MRR Review: "Frozen"

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

MRR Review: "Frozen"

Rating: PG (some action and mild rude humor)
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: November 27, 2013
Directed by: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy

The modern animated feature requires filmmakers to thread a very narrow needle to create a true classic. The story has to appeal to children, of course, but the plot has to be sophisticated enough not to bore adults. The humor has to be approachable from both sides, and the characters have to be both simple enough for the youngest viewers to relate to and complex enough to be meaningful for older moviegoers. Pixar has long been the gold standard of this kind of filmmaking, but Disney reminds everyone that the venerable old studio still has what it takes in "Frozen," a film loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen."

"Frozen" tells the tale of two sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa is the older sister and heir to the throne of Arendelle. She also possesses a magical ability to create ice and snow, a power that proves more dangerous than she realizes. While playing with Anna, Elsa accidentally triggers her powers, injuring Anna. A band of friendly trolls heal the younger sister and remove the memory of the attack, but Elsa begins to fear the damage she could cause and locks herself away in her room. By the time they are adults and Elsa is the crown princess, the two sisters have grown apart.

During Elsa's coronation, an argument between the two sisters over Anna's desire to marry Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) causes Elsa to reveal her powers to the assembled nobles. Elsa flees before the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) can capture her, creating an ice palace for herself in the lonely mountains and inadvertently locking Arendelle into eternal winter. Elsa creates a companion, the animated snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), while Anna recruits Kristoff the ice trader (Jonathan Groff) to help her locate Elsa and persuade her to return. From there, the story touches on a number of the usual fairy-tale tropes—curses, bumbling minions, epic quests, charming princes, and true love—but does so in original and unexpected ways.

"Frozen" is a musical and features a number of catchy pieces from Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who were also responsible for the music in 2011's "Winnie the Pooh." In particular, the musical numbers help flesh out the opening scenes, which may seem a bit rushed as they set the stage for the main storyline of the film. The highlight of the film's soundtrack is "Let It Go," a song Elsa sings as she creates her ice fortress and establishes her new home, although the wistful "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" is a close second.

The animation in "Frozen" is another highlight, with great character design for both human and nonhuman players. The winter setting risked visual blandness, but the animation team finds new ways to explore the ice and snow at every turn, providing a remarkably beautiful backdrop for the characters to explore. The delicacy of Elsa's frozen structures, the sun winking through the prisms of countless ice crystals, and raging winter storms are all testimony to the care and effort the visual designers put into the film and ensure this is one animated feature that will age well.

Where "Frozen" truly shines, however, is in how the film deals with traditional gender roles in fairy-tale films. For decades, these stories have reinforced the damsel-in-distress and heroic prince archetypes, and only lately have studios really begun to explore stories that challenge these tropes. While "Frozen" may seem to be treading traditional ground at first, the story features a number of twists that turn the old stereotypes on their heads. Like Pixar's 2012 film "Brave," "Frozen" offers the message that sometimes Prince Charming is anything but, and when it comes down to it, the princess can take care of herself. Ultimately, the heart of the story is the lifelong bond between the two sisters, even in the face of adversity and estrangement.

In the end, "Frozen" proves to be a worthwhile entry in the animated fairy-tale genre. The story isn't quite as memorable or as adeptly told as some, and in a few places, the creature and character design falls a little short. However, the story is solid and empowering, the animation is breathtaking in places, and more than a few of the musical numbers threaten to become powerful earworms once kids get hold of the soundtracks. If this represents the new direction for Disney's animation studio, fans can expect some very good things in the years to come.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5