DIRECTED BY Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck
STARS Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel
ICE CASTLES: Elsa leads a chilly existence in Frozen. (Photo: Disney)
Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious somewhat by this sunny new film from Walt Disney Pictures. (Full disclosure: I'm paraphrasing an obscure playwright who lived in that vague period before there existed the Internet.) At least that's how parents will see it, as those fearing that current titles like 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club might be just a wee bit too intense for 8-year-olds can now pack the brood into any one of the thousands of theaters that will be presenting the animated feature Frozen.
Using Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen as its loose source, this Disney delight dares to crinkle the studio's patented formula a tad by presenting audiences with not one but two female leads — neither of whom make it her main mission in life to snag a fellow. Instead, Frozen is ultimately a tale of sisterly love, as young Anna can't understand why she's forced to spend much of her childhood segregated from her older sibling Elsa. What she doesn't know is that Elsa can't touch anything without it frosting over — she's like a combination of X-Men sweethearts Rogue and Iceman — and the girls have been separated for what's believed to be in the best interests of both. But on the day that Elsa (now voiced by Idina Menzel) is declared queen, her powers inadvertently freeze the entire town, leading her to dash into the icelands while the villagers clamor for her head. But not Anna (Kristen Bell), who, with the encouragement of a dashing suitor named Hans (Santino Fontana), hightails it after her sister. This being a Disney toon, she naturally picks up some companions along the way, including the hulking outdoorsman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer sidekick Sven and the perpetually perky snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), who amusingly has it in his icy head that he would love the summer months.
As is often the case with CGI cartoons, the backgrounds are rendered in more convincing detail than the human characters' expressions; here, the animation team kicks it up a notch, creating a wintry wonderland that's dazzling to behold. Sven and especially Olaf provide the requisite humor, while there's an impressively designed snow monster that theoretically could put the fear in select 6-year-olds. The romance is more complicated than in most Disney flicks, with Anna-Hans-Kristoff basically serving as the animated equivalent to Katniss-Peeta-Gale or Bella-Edward-Jacob. And while the musical numbers get off to a rocky start — the movie's initial tunes are forgettable — the song score by Tony Award winner Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez eventually turns the corner and fuels some potent musical numbers. It's all in the service of a crowd-pleaser certain to ice most of its holiday competition.