Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, from a screenplay by Lee, Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Snow Queen and sees Disney make a glorious return to the classical musical-animation, which included a string of masterpieces in the early 90's, but in stereoscopic 3D rather than hand drawn. Returning us to a magical realm of kingdoms and princesses, with an entertaining adventure tale of fraying sisterhood, cursed sorcery and hapless snowmen, this stunning animated feature is perfect family viewing this holiday season.
Elsa (Broadway star Idina Menzel), the princess of Arendelle possesses the rare ability to conjure ice and snow. When she accidentally freezes her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) as a child, the King and Queen seek help from Trolls who manage to heal Anna, but are forced to remove any memory of her sister’s powers. In order to protect Elsa the family locks themselves away in the castle, with Elsa, out of fear of hurting her sister again, remaining in isolation. A rift develops between the sisters as they grow up, which continues until the day of Elsa’s royal coronation, and the anticipated re-opening of the castle, several years later.
When Elsa rejects Anna’s acceptance of the whim marriage proposal by the visiting Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), her secret powers are exposed to all, including the visiting dignitaries. When the entire Kingdom is sent into an eternal winter, greedy profiteers target the fleeing Elsa. Anna, with the help of some companions she meets on her journey - a rouge ice trader named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his royal reindeer Sven, and her childhood snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), re-created as part of the magic - set out on a journey through the frozen, snow-capped realm to find and protect Elsa, and help her to save Arendelle.
Disney has made a welcome return to the song-driven brand of animation, and while few of the songs here are particularly outstanding, there are many that are catchy and rousing. They effectively drive the narrative forward and convey emotion, are sung with passion, and are accompanied by energetic animated choreography. The film’s length is perhaps a little stretched – one or two songs could have been shortened – but this is forgivable considering the attention given to the characters, and the breathtaking visuals that so gloriously portray this world.
The narrative takes a path into some dark territory without painting clear-cut heroes and villains. The emotional centre is the bond between the two sisters, whose newfound freedom is then defined by very different things. For Anna, this is an exhilaration to live and explore. For Elsa it is a fearful reserve. While the sisters are never enemies, it is Elsa’s inability to control her sorcery and the repair of their relationship that fuels the film’s tension, and not the necessary elimination of a monstrous threat.
Frozen utilises a popular Disney trope of love conquering fear and darkness, but it actually does it in a way that a viewer doesn’t expect. Lee has a bit of fun hinting at the lip locking of a Princess and her handsome suitor, but it ultimately offers up a much more satisfying twist.
The voice acting is excellent, with the cast disappearing into their characters. Kristen Bell gives Anna a tough, feisty side, but has a cracking sense of humour. Josh Gad is unrecognizable as Orloff and successfully delivers dozens of terrific one-liners.
These clever jokes are complemented by the equally amusing visual gags. Despite the dark content, and the saddening developments, there are pretty consistent laughs throughout, which work just as well for the adults (there are even some Arrested Development references thrown in there for good measure) as for the little ones.
With likable, empowering characters, and a fresh element of conflict, Frozen is the year’s most impressive animated feature and a 21st Century Disney classic. For me, it is one of my favourites from the studio since, well, Aladdin.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22