“Frozen,” the latest princess movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios, won’t completely melt your heart the way that, say, “Beauty and the Beast” did.
But that’s a tall order, and darned if the new film — very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” (in the same way that the studio’s “Tangled” was very loosely based on “Rapunzel”) — doesn’t make one feel all warm inside.
Remember how “Tangled” made you hope against hope that maybe, just maybe, Disney was getting back on track? That something was happening at the studio that might signal a return to the fairly distant glory days of “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King?” Then “Wreck It Ralph” proved that the old guard was capable of out-Pixaring Pixar?
Well, “Frozen” makes it three winners in a row for Disney, spectacularly delivering on the promise of those predecessors.
The story, set in a sweeping, crystal Nordic vista, concerns two inseparable siblings, Elsa — born with a strange power to create and command ice and snow — and her younger sister, Anna. When Elsa and her powers carelessly (and seriously) injure her fawning sibling while playing, the older sister becomes a recluse. She locks herself away in a room in her parents’ castle for fear of doing further damage and becomes more of a distant memory to Anna by the day and year.
In true Disney fashion, the children’s King and Queen parents die in an accident, leaving Elsa as heir to the throne. On the day of her coronation, an impulsive act by her sister once again unleashes Elsa’s powers. The kingdom becomes perpetually and deeply frozen, and Elsa’s subjects instantly fear her as a monster. When she flees, the remainder of the story follows Anna’s attempts to find Elsa and return her to the kingdom, which she can hopefully thaw.
“Frozen” looks splendid. The landscapes are epic in scope, and the characters are fluid and complete. I’m a big fan of traditional cel animation, but it’s difficult to imagine this story having such impact without the visual wizardry that computer-assisted animation provides. Perhaps that’s why the film has been stuck in development for decades at Disney.
The story works well. Feminists will decry the addition of male characters and love interests from Andersen’s original story, but, honestly, “Frozen” is so far removed from that source material it might as well be considered a completely original work.
And, anyway, the core of the film is the love between the sisters, as displayed at the tale’s climax, which satisfyingly turns the fairytale trope of “true love’s kiss” on its ear, showing that there are more powerful things than romance.
The voice work is uniformly excellent. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are great as Anna and Elsa, and Jonathan Groff is charming as, surprise — not a prince, but a mountain man.
It’s Josh Gad’s scene-stealing snowman Olaf (a living, talking creature incidentally created by Elsa in a rare moment of freedom after fleeing her kingdom), though, who will fare best with the kiddies. Olaf is a Disney creation reminiscent of “Aladdin’s” genie or “Beauty and the Beast’s” talking candlestick, Lumiere.
Olaf’s song “In Summer,” where he fantasizes about lying on beaches in the burning sun and enjoying other unbeknownst-to-him fatal activities for a snowman, is a winner. It’s the closest thing to a memorable tune “Frozen” sports.
And that’s the film’s one minor problem. The original tunes just don’t have the impact of Disney’s best. They seem epic and inspiring when you’re hearing them but lack the emotional heft and musical hooks that might leave you humming them while walking out of the theater and driving home.
On the plus side, that means they won’t get stuck in your head like “Kiss the Girl” from “Mermaid” or “Aladdin’s” ear-wormy “Friend Like Me” (you’re welcome).
See? That’s not entirely a bad thing.
One important note: While I’m not a fan of the technology (or its requisite up-charge), I highly recommend seeing “Frozen” in 3-D. While the main feature benefits from the depth provided by the technology, the pre-movie Mickey Mouse short “Get a Horse” — a laugh-out-loud piece worth the price of admission on its own — practically requires it.
With the voices of Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel
Rating: PG for action, mild rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter Lane, Alamo Village, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Cinemark Stone Hill Town Center, City Lights, The Domain, Gateway, Lakeline Mall, Metropolitan, Moviehouse & Eatery, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Westgate