Frozen is a throwback.
Disney’s annual holiday release has the hallmarks of Beauty and the Beast and other 1990s-era studio classics, from the regal animation and inspired characters to the soaring musical numbers and heartfelt message.
And this wondrous wintery adventure inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen almost didn’t make it to the screen.
Adapting the story of a young boy whisked away by the Snow Queen to her ice palace, and of the girl and her lengthy journey to rescue him to a feature-length animated movie baffled teams of Disney filmmakers for years.
Rather than treading where so many others had failed, co-directors Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), who also wrote the script, took a new approach: scaling back the story and characters, giving the fable an update, and imbuing everything with the familiar Disney touch.
Much of Frozen is still about the journey to the Snow Queen’s ice palace, but the boy is now a rugged mountain man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and the girl is a sprightly and auspicious princess named Anna (Kristen Bell).
Their quest is to save the realm of Arendelle from a permanent winter unwittingly unleashed by the Snow Queen. Far from a cold-hearted villain, she has been reimagined as Anna’s reclusive sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel). She’s the kind but guarded ruler of Arendelle, whose secret power to create snow and ice grows beyond her control. After her magical abilities wreak havoc in the town square, Elsa flees Arendelle for a life of solitude high atop a mountain, far away from anyone to hurt.
But Anna doesn’t give up on Elsa. She chases into the newly frozen world after her sister, risking her life to help Elsa and save Arendelle.
Their complicated relationship is the essence of Frozen, and the genius of the adaptation, as the two sisters grow apart and struggle to reconnect.
Elsa loves Anna, but is isolated from her younger sibling by their parents after almost killing her with an icy blast. The childhood accident has a profound impact on them throughout their lives. Elsa grows fearful of her powers and her ability to unintentionally hurt others. Anna, who retains no memory of what happened, doesn’t understand why her sister has abandoned her. She is determined that one day the literal and figurative doors between them will be opened.
As Disney continues to reinvent its princess genre with relevant heroines who are more than love-starved damsels in distress, Frozen represents the studio’s most complex and relatable royalty yet.
But Frozen wouldn’t be a Disney film without a cast of lovable side characters. Along for the adventure are Kristoff’s reindeer Sven and a snowman come to life named Olaf (Josh Gad), whose dream it is to see the summer. Gad, costar of Broadway’s smash The Book of Mormon, gets most of the script’s funny lines and steals the movie as Disney’s best comic-relief character in years.
Also key to the story are the dashing Hans (Santino Fontana), a prince from another country who woos and then proposes to Anna, and the greedy Duke (Alan Tudyk), who has eyes on taking over the kingdom but is oblivious to his bad toupee.
Frozen is a winter wonderland of computer animation: the stunning backdrops of wintery fjords, the gorgeous interiors of the Ice Castle, and the Broadway pageantry of the song-and-dance numbers from husband-and-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Disney’s Winnie the Pooh). The fact that there’s a Wicked-esque vibe to their compositions, particularly with a show-stopping Anna-Elsa duet, “For the First Time in Forever,” isn’t coincidental either; Menzel won a Tony for her performance as the original Elphaba in the Broadway production.
Bell, an actress known for TV’s Veronica Mars and the title character of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and not singing, shows off some wicked pipes of her own.
In a rough year for family animation, punctuated by that turkey of a film Free Birds as well as Disney’s Planes, Frozen arrives as a welcome holiday treat.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.