BOOK REVIEW: “The Art Of Frozen”

BOOK REVIEW: "The Art Of Frozen"

The Art of Disney’s Frozen By Charles Solomon; Chronicle Books,
2013  160pp. 

“Art of” books tend
to repeat similar patterns; they are typically brief in text, abundant in
concept and finished art, and tend to focus on the joy of the creative effort
as related by the artisans involved. There is, to some degree, a focus on the
technical magic used in production: since the advent of computer-generated
animation, these details increasingly find inclusion in such books.

I found it
refreshing, therefore, to read and review Charles Solomon’s The Art of
Disney’s Frozen.
It must be appreciated that Mr. Solomon is an animation
historian and critic foremost, and that appeared to influence his approach to
the book.  Solomon’s book concentrates
far more on the story, writing, and artistic presentation of the film than most
books in this genre do. He does not include the typical chapter on the creation
of a single scene, and there are no greatly detailed discussions of pixels,
fractals, modeling , texturing, wireframes, or hyper-sophisticated software
programs.

There are the
requisite pages of artwork form various stages of production, many of them
full-page spreads. However, what Solomon seems to most appreciate is the
difficult and exacting work that goes into writing and designing a modern
animated film. In reading The Art of Frozen, one does get a sense of the
wonder felt by the creators, but Solomon imparts the sense that, without
countless hours of discussion, pre-preparation, and constant redefining of
details, an animated film can easily go off track. Righting it again may be
difficult to impossible as production continues.

The introduction and
prologue of the book alone comprises the first thirty-three pages and is mostly
concerned with the history of the film, the writing, storyboarding, and
animatics. There are tidbits you would expect from a historian of Solomon’s
caliber. The original story by Hans Christian Anderson (The Snow Queen) was
written in 1845 in five days. The Disney studio considered it as far back as
1938, but it did not come under serious consideration until exactly seventy
years later. With material from several interviews, Solomon chronicles how Directors
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and story head Paul Briggs adapted the original fairy
tale until it became a jumping-off point for a fresh treatment. “A princess
story” has been eschewed in favor of an exploration of a complicated
relationship between Anna and Elsa, two sundered sisters. The fact of Anna and
Elsa’s royalty is not of central importance to the story, nor is a romance.

Many pages are spent
detailing the production team’s visit to Norway, the better to understand Scandinavian
architecture, clothing, and motifs. Here you will learn that “rose mailing” means
 Norwegian decorative styling applied to
interior and exterior design as well as clothing.  Art Director Micheal Giaimo and costume
designer Jean Gillmore are given serious due: the section on costume design is
nine pages long, many more than are given to any the film’s leading characters.
Giaimo, in fact, calls the movie “a costume film.”

These are the details
that catch Solomon’s attention, and his book has more the feel of an “Art of
Frozen Workbook.” Take, for example, Giaimo’s comment on color keys for Anna’s
blue and magenta travel outfit: “But there’s always a little bit of black on
the characters: it helps anchor the saturation, so it doesn’t float into the
atmosphere.”

As the film Frozen readied for its debut, a British
artist named David Trumble caused a stir by lampooning Disney using versions of
famous women reconceived as “Disney Princesses”. Hillary Clinton, Anne Frank,
Jane Goodall and Harriet Tubman, among others, were given, in Trumble’s words, “The same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, the same homogenized plastic
smile.” The Art of Disney’s Frozen details how such stylization was
avoided. The sisters reflect a more elfin design, with almond-shaped eyes that,
according to supervising animator Mark Henn, presented some difficulties when
animated.

This book is what you
would expect from a noted animation historian. While the gloss is there,
Solomon tends to go behind the scenes more than most “Art of” authors to show
the sweat, effort, and constant need to adapt to challenges that goes into
making a much-anticipated film. His chapter on “Wilderness” captures the
essence of what a critic would look for when evaluating the merits of a film.
This is not your typical “Art of” book; I hope it is not Solomon’s last.

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Comments

Ju-osh M.

Thanks so much for this fantastic, thoughtful review. As a HUGE fan of Solomon's equally elaborate 'Tale As Old As Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast,' I've been eagerly awaiting this book. Reading the small asides ("Giaimo…calls the movie 'a costume film'") and interesting factoids (using black to avoid saturation) that you included has me even more excited.

Solomon's previous animation books have been wonderful in the way that they balance the informative and intellectual with the exciting and entertaining. After reading your review, it sounds like he's done it again!

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