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Soundtrack Review: Frozen

January 5, 2014

91sUS1moZdL._AA1500_By Erin V.

Frozen tells the story of two sisters and princesses – the older Elsa who has the power to create ice and snow, and the younger Anna who does not.  Anna has looked up to Elsa her whole life, and as children the two played together, laughing in the snow Elsa created while building snowmen.  But then after an accident caused by her powers, Elsa shut herself away and shut Anna out.  Anna still longs for her sister but Elsa doesn’t trust herself enough to feel that anyone is safe near her powers.

When Elsa turns 21, she is forced to emerge from her isolation for her coronation as queen.  The now 18-year-old Anna is delighted to have her sister out of hiding again, but Elsa is icy towards her, still trying to keep everyone at arms length.  When an argument between them at a ball leads Elsa to inadvertently freeze the kingdom of Arendelle in an eternal winter, Elsa flees up the North Mountain where she feels she can finally be free and those she loves can be safe.  But Anna is determined to find her sister, bring her back, and get her to melt the winter again.  Along the way, Anna gets help from Kristoff (an ice salesman) and his reindeer Sven, as well as a talking snowman named Olaf.

What follows is a story about love conquering fear, and of two sisters who will do anything – even at their own self-sacrifice – to protect each other.

The film is beautifully animated, and being a musical, features many original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, as well as a wonderful score by Christophe Beck.  These are my thoughts on the songs and score of Frozen.

The very first song ‘Frozen Heart’ takes on an additional meaning after seeing the film – and provides a surprisingly mature musical opening for the film.  Following this, in true musical fashion, ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ has the young Anna sing her feelings and wanting for Elsa to come out and play with her again.  The song is sung, by the child, teen, and adult Anna (three different voice actresses), as we see her on screen over the years asking Elsa again and again, ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’

From here, we jump right into the first incarnation of ‘For the First Time in Forever’ – Anna’s adult theme – and a fun play on the ideas of traditional Disney Princesses.  But a minute and a half from the end of the piece, Elsa’s theme of ‘Let It Go’ starts to blend in with the piece.  It is these kinds of duets that Frozen really excels at.  The next song, ‘Love is an Open Door’ is a little silly, but fun – and is awesome in the way that it totally makes fun of the idea of falling in love with and marrying someone at first sight.

Next is the Idina Menzel sung ‘Let It Go’ – this is Elsa’s showstopping number, with her theme song played in full.  What I love about ‘Let It Go’ is how her song in this version is so free, and full of discovery of her powers – there is a certain joy as she creates her snow creations.  You can hear someone finally letting loose in this number.  What is beautiful about this piece, is how at different points, her song can be free and joyful, or full of sadness or fear.

Of course, the soundtrack has a mix of showstopping numbers with the sillier numbers, including the under a minute ‘Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People’ and the snowman Olaf’s song ‘In Summer’, which is coupled in the film with the slightly daft snowman imagining himself enjoying the warm summer days once Elsa’s winter finally melts.

After these two though, comes the stunning reprise of ‘For the First Time in Forever’ – this time the first time Anna and Elsa really talk after Anna finds out why Elsa shut her out years before.  The blending of their two songs melodies (For the First Time in Forever and Let It Go) as they sing to each other is stunning.  The approximate last minute of the track is truly stunning, with the last ten seconds interestingly (and appropriately) bringing in the melody of ‘Frozen Heart.’

Again, keeping with a nice mix of heavier and light tracks, we follow this up with ‘Fixer Upper’ – a fun song sung by a group of rock trolls in the film, and sure to bring a smile to your face.  But the last minute or so of song also actually has a lovely message that I really enjoyed.  This sequence in the film is fun to watch and provides a nice breather before the last act.

Finally the last song on the CD is the ‘Let It Go’ Single Version sung by Demi Lovato.  This is the version used over the end credits.  I personally like all the versions of this song – and as a single, this one is one that I have listened to again and again and really love.  Maybe it is personal to me, but I just really like the words and music of this song.

Next, the last 20 tracks of the 30 track disc one (deluxe edition or only disc in regular edition) are score pieces written by Christophe Beck.  First off, is the score-song ‘Vuelie’ based on traditional Norwegian music, and sung by vocalists.  This piece has a haunting quality to it and is the first thing you hear in the film and provides a real maturity.  It is repeated (this theme) in the tracks Heimr Àrnadair and ‘The Great Thaw’ (this last piece brings the themes of ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ as well).  The fun ‘Elsa and Anna’ track, feels very childlike in our introduction to the two sisters while they were still both free and young – it also leads us into the inciting incident for the whole film.

Christophe Beck uses a lot of strings, horns, and tinkling percussion throughout the score, as well as Norwegian sounds.  I love the often icicle type sounds sprinkled throughout.  Very appropriate.  The pieces often also have a youthful and light bouncing quality to them in the earlier tracks, although also at times bring in the darker themes.  With a musical like Frozen, the score tracks before and after the songs have to thematically lead into each other – and they do that very well here.  Track 17 ‘Sorcery’ is the first time we get a feel for the darker parts that will come into play later on in the story – this track plays right as Elsa’s powers are revealed and she runs away in fear of herself and those around her.

I really enjoyed this soundtrack from start to finish – with classic songs and score, by the time the aptly named track ‘Epilogue’ rolls around, replaying a few themes throughout, I had thoroughly enjoyed the ride and listen.

In the deluxe edition, there is also a second disc, which is essentially stuff not heard in the finished film.  I bought the deluxe edition of the soundtrack, because I found interesting to hear all of the ‘deleted’ tracks, as well as the demos.  As someone interested in musical and song composition, especially for film, it is invaluable to be able to have a whole extra disc with all these (sometimes hidden gems) of music that wasn’t used in the film.

What is interesting to me is also to hear the demo tracks with just piano accompaniment instead of a full orchestra behind the songs.  It really gives you an idea of how songs start out and how they are built up.  (Listening to the first track on disc 2, ‘For the First Time in Forever (Demo) shows you this right off the bat).  The intro to ‘We Know Better’ (an outtake) gives a bit of an explanation from the songwriters as well as to how the demos were recorded.  They are sometimes a little rough, but definitely fun to hear.  Many of the songs have intros which show you how they would be used.

Granted, some of the songs feel unneeded, (and sometimes detrimental), and would have made the film very over long.  In the case of ‘Spring Pageant’ for example, it provided way to much exposition and really wouldn’t have fit with the way the film finally played (with Anna and Elsa living a life of isolation and misunderstanding).  Others like ‘More Than Just The Spare’ were very pretty, but also don’t fit to how the characters finally are (you see a different Anna in this one).  Overall, you really see how there were so many ideas initially played around with, and how many rightfully were dropped.

What fascinated me, is how I could get a picture of different elements of where the story of the film may have initially gone at other stages of development.  As films are made, there are always elements added or dropped, and to have this little extra look is excellent.  It also makes you appreciate how cleanly the film played and how well they put together the finished project.  I really loved who Anna and Elsa became in the finished version.  You also really see how sometimes less is more, and this is an important thing for writers (both of stories and songs) to remember.

Along with the song outtakes and demos, there are also ample score pieces from earlier scenes that were cut.  Plus, as an added bonus, the piece from the teaser trailer with Olaf and Sven can be found on here as well.  And to close out disc two, we also get an Instrumental Karaoke version of ‘Let It Go’.

Overall, I highly recommend the Frozen soundtrack, and I would recommend getting the two-disc deluxe edition if you are interested in this other side of filmmaking, e.g. a little look behind-the-scenes of story development.  The packaging is also absolutely gorgeous (with an embossed cover on the deluxe edition)!

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