Frozen (2013) / Animation-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast (voices): Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds
Small role (voice): Edie McClurg
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Screenplay: Jennifer Lee (inspired by "The Snow Queen", by Hans Christian Andersen)

Review published November 27, 2013

Frozen is a Disney animated feature, and though it adheres to tried-and-true formula, it is one of their better efforts in recent years, thanks in large part to some very catchy and memorable musical-minded songs from the married duo of songwriters, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Winnie the Pooh). The songs capture the spirit of the film in many ways, but like most good musicals, push forward the story and characters along the way. Though it is a traditional 3D animated feature, this is one that has an ear for the stage, and it won't be a surprise to find this a major Broadway production itself at some point down the road.

Veteran Broadway diva Idina Menzel (Rent, "Glee") voices Princess Elsa, the elder sister to Princess Anna (Bell, The Lifeguard), and heir to the queen-dom in the fictional Norwegian land of Arendelle. Elsa has magical powers in which she can conjure massive amounts of ice and snow, and all things made out of them. The catch is that she often loses control of it, and on one fateful morning, she nearly kills Anna as a result. Due to the mishap, Anna and Elsa aren't allowed to be as close as they once had been, especially as Pabbie (Hinds, Closed Circuit), ruler of the Trolls, has taken away all memory of Elsa's powers from Anna's mind to protect them both from further harm.

Elsa is able to keep her powers a secret to nearly everyone until adulthood, and once she becomes queen, another mishap erupts and soon all of her loyal subjects become painfully aware of her sorcery when she puts much of the country under the worst winter they've ever known, with no signs that it will ever let up. She makes herself a pariah, leaving up to the high mountains to live far enough away to do anyone immediate harm. However, Anna, mystified by her sister's actions, leaves her new fiancée Hans (Fontana, The Importance of Being Earnest) behind and determines to find her sister to bring her back and hope to reverse the spell, enlisting the help of a handsome (and now struggling) ice salesman, Kristoff (Groff, C.O.G), and his canine-like reindeer, Sven. Along the way, they meet the snowman named Olaf (Gad, Thanks for Sharing), whom the sisters had created their youth.

That Menzel is a marvel in the vocals department is a given, of course, but I think viewers will likely be pleasantly surprised at Kristen Bell's singing talents as well.  Josh Gad, another recent Broadway alum, delivers a great comic relief personality, even if the character he is playing, Olaf the snowman, is one that will likely only appeal to kids (a bit too much of a Jar Jar Binks sidekick factor for adults). 

In addition to the very strong musical numbers, the art and "costume" design are stunning for an animated feature, and some of the snow effects rank among the best seen to date.  In particular, the character expressions are some of the most complex I've ever seen in an animated feature, and it's especially impressive to see the characters who aren't speaking given a full array expressions and physical reactions, which makes it all feel quite real and fluid.  The writing by Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph) is as strong and clever as her other work, and she even gets a hand in the direction, along with the more experienced Chris Buck (Surf's Up, Tarzan).  Pop culture references and modern slang are thrown in, though not to Shrek levels of spoofery.

With so many strong elements in many departments, from the story (inspired by Andersen's "The Snow Queen"), to the music, to the singing, to the voice work, to the incredible art and visual effects, it's ultimately a bit disappointing that the film ends up sagging in its second half.  The story jumps the shark somewhat by introducing the marketable Olaf (I find his character to be a bit ugly and tacky in design), but his sentience is never adequately explained.  Well, it is explained that the girls create him in their youth, but it is never explained why he is a speaking, thinking, living thing unto his own, other than he was created by Elsa's magic.  

The same goes for a giant snow monster that Elsa creates later to protect her ice palace.  We can forgive the existence of trolls, but only because they existed in Andersen's original story, and we can forgive the heavy amounts of personality given to reindeer Sven, but only because anthropomorphic animals are in keeping with the Disney tradition, but these others created out of nothing but a screenwriter's imagination add so very little to the story (though a naive Olaf's amusing song about wanting to experience Summer "thawed" my icy disdain a bit), even if they amuse the kiddos too young to follow the main quest.  Not only are these creatures needless for anything other than to sell toys to children, but they seem like they belong in a different (i.e., dumber) movie than the smart, charming one we're introduced to in the first 45 minutes.

As far as marketing-based movies and how commercial elements can often detract, it would have been better to excise the dumbed-down characters altogether, and instead concentrate on bolstering the elements that could be made better, namely, the generic title (Frozen seems like a feeble attempt to evoke Enchanted, Tangled and "Wicked" in its one-word adjective allusions to fairy tale stories), the boring poster, and giving more time to build up the villain(s) instead of expending precious time on silliness.

Nevertheless, lest I come off sounding like I abhor this movie, I'll dial it back to reiterate that Frozen, while flawed in certain respects (and I fully acknowledge that the things that annoy me will likely be the things that delight your five-year-old), is a very well-produced and lavishly detailed animation spectacle that hits more than enough right notes at the right times to be another worthy addition to Disney's pantheon of "Princess" flicks.

Note: there is a scene after the credits.

Qwipster's rating:

©2013 Vince Leo