"Frozen was one of the better movies of 2013. Sure, it was cookie-cutter Disney fare, but the characters were charming, the ice-covered mountains were jaw-droppingly pristine, and as escapist fare it succeeded resoundingly. What’s more, the original soundtrack was a nicely light and fluffy accompaniment, a platform for Disney’s big-budget sound engineering team to enhance the immersive experience of the well-scripted plot. However, on its own, the soundtrack to the movie falls flat. And, yes, it’s probably unfair to separate music and story - the songs complement the gorgeous visuals well, especially in the first extended cut “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and its tear-pleading climax and conclusion. But it also helps that it’s one of the few vocal tracks far removed from the crushing vapidity of the other material. “For the First Time in Forever,” with its lyrical clunkers like “Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy / But I’m somewhere in that zone” and poor performance decisions like the ham-fisted pause before Elsa “opens the gates” and Anna’s meaningless harmonization shortly thereafter, represents the downhill slide and subsequent face-first mud landing of the soundtrack over the course of its runtime.
Maybe I’m just an uncultured neophyte when it comes to Broadway-ready musical theatre, but many of the vocal-driven songs in Frozen radiate the same degree of authenticity and visceral emotion as the latest boy-band fad trying to tug at the heartstrings of teenage girls (a la One Direction’s abysmal “Story of My Life”). Nowhere is this more apparent than lead single and theatre-nerd favorite “Let It Go” (although “Love Is an Open Door” and its painfully sappy strings-meet-guitar base and gee-whiz duets containing lines like “We finish each other’s-” “Sandwiches!” “That’s what I was gonna say!” comes very close). For starters, the song’s rah-rah high school pep squad message of empowerment falls flat because it sends virtually the same message Broadway divas have nearly unanimously been belting for the past few decades. And, sure, good for Disney in their all-powerful control over movie musicals to announce that any heroine, no matter how painfully shallow, can take control of her own life’s trajectory (Elsa’s otherwise utter lack of self-confidence and the fact that she “deals with her issues by speed-skating away from them” (Medium.com) notwithstanding), but it feels far too much like yet another “Defying Gravity” rip-off to stand on its own as worthwhile.
Along those lines, the music itself is smirkingly and obstinately derivative, another uplifting piano-plus-strings ballad made to sell copies. And I guess that’s my main issue with the soundtrack: it’s almost unavoidably prone to the synonyms of any well-produced cash grab. Unoriginality, banality, and gag-worthy mushiness all abound to the point of the thing being nigh-unlistenable. Of course, that kind of melodrama isn’t always a bad thing, as the charmingly heavy-handed “In Summer” (featuring, incidentally, one of the few characters whose shallowness is endearing rather than abrasive) demonstrates. It’s one of the few pieces which doesn’t take itself seriously, and as a result it’s by far the best song on the soundtrack. The buzzing, nimble lyrics succeed as well, and the admittedly simple premise stays fresh throughout alongside whimsical string plucks and offbeat acoustic guitar.
Unfortunately, the success of songs like “In Summer” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” can’t carry the soundtrack. The focus is squarely on attractively packaged gobs of cheese, and the stereotypical, unimpressive symphonic half (barring the wonderful Cantus-led “Vuelie” and its reprise, the exultant “The Great Thaw”) doesn’t add much credibility. As Elsa puts it in “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise),” “I’m such a fool, I can’t be free!” As long as Broadway-esque music can sell uncreative, fat-laden records, their current standards will continue to enslave them. It’s potentially destructive, sure, but quick cash-grabs are so profitable that large-scale change is unlikely.”
As a standalone, I thought First Time in Forever’s tune was okay. But the lyrics…. errr. This review may be a little harsh, and I definitely do not agree with everything it says (I love Broadway and musicals, for instance!), but it is a good counter-balance to the hype over Let it Go is generating nonetheless (and dang it, Idina sings it a thousand times better than Demi ever could!).
I shall not comment on the hype itself, but the comment on the symphonic half rings true. Vuelie was wonderful, but it doesn’t carry on. How could Beck only repeat the main motif at the second-to-last song? Not to mention the disparate nature of every single song in the soundtrack. And the emphasis on vocals and toning down of instruments (WHY), and the chords. My heart freaking broke dammit. I don’t know. There is nothing wrong with experimenting - I’m all for it! - but there are certain lines that you can’t cross. Definitely not - never - in film soundtracks, and hardly ever in musicals either. And certainly not all at once.
Beck tries, he really does, and I really do have to commend him for that, but as the Epilogue shows… it kind of falls flat because there is nothing - nothing - tying everything together. And that truly, truly is a shame.
- John Doe
Edit: This was on my queue long before everything that has happened this month, but somehow the last two lines are rather apt. So many things I want to do and need to do and barely enough time to start on them all, and it’s all just a little scary. But ‘John Doe’?! Facepalmheaddeskokay
Not for As (no, thank lord), but for that one thing in late October two days before my final A-level paper that still hurts now. Oh dear lord how I wish I will be.
Just a little surreal right now, for I spent so long hoping and dreaming and yet preparing for the opposite that this becomes a little hard to sink in and ‘what now?’ has everything but an answer because I’d planned a dozen plans for when my hopes crash and burn and felt a dozen emotions for others that I don’t know how to go from here and I don’t know what to choose and I don’t know how to feel. So I retreat into a vacillation between heartbreak for those that deserve far better but plod on so so admirably regardless, and immeasurable pride for those who worked and worked but never thought they’d get there.
New goal this month: to get over how uncomfortable I am with calling people I don’t know well by their names. About time I shirked that habit, and now is a good time as any. It’s getting a little hard to deliberately avoid calling out names in class when the urge is so strong. Especially when it starts giving off the impression that I don’t know anyone by their names, which is the entire opposite of the truth. Should be… fun. Here goes nothing.
- Starter for Ten, David Nicholls