I wouldn’t go so far as to thrust Frozen on the pedestal reserved for the likes of Beast, Aladdin, and another Haans Christan Anderson-based story, The Little Mermaid, but it is Disney’s best in quite a few years.
Following the dull, albeit beautifully illustrated Brave (2012), Frozen stuns. Disney animators have proven time and time again that hand-drawn scenery can be glorious and detailed (remember the hand-drawn bubbles in Mermaid?) but they chose to do this film with computer animation, and it doesn’t disappoint.
In 3D, snowflakes fly into one’s face, and the detail of ice and snow is jaw-dropping. During one eye-popping scene in which Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) constructs her ice castle, I was half-expecting to smell the ice and snow as it swirled across screens. The visuals alone earn this film notability.
The story, however, leaves much to be desired. It begins promising enough: sisters Elsa and Anna (Kristen Bell) are princesses of Arendelle. As children, they use Elsa’s magical talent of creating snow and ice with her hands to create a winter wonderland in which to play. An unfortunate incident leaves Anna injured, and Elsa is instructed to keep her powers hidden and controlled and is isolated from Anna that moment onward.
Predictably, the girls grow up (the passage of time helped along by the wonderful song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”), and Elsa soon comes of age to take the throne as Queen. Her magic hidden from the world, Elsa keeps her cool during her coronation until her emotions get the better of her and she unleashes her powers, accidentally plunging the kingdom into an eternal winter.
Elsa flees in fear, but when she is alone, she realizes that she can “Let it Go” and use her powers without harming others. Tony-award winner Menzel dominates the Oscar-worthy showstopper with ease, as one might expect after her turn in Wicked. The vocals and graphics together creates the most visually stunning scene in the entire film.
Understanding her sister didn’t mean to throw her kingdom into winter, Anna is determined to talk to her and bring her back to Arendelle to rule. On the way north, she meets Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an ice merchant (which Anna cleverly points out is a rough business to be in at the moment) and his reindeer buddy Sven. Both intrigued and annoyed with Anna, Kristoff finds himself along for the ride. They are soon joined by the hilariously adorable Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman made by Elsa and Anna when they were children, who came to life with the magical snow.
There are several twists in the story make the adventure worth the slower start, as well as wisecracking one-liners, several visually stunning scenes, and an ending that will make most people’s hearts melt.
While Frozen is good with several storyline occurring at once (sometimes unsuccessfully), it would have soared with just one.
For a film that was previously entitled “The Snow Queen”, Menzel’s Elsa is sorely underused. It is Elsa who is the most captivating from the start, but following her self-induced selection as an adult, her story virtually disappears. The buildup of explaining her powers and the possible consequences of them could have lead to a magnificent plot, but there was so little focus on Elsa’s trials and growth that it would have taken away from the emotional impact when she was on screen, if not for Menzel’s emotional acting. Even so, Elsa’s character nearly vanishes to the background, with much more time being devoted to her sister, Anna.
Bell has a surprisingly beautiful singing voice, and she holds her own against Broadway veterans Mezel and Fontino Santana (Prince Hans). Her comedic timing is spot-on, though it is tough to stand up next to the king of one-liners, Olaf. Anna is endearing and stubborn, tenacious and loyal to her sister, and her character will surely be a favorite for this generation of children.
The cheerful snowman Olaf is a highlight of the film. With witty, heartfelt dialog and a cheerful outlook, the snowman carries the film. He also has one of the film’s more memorable songs, “In Summer” where he envisions what he will to do when the sun comes out (utterly oblivious to what happens to snow in the heat).
Frozen is, indeed, one of Disney’s best in years, better perhaps than 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. It is empowering to women, with no pesky central romance to distract from the focus of the two sisters fighting for each other. Boys will like the quirky Kristoff, and girls will love the fierceness of not one, but two strong female characters who will join the ranks of Disney princesses, and who will carry Frozen into Disney history.