Disney’s latest animated feature Frozen is an odd mix of old school Disney style and modern sensibilities that works better than expected. Loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen‘s tale of The Snow Queen, the script by Jennifer Lee certainly fits in the pantheon of Disney Princess fairy tale films but with one major difference in terms of story that it apart from movies like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and others. Although it has romantic subplots, the main love story in the film isn’t romantic love but sororal love.
Set in a port kingdom near the icy fjords of Norway, we first meet young Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) as children playing in their father’s castle. Elsa has been gifted with the power to create and control snow and ice which she uses to please her sister’s love of snow. However, a tragic accident causes Elsa to hide her powers from everyone and seclude herself from even her sister’s affections.
Set to the film’s best song, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” which starts as a cute request between sisters but takes a heartbreaking turn, this montage shows us the growing distance between Elsa and Anna (who, thanks to the life-saving magic of trolls, no longer remembers her sister’s powers, the accident, or why Elsa has grown so cold to her).
Elsa’s coronation as Queen brings about a ball, much to her isolated sister’s utter delight, and the discovery of Anna’s powers by the townspeople which causes the new queen to flee into the wilderness not realizing her out of control powers are freezing the port city into the darkest winter it has ever known.
Anna’s journey to find her sister and repair their bond will lead her to meet several interesting people along the way including the dashing Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) who she immediately falls for, an ice trader named Christoph (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven who are eventually talked into helping Anna on her search, and a living snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) who Elsa created without even realizing it. Olaf’s character is where much of the movie’s offbeat humor comes from at times making it feel more like a Blue Sky or DreamWorks production.
Aside from the love story being put on the back burner, Frozen is also different in terms of a story that doesn’t have a central villain (at least through three-quarters of its 108-minute running time). Although Anna is the cause of the kingdom’s trouble, it’s not through any malice or evil intentions. We also get the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) who momentarily rallies the scared locals against the Queen for his own ends, but both he and his impact play such a small role in the film it’s hard to refer to him as the film’s villain either.
Most of the music is used well throughout to help tell the story, although I found the conversational duet between Anna and Hans entitled “Love is an Open Door” to be awkward (and even a bit off-key) and one of the few big mistakes of the film. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” is the film’s best song, but the opening number, “Frozen,” set against the Norwegians cutting ice also works well to help present the setting of the story. Elsa’s big number “For the First Time in Forever,” set to the building of her own ice castle is impressive, and Christoph’s “Reindeer Are Better Than People,” although quite simple, has definite charm.
Those who recognize Menzel’s name from Glee shouldn’t be surprised that she did her own singing for the role. However, I was surprised to learn that Bell (who I’ve only ever heard sing during a single episode of Veronica Mars) does her own singing as well. I was impressed.
Olaf’s humor and the sisterly love story may set it apart from the basic Disney Princess formula, but Frozen turns out to be welcome edition to its pantheon. Much like old school Disney films, the movie will deliver a harsh blow early on in the form of the accident and its fall-out, but the journey from that moment on is full of hope, adventure, drama, humor, and love.
One final note, I did view the movie in 3D. While I don’t think it is necessary to see it the film in 3D to fully enjoy the story, I will note that the 3D effects do help enhance Elsa’s wintery powers (especially during the sequence where she creates her ice castle).