with the actual quality of the media I’m consuming – I will always prefer a superhero comic to a non-superhero tale, but I can still acknowledge that Maus is a fantastic example of the genre.

So, with that said, let’s get it out up front that I am a Disney fanboy. I adore the animation, the music, and the joy that we get as a family when we share their films. Our family trip to Walt Disney World last February was one of my most treasured memories, and although my daughters don’t know it yet, we’re going back this March.

In other words, yeah, I was pre-disposed to Frozen before walking in to the advance screening. But I was predisposed to like Thor: The Dark World, which I walked away from somewhat indifferently. And we were dealing with similar circumstances – a crowded preview screening, heading over after work, and I was tired before we got there, and hungry from skipping dinner.

So, how did I feel about Frozen? Read on.

Synopsis

There are two Princesses of Arendelle: Elsa (Idina Menzel), the soon-to-be Queen, and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa has the ability to create snow and ice, yet has been suppressing these powers after a traumatic childhood incident involving her sister. After letting her cryokinetic powers get out of hand during her official July coronation, she goes into hiding, only for her emotions to trigger a magical, eternal winter that freezes the entire kingdom.

Anna, a fearless and daring optimist, must journey with extreme mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and reindeer sidekick Sven in an epic journey, encountering mystical trolls, a comical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn in a race to find Elsa (now known as the Snow Queen), save their kingdom from eternal winter, and make things right before it’s too late.

The Feature

So, the first thing to get out is that Frozen bears about as much resemblance to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Snow Queen as The Little Mermaid does to its source tale. So, if you’re a big fan of the classic fairy tale, please put it out of your mind in advance, because otherwise you will be sorely disappointed.

olaf

“I love warm hugs.”

The other thing that absolutely must be touched upon is Olaf. Olaf, the enchanted magical snowman who wants to experience all things warm. Olaf, who has been featured almost exclusively in the previews for the film to the point that you might be surprised to discover that there are two Princesses in the movie. Olaf, who really is the Jar Jar Binks of Frozen.

As I had feared, there is entirely too much of Olaf in this movie, which is entirely unnecessary. The film already had “cute creatures” a-plenty in the form of Sven, the reindeer, and the trolls who provide exposition and an additional source of magic and fun to the movie.

Fortunately, even though there is too much Olaf, there is also a lot less of him than I had feared there would be, and he even manages to add some to the plot. Not a lot, but some.

Frozen also suffers from the lack of a strong villain, a la Urusula, Jafar, the Shadowman or Mother Gothelle. The story is more about struggles within yourself, and the sisters being able to connect to one another, and the external threats aren’t all that terribly significant.

The other negative strike against Frozen is the fairly weak romance. Disney has a very hit-and-miss record with making the romances of their leads believable and/or necessary, with Tangled and Princess and the Frog nailing it, and Brave showing us that you don’t really need it. The romance in this film is a bit contrived, and ultimately not all that important. What it does do, however, is gives us an excuse to include a couple of male characters in the film that were probably essential to convince young boys to come see it, and it allowed directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (screenplay, Wreck It-Ralph) to really play with the standard Disney tropes of in True Love’s Kiss in a way that I found really surprising and gratifying.

Now, with the negatives out of the way, let’s discuss some of the things that make Frozen worth watching – and there are plenty.

ice_palaceFirst of all, the visuals of the film are absolutely breathtaking. Although I have heard some complaints that the new CGI-style of Disney animation means that Anna and Elsa bear a little too strong of a resemblance to Rapunzel from Tangled, I was able to look past any initial similarity to the point that the sisters quickly became distinct. Elsa has a cold reserve to her that you can see on her face, and the way she never quite smiles but often smirks captures the facial tics of her voice actress, Idina Menzel quite wonderfully.

Separated at birth? You decide. (Left: Rapunzel and Flynn from "Tangled", Right: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Hans from "Frozen")

Separated at birth? You decide. (Left: Rapunzel and Flynn from “Tangled”, Right: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Hans from “Frozen”)

Similarly, Anna’s slightly crossed eyes and freckles give her a wonderful humanity that we haven’t always seen in the Disney Princesses. Even the tomboys and outsiders and misfits are beautiful – and there’s no doubt that both Anna and Elsa are – but seeing some imperfections makes them a little bit more real.

Of course, visually, the real star of Frozen are the ice and snow effects, and those are simply amazing. There were real gasps in the audience when Elsa creates her Ice Palace, and the way that the snow swirls, and the ice grows and cracks is just amazing.

As characters, it’s hard not to love both sisters. Anna is outgoing, energetic, clumsy and forthright, while Elsa is cold, reserved and restrained – but still clearly empathetic and compassionate. On a personal note, it was hard not to see my two daughters in the sisters, and there was a long discussion about that similarity on the drive home from the theatre.

Anna’s quest to save her sister, and in turn, the kingdom, resonates strongly because at its core, it is more about Elsa than it is about Arrendale – which makes it something easily relatable. Saving a kingdom is more than most kids can understand, but wanting to be with your sister is something that most kids will easily relate to.

In any case, for all that one of them is technically a Queen, I think both Anna and Elsa will become a welcome addition to Disney’s Princess line.

sisters

The Music

When it comes to Disney features, the music can make or break the movie. Many fans turned away entirely from Hercules because of the unexpected musical choices with the Gospel-style songs (although I am personally a fan), and to this day, I think that if Disney had made the music integrated into Tarzan the way they did the Broadway version, it would have ended up being a much bigger hit.

Well, Frozen is an absolute win in the musical category, and if you’re a fan of Broadway, then you will be very, very pleased.

The orchestral score from Christophe Beck is quite, quite lovely, and pulls you strongly in to the film right from the beginning. But as solid as the score is, the actual songs are where Frozen soars.

“Frozen Heart” starts the film off strong with a solid, sea-chanty-esque rhthym, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” establishes the relationship between the sisters and is heart-breakingly sweet and sad at the same time. “Reindeers Are Better Than People” is a cute little ditty featuring Jonathan Groff, and “Fixer Upper” is fun and energetic and will make great background music when walking through the Disney parks.

But there are three songs that everyone will be talking about.

“For the First Time in Forever” (and its reprise) is the adult counter-point to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and is absolutely essential to understanding who both Anna and Elsa are. It has a great build throughout, catchy lyrics, and really fun visuals. Think of it in the same vein as other Disney “I Want” Songs, and you won’t be far off at all.

“Love is an Open Door” is a really lovely love-song duet, and in a different film, could easily be the one that everyone will remember at the movie’s end. The opening and closing of doors is a recurring theme in Frozen, and when the song plays, it is easy to see how Anna can be swept away by her handsome prince.

Incidentally, although we’re past the point where this should be surprising, Kristin Bell has quite a lovely singing voice, and she’s really fun to listen to throughout.

But the breakout hit song of Frozen is, without question, “Let it Go.”

Anyone familiar with Idina Menzel’s career knows this, but that woman has an amazing voice, with a tone very unlike many others. She isn’t always technically perfect, but she is incredibly talented, and the imperfections in her voice are what allow it to bring so much emotion to what she sings. If you only know her from watching Glee, than this may surprise you. If you’re familiar with her from Rent, then you know she has the pipes, but you may not be prepared for her ability to reach in to your heart and twist. If you know Menzel from listening to Wicked, then you know what I’m talking about.

I was introduced to Idina Menzel’s singing when she performed “Defying Gravity” at the 2004 Tony Awards, and fell in love, rushing out to purchase the soundtrack. Although I love the entire show, “Defying Gravity” was my favorite feminine power ballad of all time, and remains a regular on my iPod.

“Let It Go” is better.

The song is already listed on Disney’s “For Your Consideration” website for Best Original Song, and if there is any justice, it will be nominated, and Idina Menzel will sing it at the Oscars. But just as fortunate, that means that Disney has put the song up on the site for you to listen to. I implore you to do so. Here’s a link.

frozen_svenThe Good

Really strong story, great characters, beautiful visuals and incredible music. The additional short “Get A Horse” is also a really nice tribute to the history and the future of Disney animation, although I’m unsure if it will work in 2D.

The Bad

Disney may be marketing this film entirely wrong, and there will be plenty of fans of the classic fairytale who are disappointed with the changes (but aren’t there always? I’m pretty sure that “Princess and the Frog” didn’t involve New Orleans or jazz music or a talking alligator or a princess who becomes an amphibian either.)

The Ugly

Even though I didn’t end up hating him as much as I expected to, I’d be entirely satisfied to see a cut of this film that didn’t involve Olaf.

Final Thoughts

Assuming that people come to see it despite less-than-adequate marketing, Disney has another hit on their hands with Frozen. It is easy to see the last four Princess films from Disney as marking a new Renaissance. Princess and the Frog started it off strong, Tangled has been about as perfect a modern fairy tale as I could have imagined, and Brave gave us the first Disney Princess from an original tale who doesn’t do it all for love.

Frozen is as strong a film as any of them, and one that I cannot wait to go see again. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to “Let It Go” again.