Since the jump to digitally animated cartoons, Disney has had some stiff competition and trouble creating anything truly remarkable. Though they haven’t made bad movies by any means, they certainly haven’t been on par with the modern classics made during the Disney renaissance (roughly considered the time between The Little Mermaid (1989) and Tarzan (1999)). Enter Frozen, Walt Disney Animation Studio’s latest animated musical. It is a movie well worth seeing and could signal Disney’s return to high achievement in the genre.
Based upon The Ice Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, Frozen is a refreshing story which centers around two sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), both princesses in the kingdom of Arendelle who are born with the power to create ice and snow. One night, while the two girls use Elsa’s powers to play in the castle, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna causing her to enter a cold, comatose state that is healed by removing Anna’s memories of her sister’s powers. Their father, the King, determines that is it best for everyone if Elsa conceal her powers until she is able to control them, and he shuts off the castle to the rest of the world. Anna’s newly formed ignorance of Elsa’s powers causes a rift in the once close relationship as Elsa secludes herself from her sister in order to insure her safety.
Years later–and perhaps because it is a Disney movie–the girls parents die at sea. Soon afterward, Elsa comes of age to take the throne and for one day only, the castle is opened up to visitors for the soon-to-be-queen’s coronation. Anna meets and eagerly falls in love with Prince Hans (Santino Fantana), a prince from a nearby kingdom. But when Elsa refuses to give them her blessing for marriage, Anna pushes her to reconsider which causes Elsa to accidentally reveal her powers. Fearful of the kingdom’s reaction, Elsa runs off into the mountains leaving behind a trail of ice and involuntarily covering the entire kingdom in a perpetual winter.
Feeling responsible for her sister’s outburst, Anna sets off to convince her sister to come back and end the winter. She is aided by a mountain-man, ice-farmer Christoph (Johnathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, and snowman come-to-life Olaf (Josh Gad), who is humorously intrigued by the idea of summer, leaving Prince Hans to take care of the castle and its people in her absence.
Now that is a lot of setup for a relatively short movie, but it allows the rest of the film to revolve around character progression and transformation. The setup is, however, really the point at which the film stops being your typical Disney movie and takes a dramatic and invigorating left turn.
As far as production goes, Frozen is, as one might expect from Disney Animation Studios, amazing in its visualization. The animations bring a distinct life to each different character. The princesses themselves have that Disney-princess look – big eyes, long skinny necks, unrealistically thin bodily figures – and if one were to base a critique just on the girls’ appearance, they would be drastically mistaken. It is with looks where their “Disney-princessness” ends. Their actions are somewhat clumsy and improper, and you get the sense they are really just young people figuring themselves out and are forced to take on a life of royalty.
The voice acting is also a high point in this film. Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Idina Menzel (probably best known as the original Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked) are strong contrasting voices for the two sisters. The songs are fun and have a powerful Broadway feel to them which has not been present in many animated musicals. Josh Gad additionally does some hilarious work with Olaf, whose character could have very easily been an annoying, gag character. As it is, the excessivly optimistic snowman is not overused which keeps his antics consistently funny.
Frozen could have been just an average and typical Disney film, the kind you only see if you had kids or just love animation. However, the creative screenplay and modern critical stance which the film takes on Disney’s past films really create something fun and deeply interesting. It is definitely a step in the right direction for modern Disney, and most viewers will find it a refreshing break from some of the more recent, weary productions. Whether you are a fan of Disney musicals or not, I highly suggest seeing Frozen as it is simply a great film.
Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Story by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris
Based on: “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen
Starring: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana