PLOT: After the young Queen of Arendelle is announced, a deep dark secret she has been hiding all her life is accidentally revealed. Fearful that she may hurt others and that she may be persecuted and punished, she flees from her kingdom in order to disappear from all those surrounding her. Unbeknownst to her, through her magic she lets ice and snow fall mercilessly covering the land. With many calling for the Queen to be destroyed, her sister finds herself on a quest to convince the “Snow Queen” to reverse the effects of her magic spell and bring back summer once again.
In an age of remakes and sequels, it is a refreshing change of pace to see modern filmmakers reinterpret a classic tale and do it well. This is especially true when they offer a fresh and compelling spin that is relevant without taking away the charm of the original text. Very loosely based on the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, Walt Disney Animation has created one of the most exciting and stunningly beautiful films of the year. The themes of true love and the search for acceptance and understanding are brilliantly displayed within this story of two very different Disney princesses.
The story begins with a heartfelt and dare I say tear-inducing opening as we are introduced to the young Princess Anna and Princess Elsa of Arendelle. The older sibling Elsa has a gift, the power to create ice and snow, for which the younger Anna idolizes her for. After a near fatal accident, Elsa is forced to conceal her unique ability from the world around her for fear they would see her as a monster. The more she hides her gift the farther the two sisters drift apart. There is something truly painful watching this once playful and trusting relationship shatter. When Anna is left with no memory of Elsa’s ability to create the beauty she had witnessed, the two grow apart and hardly speak a word in the isolated castle they grow up separated in.
One of the many assets of FROZEN is creating the character of “The Snow Queen” as more than a simple villain. Adult Anna – beautifully voiced by Broadway star Idina Menzel – is a wonderfully rich character who is made queen under tragic circumstances. When the powers she had been told to keep hidden abruptly appear during her coronation, it is a spectacular moment that is visually stunning as well as emotionally potent. Forced to flee into the darkness, she turns her kingdom into a dark and cold winter with her subjects labeling her as a sorceress. The beauty of Elsa is she is never portrayed as something mythical – unlike the previous adaptations. Elsa is a just a girl who is made to feel as though she is unnatural and wrong. One shining moment is her gorgeous musical number “Let it Go” where she finally accepts her powers and presumably her fate.
Kristen Bell takes on the role of younger sibling Anna, and unlike her sister she dreams of expanding her lonely world after feeling abandoned by her own family. Optimistic and full of hope, she is warm and energetic yet still longs for the company of her sister. With no memory of Elsa’s power, only of the wonderful times they had together, she grows accustomed to being alone. Bell brings grace and passion to the part. When it comes to her singing, she injects vitality and charm into it especially with her hopeful yearnings in "For the First Time in Forever" or while making a plea to her sister in the heartfelt “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” she shines brightly. Sadly, in the latter she is saying farewell to her youth as well as her one and only best friend. Both actresses bring their characters to life giving these two vastly different girls equal parts vulnerability and strength to face a brave new world.
Their story is all the more involving simply because we are invested in both of the sisters adventures. Even when it comes to the two leading men - Jonathan Groff as Kristoff and Santino Fontana as Hans – there is a bubbling sense of excitement. One minor complaint I do have is adding a talented singer like Groff and not utilizing him nearly as well as they could have. Kristoff is another lonely soul who sees little value in dealing with people, which makes sense given his only musical moment is the silly yet superfluous “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People.” Thankfully he shares real chemistry with Bell and makes for an exciting hero of sorts – even if these ladies don’t particularly need anybody to save them. Hans is a far more typical Disney Prince Charming with one hell of a great voice. He completes an unexpectedly complex triangle between Kristoff and Anna.
Co-writers and directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee manage to do something truly magical within the confines of FROZEN. This is a gorgeous film with a better than average use of 3D technology – especially impressive is the short presented before the film, the classic Mickey Mouse cartoon “Get a Horse” which merges modern technology with miraculous results. This short alone makes it worth seeing in 3D. Thankfully, both are terrific, this modern fairy tale features characters who are impressively rich, even the comic relief of a non-speaking reindeer and Olaf (Josh Gad) the snowman magically brought to life by Elsa work better than expected. As well the use of Broadway actors help make up for what is one of the most impressive soundtracks of the year with songs written and composed by husband-and-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Equally notable is the score by Christophe Beck which encompasses the original songs perfectly.
As far as fairy tales and happy endings go there are twists and turns abound in this Disney creation. While it is just shy of being perfect, there is much to admire in this wonderful mix of modern and classic storytelling. I would have liked to have heard more from both Groff and Fontana musically, who are sadly underutilized. As well, Josh Gad’s sunshine obsessing snowman is a tad overly enthusiastic – which is short to say he can be annoying at times. Even still, this is an extravagant yet profound story for the entire family. FROZEN is one of the finest Disney offerings over the past couple of decades. Given time it may find itself likened among the ranks of classics like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LION KING.