‘Frozen 2’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ offer great holiday fare
You can have very good holiday movies that have nothing to do the holidays, per se. If they generate good cheer and positive feelings toward your fellow man and woman, I’d say that qualifies for great holiday fare. Case in point twice this week, with the releases of “Frozen 2” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
The latter is the Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Fred Rogers.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine?” goes his familiar song.
As you might be able to tell from the trailer, Hanks doesn’t exactly nail the impersonation part of his role. We’ve seen Mr. Rogers on TV so many times that it’s easy to spot the differences. But Hanks’ off-screen Rogers, the Rogers when he’s not on TV, is so winning, so human and believable, that Hanks’ slightly off TV version of him doesn’t matter much.
The most surprising thing about “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is that it’s not really about Fred Rogers. It’s more a movie about Rogers’ effect on people.
“Based” on a true story, the film focuses on a cranky investigative journalist who resentfully accepts an assignment to write a puff piece about Mr. Rogers. Over the course of a series of interviews, the journalist realizes HE’s the one being interviewed, BY Mr. Rogers. And he resents the hell out of it. He lashes out at Rogers, and Rogers’ reaction flummoxes him. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, this journalist gradually learns to mend his pinched ways.
Although the overall arc is predictable, and the story is ripe for mushy sentimentality, the film is sharp enough to avoid the obvious pitfalls. One especially imaginative scene turns the journalist into a character in the TV show’s Neighborhood of Make-Believe! And the movie also dares to at least hint at a deeper, if not darker side, to Fred Rogers.
For the most part, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” will confirm every fan’s hunches about Mr. Rogers. And it should win over some new fans as well.
Disney’s “Frozen” franchise certainly isn’t in need of any new fans. The original was, at the time, the biggest animated box office smash of all time. Girls everywhere, it seemed, divied up their loyalties, some wanting to be sister Elsa, others sister Anna, and still others, both. And even if you never went near a theatre, you couldn’t escape the ubiquitous, Oscar-winning “Let It Go” song.
Unlike its predecessor, this sequel is under immense pressure to measure up, and happily it does. Crucially, all the elements that made “Frozen” such a hit are still there – gorgeous animation, the strong sisterly bond, the comic relief Olaf, the female empowerment message, and of course, the irresistible power ballad anthem. “Frozen 2’s “Let It Go” song is called “Into the Unknown,” and is sung by the same Idina Menzel who lent her voice to the first “Let It Go.”
“Everyday is a little harder, as I feel my power grow,” she sings.
“Into the Unknown” nicely encapsulates the film’s female empowerment theme. Elsa sets out on a journey of self-discovery — into the unknown — to find the source of her magical powers. What she finds out shakes up not only her world but her entire kingdom’s. Somewhat richer and darker than the original, the film nonetheless has many, many light moments, most of which include the Snowman Olaf, who not only delights the kindergarten set with his silly antics but also the adults with his wise-beyond-his-years reflections on life.
“I’m just living the dream. Oh how I wish this could last forever, and yet change mocks us with her beauty,” he says. “Forgive me, maturity is making me poetic.”
“Frozen 2” may not scale the box-office heights of “Frozen” but it deserves to.