Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voices of): Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Santino Fontana, Ciaran Hinds
Directed by Chris Buck (Surf's Up, Tarzan) & Jennifer Lee (feature-film directorial debut)
Frozen (opening today) is a mix of the old and the new, a modern fairy tale told using classic, tried-and-true trappings. It is the 53rd animated feature released by Disney, loosely based on "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen (the author and poet of other classics, such as "Thumbelina," "The Little Mermaid" and "The Emperor's New Clothes"). It isn't quite as charming and fresh as Disney's Tangled, but it's the best Disney has had to offer since then and easily the best animated film of this year.
Like Brave, Tangled and other recent animated films, the main "hero" of the story is a girl, Anna, who does not need saving by any man. That premise is soooo 20th Century. Anna is a princess whose older sister, Elsa, has what can only be described as a curse: Whatever she touches turns wintery. As children, the two were close, but as Elsa grew, her powers became more and more dangerous to her little sister and to herself.
So the parents - the king and queen - decide to isolate Elsa and with the help of a village of magical Smurf-like trolls, Anna's memories are altered to forget about her sister's ice powers.
On one fateful night, Elsa's powers get out of control and she exiles herself from the kingdom. She uses her powers to build a magnificent ice castle far away from civilization, where she plans to stay for all eternity lest she ruin the lives of those in her kingdom.
What she doesn't know though, is on her way out, her powers have already froze over the entire kingdom. Anna enlists the help of a mountain man, Kristoff, along with his faithful reindeer, Sven, to track down Elsa to somehow save her and to restore the kingdom back to normal.
Along the way they meet the animated snowman Olaf, created from a remnant of Elsa and Anna's past. Olaf is destined to become a Disney favorite and voiced by Josh Gad, he provides the best and funniest moments in the film.
You may notice the lack of a villain in the plot description. That's no mistake. The best part of Frozen is how different it feels from other Disney films - or any other family film for that matter - and how it takes what we know about fairy tales and flips the script. The framework is still there: It contains a colorful cast of characters and carries with it some important lessons, this time dealing with love, honesty and openness...you know, the stuff you'd expect from a Disney film. It also is a musical, featuring many songs that instantly stick in your head. It isn't traditional good guy (or girl) versus bad guy (or girl) stuff.
But take for example, the idea of the female hero. We get not one, but two, although this is mostly Anna's journey. There is not a clearly defined villain for most of the film and although a few different Prince Charmings show up, the ladies take charge of things. When Anna falls in love instantly with a visiting prince, much humor is derived out of the fact that they just met each other yet they feel this cartoon-ish "fairy-tale love" so strongly. Snow White sang, "Some day my prince will come," but Frozen takes the more modern approach and adds: "But if he doesn't, then that's cool too."
There are other playful nods to Disney films of yore. Sven the reindeer doesn't talk like many other Disney animals have, but in one scene, Kristoff imagines that he does.
But for all of its modern magic, Frozen eventually starts treading on thin ice towards the end as it falls prey to convention. Wouldn't you know, a clear-cut villain eventually emerges and it's at that unfortunate point where the movie enters all too familiar territory. The story, the characters, all were so much more interesting before this moment. What a major let-down. In the same moment, the film misses a major opportunity to drive home its theme about what real love is and the difference between true love and love at first sight. A "true love's kiss" isn't what it used to be.
Many will probably overlook these flaws, hailing Frozen as a return to classic Disney. It is and it isn't. But man, is that Olaf a hoot.
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