Kristen Bell as the voice of Anna
Idina Menzel as the voice of Elsa
Jonathan Groff as the voice of Kristoff
Santino Fontana as the voice of Hans
Josh Gad as the voice of Olaf
Alan Tudyk as the voice of the Duke of Weselton
Ciarán Hinds as the voice of the Troll King
“Frozen” is Disney’s latest entrant into its classic fairy-tale animation history, albeit more in the mold of “Tangled” than “Sleeping Beauty,” and mostly lives up to its formidable ancestry even as it tweaks said ancestry’s nose.
The main tweak being the fact that, despite an abundance of princesses and dashing princes and balls and declarations of true love, “Frozen” is mainly about its two sisters and their complicated, almost tragic relationship, starting with Anna’s (Bell) near death at older sister Elsa’s (Menzel) hands. Right from the off, in fact, writer-directors Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (“Wreck-It Ralph”) refuse to be pigeonholed, ignoring classic prince versus evil witch storytelling for something more human and complicated. Loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story “The Snow Queen” (in the way that you are loosely adapted from your parents’ DNA), Disney’s “Frozen” brings us the Norse-ish kingdom of Arendelle where the entire population of the country and its neighbors have turned out to witness the crowning of Elsa as Queen. Or they were, until they discover Elsa was born with freaky cold-controlling powers causing her to run away, accidentally leaving the kingdom encased in ice behind her.
Rather than use Ana and Elsa’s relationship as seasoning on typical good-versus-evil, the filmmakers flip the standard dynamic, giving us a film that is both unique and without a central antagonist in favor of a more abstract conflict. Rather than an evil sorceress keeping the land frozen for nefarious reasons, Elsa is an isolated young woman, one longing to be herself and stop covering up what she can do, yet terrified of what may happen to people around her if she lets herself show, opting to stay apart from the world as much as possible. Unfortunately for her, Anna’s not going away without a fight as her irrepressible optimism has convinced her that she can get through to Elsa even if she has to climb a giant mountain and fight an evil snowman to do it.
Optimism may be the best way to describe this sunny, charming film – sometimes insanely so (I have hard time believing anyone is that happy about carving ice out of a river). It makes the loss of any sort of villain (beyond the odd token-like Alan Tydyk’s weasely Duke) easy to ignore most of the time thanks to the charm of the characters who are likeable to a one – none more so than living snowman Olaf (Gad), who loves nothing more than warm hugs. Olaf epitomizes “Frozen’s” easy charm and its ability to be silly without tumbling into the annoying. It helps tremendously that he, like much of the cast, is voiced by a credible Broadway vet rather than a recognizable movie star. It’s just too bad they’re not given better songs to go to town on.
Ultimately the lack of an adversary–as new and interesting as it is–leaves “Frozen” floundering for a conclusion and forcing the filmmakers to make sudden, rapid-fire decisions creating a last act oddly disconnected from what has come before. There’s no storming of the castle by an army of loveable creatures or anything else so clichéd, just some last minute betrayals to keep the film from being entirely a relationship drama at a point when it’s a bit late to make that particular switch. In the process, they show a lack of faith in their swerve away from classic good-versus-evil storytelling, or perhaps some realization of the power of clichés as the finale definitely fields more urgency than anything preceding it. Still, it’s a decision which comes so late it will give you mood whiplash.
For all its icy imagery, “Frozen” has a warm heart and desire to try (slightly) new things (a Disney princess film that passes the Bechdel test!) and that alone makes it worth a look.