Disney’s “Frozen,” which opened today in 3D and 2D versions, is a princess movie that doesn’t feel like a princess movie—even though there are two of them in it, as well as a handsome prince. It feels more like an adventure, and a fun one at that.
“Frozen” is loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, but I’d challenge anyone who likes to scrutinize the accuracy of film adaptations to read Andersen’s “The Snow Queen in Seven Stories” and try to make absolute sense out of it. The best you can do is to conclude that it’s about a Snow Queen who has power over a guy with a shard of glass stuck in him, and there are goblins and demons and a robber girl and a prince and princess and a talking reindeer, and. . . .
Oddly enough, the reindeer in “Frozen” doesn’ttalk all that much. Instead, his owner, a young man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who makes his living by cutting lake ice and selling it, speaks for both of them during conversations he has all by his lonesome in frozen Scandinavia. But there IS an enchanted snowman that yammers on and on like a frosty Jar Jar Binks (Josh Gad), and those two non-humans are responsible for the comic relief in this robust animated fantasy.
“Frozen” makes more sense than the fairy tale that inspired it, and it’s full of great visual effects, memorable music, and heart-warming moments.
Anna (Kristen Bell) is a little princess who dearly loves her older sister, Elsa (Broadway star Idina Menzel), especially when Elsa makes the water freeze so they can skate and summons snowflakes so they can throw snowballs and make a snowman together that they name Olaf. Though Anna thinks her sister’s powers magical, the king and queen know otherwise—that they’re dangerous, and nothing drives home that point than the night Elsa almost accidentally kills her sister. Like Rapunzel, she’s instantly sealed off from the world. In her room, she can do no more harm, they reason, but to make sure, the king orders the palace grounds sealed off from the rest of the kingdom.
The real plot is set in motion when many years later the parents are lost at sea and the palace is opened to the public for the first time so the people can coronate their new queen: Elsa. But of course her powers complicate matters, as does a prince named Hans (Santino Fontana), and it all threatens the happy reunion the sisters crave, and any hopes for a happily-ever-after involving a young man for either of them.
“Frozen” has more texture and complexity than most recent Disney animated films, taking viewers on an emotional ride. Some of the segments smack of romantic comedy, with Anna a winning screwball that’s refreshingly un-princesslike: a little giggly, a little clumsy, a little too honest and open, and with enough childlike wonder to power the whole kingdom. Other segments are straight comedy, as when a bunch of rocks turn out to be trolls who burst into song, while others are dramatic and still other turns take you down the fantasy-quest road, or remind you of Frankenstein’s monster, or King Midas. And when Elsa/Menzel sings “Let It Go” and you get chills just listening to her, you can’t help but think that it’s this film’s version of “Defying Gravity,” which Menzel performed in “Wicked.” There are many themes floating around and a nifty reversal of expectations every now and then—enough to keep the story from seeming totally predictable.
I could have done without the troll song or one that the snowman sings, but the princess/suitor songs are extremely well done. And the detail? Tall ships in the fjord that freezes over, or a snow palace that’s built at the whim of a finger command are absolutely dazzling to behold, while the action segments are heart-pounding affairs. Even small moments, though—or perhaps especially small moments—have the unmistakable ring of reality, as when Anna is awakened from a deep sleep and her reactions and mannerisms elevate the animation to an exalted level of truth-telling and artistry.
All of which is to say, Disney’s latest animated adventure is a “Frozen” delight. But the 3D effects are inconsistent. Long periods go by where the only effect is enhanced depth, and then it’s as if the animators thought, “Oh, we’d better float a few snowflakes or break the plane with an object or two.” We enjoyed it in 3D, but I think “Frozen” will be just as rewarding if you see it with 2D animation. Either way, it’s one of the best Disney animated features in recent years. As clichéd as it sounds, it has something for everyone, and our entire family fell for its magic.