When I heard that Frozen was going to be based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen”, I was excited because I think Disney movies are at their best when they are adapting famous folktales into family musical adventures. After Tangled was a success at reinventing that Disney formula using computer animation instead of the traditional hand-drawn images of classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, I was hoping that it would pave the way for more of the same. This time, there’s twice the princess-fun as Frozen is a story about sisters: one, Elsa, cursed with the power of ice which plunges their Nordic homeland of Arendelle into endless winter; the other, Anna, blessed with courage, feistiness and a warm spirit, tries to persuade her sister to release them all from the magical deep freeze.
The characters in Frozen do not stray from the Disney formula, but why fix something that works, eh? Anna is the latest in a long line of plucky princesses; Prince Hans, and outdoorsy do-gooder Kristoff are her dashing white knights; cute sidekicks include Olaf the snowman, and (like Maximus the horse from Tangled) Sven the reindeer speaks volumes with grunts and snorts. The scene-stealer among them is clearly Olaf (voiced by The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad) who is at once charming, adorable and clueless. A talking, singing snowman is precious enough, but Olaf even has an ignorant affection for summer heat (he has a whole song and dance number about it)! How’s that for obliviously sweet?
It doesn’t take much time before it’s clear that this movie is a musical, starting with an opening number by a chorus of ice cutters. To that end, it’s wonderful that Disney has hired some Broadway voice talent for the roles. Besides Gad as Olaf, Kristoff is played by Spring Awakening‘s Jonathan Groff (he was also Jesse St. James on Glee). Anna is played by Veronica Mars‘s Kristen Bell (who did some Broadway and is not a bad singer), but it’s powerhouse Idina Menzel who hits it home as Elsa (she has an amazing number, “Let it Go”, which sounds like Menzel is once again channelling her Tony-winning character of Wicked‘s Elphaba). The music is generally quite nice, with a few standout numbers (“Let It Go” and “First Time in Forever” do it for me) and a slightly contemporary feel.
Disney’s animation is always top-notch, with fun character designs and stunning landscapes (the scene where Elsa conjures her ice palace is breathtaking). The CG stuff is still new for Disney, and though most of it is really impressive, I still have reservations about the female characters with their giant heads and huge eyes. While they can be lovely, they can also seem a little grotesque. Even though Elsa’s lips and motions fit perfectly with the lyrics, they seemed a bit toy-like when paired with Menzel’s fierce vocals. In fact, everything seems just a little plastic. Though I’m sure that still needs to be refined over time, Disney has definitely planted its flag in the field of computer animation.
Finally, the story of “The Snow Queen” is probably not very familiar to many of us, and that is part of its advantage in Frozen. The plot was not something that audiences were tired of, and there are a few plot twists that maybe we don’t see coming. All in all, I found this movie to be heartfelt and delightful, despite its chilly themes (and seeing it in midwinter). (4.5 out of 5)