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by Leonard Maltin
November 22, 2013 4:34 PM
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Courtesy of Walt Disney Anmimation

Frozen is a modern—make that post-modern—Disney spin on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. With its show-stopping renditions of soaring new songs, it evokes the best qualities of classic Disney musical fairy tales, adding the kind of humor and irreverence that clearly identify it as a work of today. And if it’s busier with story twists than a vintage Disney film—perhaps more than it absolutely needs to be—it still has all the elements of a crowd-pleaser.

By turning the two protagonists of the story into star-crossed sisters, screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee has given the narrative a fresh feeling that’s certainly welcome. She and co-director Chris Buck, a Disney veteran whose credits date back to The Fox and the Hound, make a compatible team who understand how to balance the traditional and the new. The look of the snowy (and icy) film is impressive from start to finish, and the cast of characters includes amusing figures like a beefy mountain man who talks to his reindeer pal Sven and a goofy but good-hearted snowman named Olaf, perfectly voiced by Josh Gad.

Comedy relief is a vital ingredient because even in Lee’s reinvention, the Andersen tale is dark and full of heartache. Two royal sisters who are close as children are forced to live separate lives within the same cloistered castle after it’s discovered that the future queen, Elsa, has the uncontrollable power to turn everything she touches into ice. Her younger sibling Anna doesn’t understand why she’s been shut out, but retains her faith in their sisterly love —even after the kingdom is overtaken by a wintry blanket in the midst of summer. A handsome prince from a neighboring country sweeps the impressionable Anna off her feet, but their romance is put on hold as Anna determines to rescue Elsa from her self-imposed exile.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Animation

The songs, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (whose credits include The Book of Mormon and the most recent Winnie the Pooh feature) gives showcase tunes to the powerful but frightened Elsa, voiced by Broadway’s Idina Menzel, and the brash but unstoppable Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell. With hip, modern lyrics that revel in contemporary vernacular and include words like “gassy” there’s no mistaking these for old-fashioned Disney anthems, but their presentation puts them over, and the same is true for comedy songs like Olaf the snowman’s ode to a season he’s never experienced, “In Summer.”

One thing is certain: there’s never a dull moment in Frozen, which throws in a fearsome snow monster, a life-and-death race to rescue one of its principals, and unexpected character twists that continue right up to the finale. Female empowerment is a major theme here, neatly played and organically woven into the story—yet there is still the time-tested ingredient of a girl’s moony-eyed first brush with love. The difference is that the girl (Anna) isn’t a princess on a pedestal, but an all-too-human character who’s clumsy and naïve. Frozen manages to hit all the emotional bases for kids and kids-at-heart who grew up on Walt Disney’s famously cathartic stories.

Once upon a time, the Disney studio owned the world of animated features; now it faces a wealth of competition. But Disney still reigns supreme when it comes to sweeping musical fairy tales, with all their built-in emotions. Frozen proves that there’s still a lot of mileage in this brand of storytelling.

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  • Thomas Jinton | March 2, 2014 11:05 AMReply

    I see no grade? No stars, no number/letter, not even in the review?
    Where is the grade?

  • Anonymous | February 16, 2014 1:38 PMReply

    "Frozen" was mediocre at best. "The Wind Rises" was the best animated film of 2013, but even that was only "good, not great." "Frozen" is only considered good because it is being judged relative to the worst films made today, which are the worst movies of all time. Also, when most people in the West go see an animated movie, they go into it with lower expectations since they consider animation to be just for kids. Of course, Maltin knows what I am talking about when it comes to relativism and the lowering of standards, since he lowers his own bar year after year. Lol. He probably makes too much money though off his guides to stop now.

  • Calleena | May 14, 2014 8:57 AM

    Not cool. Frozen received praise for the film itself, not just because it was probably the only good (or great) animated film all year (minus The Wind Rises). Sure, the awards are probably from being the only standout, but the ratings are very high.

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