Disney’s second CGI princess measures up well against the classics. But unlike previous passive brides-to-be, “Frozen” cares more about the relationship between two sisters than wedding bells. Heartfelt, check. Grand musical numbers, check. Non-K9 animals acting like dogs, check. That said, this is no “Tangled”. This is perhaps the most feminist Disney story to date (kind of).
Adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, “Frozen” updates yet another fairy tale largely unknown to younger generations. As children, princesses Anna (voiced by Kristin Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) spent all their time together, transforming the castle’s grand hall into a winter wonderland thanks to elder sister Elsa’s snow-bending powers. But as many X-Men learned, special abilities can easily turn into a curse. Covering a marble floor in ice and riddling the indoor air with snowflakes is all splendid fun until Elsa accidentally injures young Anna. Henceforth, Elsa, heir to the thrown, keeps her curse hidden, until unfortunate events on coronation day expose her secret.
After big sister flees into the mountains, leaving an icy village behind in the middle of summer, Anna must locate the ostracized queen and bring an end to the kingdom’s eternal winter. To do so, however, she needs help. Luckily, ice seller Kristof (Jonathan Groff) knows his way around the snow, and Olaf (Josh Gad), an actual snowman, provides just enough comic relief.
Calling anything Disney related “feminist” always feels like hyperbole, so let me clarify. This is the closest thing to a feminist story à la Disney, and that says something for a film genre that features passive female characters like, say, a domesticated young lady whose first instinct upon entering an unknown dwarf house is to clean. Our icy princess, Anna, might be new to the outside world — ready to find “love at first sight” — but she handles herself quite well. As for her prince charming, let’s just reiterate that this ain’t your typical true-love’s-kiss scenario.
Bell voicing a Disney princess is long overdue. The “Veronica Mars” star knows her way around witty banter and comic timing, making her a ravenously enjoyable lead. Yet, while Bell is an easy sell, the unexpected gem is Gad (Elder Cunningham from Broadway’s “Book of Mormon”). The film’s primary weakness is how long it takes to introduce its most hilarious character. A snowman singing about the joys of summer (“In Summer” has a good chance of an Oscar nom) adds a splendid level of charm and depth to an already delightful film.
But let’s not forget about the Snow Queen, herself, former “Wicked” star Menzel, stealing the show in “Frozen’s” power ballad, “Let It Go” –– a clear frontrunner for the Academy Award’s Best Original Song. “Tangled” features some cute songs with the help of Mandy Moore, but few compare to a Broadway veteran belting the competition away. Bell even holds down the snow fort well. This is a musical film through and through, unlike others that randomly introduce songs after long droughts (or cold winters, if you will) of dialogue.
To be fair, “Frozen” recycles many ideas from “Tangled”. Reindeer Sven is a blatant copy of the horse, Maximus, acting like a dog. The animation style feels completely the same as well –– not a criticism, considering the excruciating detail and vibrant colors. And like Rapunzel, innocent Anna abruptly leaves behind a life of solitude, guided by a commoner indifferent to her royal lineage.
Directors Chris Buck (“Tarzan” and “Surf’s Up”) and Jennifer Lee (screenwriter for “Wreck-It Ralph”) come from an impressive line of animated features. In particular, Lee, who also wrote the screenplay for “Frozen”, transfers the best aspects of her previous success story, “Wreck-It Ralph”, with complex characters, narrative twists and memorable supporting characters. Finally, an animated film meant for children and adults –– something Pixar seemed to forget three years ago.
Disney proves the princess can grow up and thrive amid frozen-over cars, planes and other mechanic stories. Songwriting duo Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Winnie the Pooh”), alongside composer Christophe Beck (Disney’s short, “Paperman”), create unforgettable songs to match the beautiful Nordic setting. Far from an iced-over story, “Frozen” is the feel-good movie of the season, and a welcome addition to a slew of characters nearing 80 years in the cinematic eye.
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