It’s rare when a Disney animated movie, especially one of the infamous “Disney princess” genre, focuses more on familial relationships than romantic ones. Stereotypical Disney heroines tend to be orphans, or at least motherless, and are more likely to have a step-family of the impossibly evil persuasion than to have any healthy parental or sibling relationships in their lives; these ladies then fill that void of affection with their “one true love.” Is this the most sound or relatable of messages to send to the generations of young girls who flock to these candy-colored musical confections? No; it is one reason why, as a young girl, I was both surprised and impressed by Mulan when it hit theaters in 1998. (She doesn’t need a man, she has a SWORD!) It is also why it is nice to see a movie like Disney’s latest smash hit and this year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature, Frozen, use the romantic elements of the typical Disney princess movie to support its story of self-expression and sisterhood, rather than to overpower it.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Snow Queen," and co-directed by animation vets Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (the screenwriter behind Wreck-It Ralph), Frozen tells the story of two princess sisters in the fantastical kingdom of Arendelle (essentially Scandinavia with more showtunes). Elder sister and heir to the throne Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has the power to control ice and snow, but when she accidentally almost kills her little sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), with a burst of ice, she withdraws from her life and from her sister, overwhelmed by guilt. However, during a spat over Anna’s spontaneous engagement to one Prince Hans, Elsa’s long-restrained emotions--and powers--finally explode, transforming Arendelle’s summer into a deep, snowy winter. The queen flees into the mountains, and spirited Anna embarks on a quest to convince her to return and, hopefully, defrost the kingdom. Because this is Disney, Anna has a band of sidekicks that join her on this quest: an awkward ice merchant named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his loyal reindeer, Sven, and a talking snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad).
The plot is flimsy, but Frozen more than makes up for it with a lot of whimsy and heart--not to mention some jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation that utilizes new technologies without losing any of the delicate detail of Disney’s old-fashioned hand-drawn classics. The fantastical sequences highlighting Elsa’s magic, such as when she flees the kingdom across a fjord in the night, freezing the wide black water into frosty ice with every step, or when she embraces her abilities and constructs an epic ice kingdom around herself while belting out the show-stopping, Oscar-winning ballad “Let It Go,” rival such classic moments in animation history as the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast, which is the highest visual praise one can give. Of course, it isn’t just the animation that makes the “Let It Go” sequence one of the best I’ve seen in any movie, live-action included, from the past year. From the song’s powerful lyrics about not letting fear control your life, to Menzel’s passionate delivery, it’s the kind of magical moment that movies are made to showcase.
Naturally, Anna and Kristoff begin to fall for each other on their journey, with the lowly ice merchant (who was raised by trolls, natch) a far better match for the spunky princess than her supposed “Prince Charming,” Hans. However, their romantic relationship takes a backseat to the one between Anna and Elsa throughout the movie, and it is the sisters’ love for each other that ends up being the story’s saving grace. Because of this, I would have liked even more fleshing out of both heroines; pretty much every scene featuring Olaf the snowman is extraneous and could have been cut in favor of more scenes of the sisters both before and after the moment in which Elsa isolates herself from Anna. Fortunately, the expressive voice acting of Bell and Menzel manages to tell more of their story in a few scenes than less capable actors could have done with twice as many. In the end, Frozen is a beautiful, magical movie that turns the old-fashioned notion that love conquers all on its head, and brings the Disney Princess archetype into the twenty-first century in a big way.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Frozen is worth the price, and not just for the seeing all of that gorgeous animation in high-definition. It’s also packed with extras, including a making-of feature, a look at how the story of "The Snow Queen" because Frozen, music videos, deleted scenes and an animated short.
"Frozen" is on sale March 18, 2014 and is rated PG. Animation. Directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Written by Jennifer Lee. Starring Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Kristen Bell.