Disney’s Frozen - a 3D animated fairy tale musical inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” – takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle, where the young princess Elsa was born with the ability to magically create ice and snow using her bare hands. When Elsa slips up and nearly kills her sister Ana by accident, the panicked king and queen decide to isolate their daughters from the outside world and push Elsa to keep her emotions in check (out of fear that she will lose control and cause serious harm to others).
Several years later, following some tragic circumstances, grown-up Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Ana (Kristen Bell) no longer share the close bond that they once did. However, upon Elsa’s coronation day, people from all over flock to meet the new queen, which gives quirky Ana a chance to mingle with others – including the handsome (and equally goofy) Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), whom Ana becomes immediately smitten with. Unfortunately, Elsa’s mounting emotions start to break free, as she terrifies the locals with her powers and inadvertently starts an eternal winter upon fleeing the kingdom. Thus, it’s up to Ana and the unconventional mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to find Elsa and restore order to the land.
Walt Disney Animation Studios – a version of Walt Disney Feature Animation that was renamed and restructured by John Lasseter in 2006 – has been on a critical hot streak of late, with both its traditionally-animated offerings (The Princess and the Frog, Winnie the Pooh) and 3D computer-animated features (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph). That winning record stays alive with Frozen, a captivating and heartstring-tugging animated musical that – similar to Princess and the Frog and Tangled – updates the well-established Disney princess fairy tale formula, with a film that has relevant themes, delightful characters, catchy musical numbers and lovely digitally-animated visuals.
Frozen is based on a screenplay by Jennifer Lee (co-writer on Wreck-It Ralph), who co-directed the film with fellow Disney vet, Chris Buck (Tarzan). As you probably gathered from the synopsis, Lee’s script touches on what are very much hot topics for storytellers nowadays – like the dangers of social alienation and the reality of what relationships are like – in a fairly sophisticated fashion that ought to please adult moviegoers, while also remaining accessible to the juice box crowd.
The only significant problem with the story (co-penned by Lee and Buck with relative newcomer Shane Morris) is that there are plot/character elements that feel too much like conscious attempts to “correct” the classic Disney princess fairy tale tropes; in particular, those which are now outdated (Tangled has the same problem). Occasionally, this ends up weakening the narrative enough so that it doesn’t have quite the poignance of Pixar’s best work to date (to use a fitting comparison).
This is the first animated film to have Kristen Bell voicing the protagonist, but she is able to instill Ana with infectious energy, making the character’s quirks – like her tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve – all the more charming, rather than ingratiating. Similarly, Idina Menzel is pitch-perfect as ‘Snow Queen’ Elsa, managing to capture her emotional volatility (no pun intended), whether speaking or singing her heart out to the sky. As for the last of the film’s leads: Jonathan Groff does a nice job of playing up Kristoff’s oddball humor and commendable nature (note: anyone who’s ever owned a pet ought to get a kick out of the way that Kristoff communicates with his reindeer, Sven).
Noteworthy supporting characters include Olaf (Josh Gad), the enchanted snowman who makes for a pleasant comic relief, even in the moments when the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with him; Alan Tudyk as the Duke of Weselton (it’s not pronounced like “weasel”), a dubious but amusing old fuddy-duddy; Santino Fontana as Hans, a wide-eyed prince who carries himself in an admirable fashion; and Ciarán Hinds as Pabbie, the elder leader of a group of rock-like trolls who are knowledgeable in the ways of magic (and the mysteries of the heart).
Songwriting husband-wife duo Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Winnie the Pooh) developed the original lyrics and music for Frozen, which often take the form of lightweight melodies that supplement the more brazen Norwegian music-inspired score by Christophe Beck (The Muppets). Admittedly, not all of the songs are winners (the trolls’ ensemble number “Fixer Upper” is a bit on the nose), but the majority of them are enchanting. And to be frank: you might want to check your pulse if Menzel’s rendition of “Let It Go” – the film’s show-stopping number – doesn’t stir your emotions at all (there’s an obvious pun there but, moving on…).
The animation style in Frozen is the same Rococo-inspired hand-drawn/CGI hybrid technique used on Tangled (there’s even a shoutout to the famous Rococo painting, “The Swing”). It compliments the fantastical and cartoony nature of the setting, making the scenery a lovely collage of sharp colors (bright in the summer, cool in the winter) and the human/animal characters quite expressive and feel alive. Overall, Frozen isn’t necessarily Disney’s most accomplished piece of animation (certainly not its most innovative), but there are some arresting images and sequences offered here (see: when Elsa constructs her ice palace in the mountains) that justify the higher price of admission for a 3D screening. (That said: 3D is not a necessity.)
Overall, Frozen is another fine addition to the Disney animated feature pantheon, offering a witty and heartfelt princess fairly tale with creative musical elements and some visual panache.
For additional incentive: there’s a clever short film included at the beginning – a Mickey Mouse cartoon titled “Get a Horse!” – that meshes 2D/3D animation, even as it pokes fun at the occasionally ribald nature of Disney ‘toons from the early 20th century (no worries parents, kids won’t notice). And be sure not to leave the theater before the credits stop rolling, since there’s a funny disclaimer – followed by an amusing short clip – at the very end.
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for Frozen:
Frozen is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters. It is 108 minutes long and Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.