Frozen (United States, 2013)

November 26, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Frozen Poster

For the briefest of moments, while watching Frozen, I felt like I was back in the early '90s, experiencing one of the memorable early "second wave" of Disney animated films. The sensation passed quickly - Frozen is, after all, in 3-D and uses CGI (not hand-drawn) animation - but some vestige lingered. This movie, co-directed by screenwriter Jennifer Lee and animation maestro Chris Buck, has been assembled by people with a genuine love of films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and they have imbued Frozen with the spirit of those productions. Even a key conceit - "true love's kiss" - is employed, although there's a bit of a twist as to how it's incorporated.

Frozen has been in development in one form or another at Disney for more than a decade, starting life as a more straightforward adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen's "The Snow Queen" before being reconstructed by Lee. At one point, former animation A-listers Linda Woolverton and Alan Menken were involved but, although neither lent their talents to the final version of Frozen, Christophe Beck's score echoes Menken's work for The Little Mermaid and the mix of whimsy, romance, and energy Woolverton brought to Beauty and the Beast is in evidence. Visually, the movie is a bright, splashy, beautifully rendered tale. The 3-D offers the usual tradeoff - a dimmer, less vibrant picture in exchange for greater texture.

Although there is the usual Disney romance between a princess - in this case, Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) - and a peasant - in this case, ice-cutter Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) - the primary relationship in Frozen is between sisters. Anna is the younger sibling of Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), and the emotional heart of the movie beats in the feelings these two have for each other and how they come to acknowledge and express them. Because Elsa possesses a magical power over ice and snow, but can't control her abilities, she represses her love for Anna lest she accidentally hurt her sister. When things go awry on the day of her coronation, she flees the city for an ice palace built on a lonely mountain, but Anna tracks her down (with the help of Kristoff).

No Disney movie would be complete without a side dish of "cute." To that end, we have the almost-but-not-quite-talking reindeer, Sven. Slightly more annoying is Olaf (Josh Gad), whose brand of humor is on the irritating side of silly. Still, I'm sure Disney knows what they're doing with a character like this: the kids will love him. His overly cartoonish presence, however, clashes with the seriousness of some of the darker, more serious elements.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Frozen is that there's no obvious villain - no Wicked Stepmother, Evil Witch, or Ursula. To the extent that there's a bad guy, he's more like a second-rate Gaston. As in Beauty and the Beast, the human antagonist is secondary; the primary conflict is between one of the characters and an elemental force she cannot harness. This is also a rare Disney animated movie to focus in a positive and substantive way on the relationship between sisters.

Frozen represents a return to a format that, although once a Disney staple, has fallen into disfavor during recent years: the musical. The recent trend in animated films is to feature a pop tune or two but to ignore the Broadway-inspired "song and dance" approach that characterized the animated films of the early '90s. Frozen does more than merely pay lip service to this kind of movie: it embraces it fully. Admittedly, the songs (music by Christophe Beck, lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez) aren't strong enough for viewers to leave theaters humming them, but neither are they completely limp and unmemorable. There are eight numbers and the voice actors do the singing. As was the case in the past, a recognizable pop star sings a reprise of a song over the end credits (in this case, Demi Lovato's rendition of "Let It Go").

For older viewers, nostalgia will play a part in Frozen's appeal. It's almost impossible not to like the film if you grew up consuming Disney animation. Children will enjoy the movie for all the reasons that kids normally like animated films: they're breezy, fast-paced, bright, not hard to follow, and awash in eye candy. Frozen isn't as sophisticated as last year's Wreck It Ralph (also written by Lee) but it's an appealing throwback - not great Disney but good enough to engage viewers young and old.

Frozen (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2013-11-27
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1