Note: This is a review of the original motion picture soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen. Reviews for the film are under embargo until later this month.
On November 25, Walt Disney Records will release the original motion picture soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen in both single disc and 2-disc deluxe formats (available for pre-order via Amazon and iTunes), the latter of which features demos of songs that didn’t make it into to the film for various reasons (25 were written with just eight plus a reprise making the final cut). In addition to the songs written by the [married] songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the soundtrack features a score by Christophe Beck and orchestration and arrangements by Dave Metzger. With a pedigree such as this, it’s a natural expectation for the soundtrack to exceed, but frankly expectations are greatly exceeded in what can easily be seen as Disney’s best musical since Beauty and the Beast, and in some ways, even better.
The secret behind the success of the songs is that they are every bit as capable in the film as they would be on the stage and — quite frankly — would give most any recent Broadway production a run for its box office money. There’s a strong dichotomy — almost paradoxical — in the songs’ lyrics: they are times both simple and complex, sophisticated and silly, accompanied by ear-wormy melodies and beautiful orchestrations with an unforgiving arrangements that do not dumb themselves which is most surprising given they’re featured in a ‘kid’s movie,’ let alone an animated one.
While most every Disney musical since the teaming of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken has had a breakout song or two, none have really been as successful as Frozen. While strung together, the songs don’t appear to be cohesive in their styles — perhaps a style unto itself, each song certainly has its place and most stand very strong on their own. Strengthening the ties to the work of Ashman-Menken is the fact that the Lopezes came out of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop which was also attended by Menken and where he was first teamed with Ashman. The new work has so much in common with the older work that the archetypal ‘I Want’ song (‘For the First Time in Forever’) ended up in Ashman’s preferred third-song spot.
Below is a brief run down of each of the featured songs from the film:
1) Frozen Heart – Described as a tribute to Dumbo‘s ‘Song of the Roustabouts’ by co-director Jennifer Lee, this work song provides a vibe akin to that of The Little Mermaid’s ‘Fathoms Below,’ providing a tone for the film (see also ‘Work Song’ from ‘Les Miserables’). To be blunt, one of my least favorites from the soundtrack, but it serves its purpose.
2) Do You Want to Build A Snow Man – A haunting melody with heart-wrenching lyrics that explores the relationship of the two sisters throughout their formative years through the eyes of Anna. The performance is spectacular as lines are delivered with raw emotion (Kristen Bell in particular) while Anderson-Lopez unexpectedly toys with the meter to match the emotion and ages of Anna throughout the song. Fun fact: due to pacing of the film, this song was constantly being cut and put back in during the film’s development. Ultimately, studio employees demanded it stay in.
3) For the First Time in Forever – While primarily Anna’s song, it does feature Elsa as well. The ‘I Want’ song, the composition and lyrics feed off Anna’s frenetic and anxious energy and awkwardness, a classic example of mixing sophistication with silliness.
4) Love is an Open Door – With what turned out to be the first major ear-worm for me, this ‘romance’ song turns is mean to be a send-up of the cheesy rock ballads of the 1990s. As ridiculous as that premise is, it would be perfectly comfortable in a rock musical being produced on the Broadway stage today. The song is riddled with clever lyrics as well as allusions to visuals from the film that it will help the listener easily recall, thanks in part to their delivery by performers Bell and Santino Fontana.
5) Let it Go – The ‘I Am’ anthem, Elsa’s song tells of her struggles of the fine line between curse and blessings, ultimately owning the one thing she’s hid from her entire life, expertly delivered by Idina Menzel in a way that only Menzel can deliver. While the lyrics are quite different in places than Demi Lovato’s pop cover, the two renditions share the same words ‘Heaven knows I’ve tried,’ yet the way Menzel delivers the final two words of the line make all the difference in the world. Another ear-worm, this powerfully written song — inspired by the work of Tori Amos and Adele — is bound to quench just a little of teenage angst.
6) Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People – The short comedy bit gives Jonathan Groff a chance to lend his singing voice to the film, albeit it for less than a minute. The only song determined to be in Kristoff’s character to perform, I don’t count it amongst my favorites, but given how it’s pretty much over before it starts, it’s quite tolerable.
7) In Summer – Olaf’s ‘charm song,’ comically delivered by Josh Gad (who had worked previously with Robert Lopez before with Broadway’s ‘Book of Mormon’). Clever in its lyrics and vaudevillian style, the song plays up to Olaf’s naivete and fondness for the grass always being thawed on the other side of the fence.
8) For the First Time in Forever (Reprise) – The words and melody are just about the only thing this song has in common with its namesake. Anna’s desperate plea to Elsa, this song also features one of the most complex arrangements found on the soundtrack, giving it a haunting and to a professional effect in a way seldom seen on the stage, let alone in family films. The song also treads dangerously along the operetta line at times which puts a unique spin on it.
9) Fixer-Upper – Yet another ear-worm link in a long chain of ear-worms, this gospel sounding song again features unprecedented levels of silliness in a comedic but sincere ditty which ultimately delivers a strong message, thanks much in part to the performance of Maia Wilson.
In regards to Christophe Beck’s score, it proves to find itself a natural fit for a film, in particular a Disney animated one. ‘Wolves’ proves to be one of the strongest, more suspenseful entry, embellishing the film. Beck also weaves much of Robert Lopez’s melodies into the score, oft providing underscoring themes for both Anna and Elsa with hints of ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’ and ‘Let it Go.’ ‘Epilogue’ would serve well as an overture should the film ever find itself adapted for the stage.
In short, a must own for anyone who found themselves eternally enchanted by the Ashman-Menken Disney collaborations along with an unapologetic edginess coupled with elements of technical sophistication never dare tried by a Disney film before.