2013 has been a rather weak year when it comes to the world of feature animation, but with Frozen Disney welcomes the holiday season with a cinematic experience full of warmth and wonder and songs you will remember long after the closing credits have scrolled by and you and your loved ones have returned to the comfort of your homes.
Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen, Frozen centers around two sisters, Elsa (Broadway's Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), with the elder Elsa having just been crowned the Queen of Arendelle with her loyal sister by her side.
It hasn't always been this way.
For the past several years, Elsa and Anna have been separated for reasons that Anna can't really remember and for reasons that really aren't given their full due in one of this production's few weaknesses. We the audience are privvy to glimpses of a past where the two sisters are nearly inseparable until it is discovered that young Elsa was born with a gift she's never learned to manage in that even her mere thoughts can turn a sunny and wonderful day into a snow-filled wonderland. Managed well, this can be a marvelous gift but, as one might expect, loose and out of control this gift can prove to be a dangerous and even evil burden. When such an out of control incident occurs and Anna is nearly killed by it, it is only the intervention by that cure Anna but also inform her that she will never again remember her sister's gift.
So, the two become separated by circumstance.
Flash forward a few years and we arrive back at Elsa's coronation with the doors opened widely once again and all the village prepared to celebrate. As one might expect, not everything goes as hoped and Elsa's gift becomes a curse once again and wreaks havoc on her village. Elsa, who now becomes viewed by the village as the worst of the worst, isolates herself in a mountainous ice castle of her making as the village suffers in snowbound captivity. Determined to not give up on her sister, Anna ventures outside the village determined to track down her sister and make everything that has gone wrong become right once again.
THIS is Disney. This is the Disney you think of when you think about animated features and heartfelt stories and memorable music and characters that make you want to rush out to the Disney store and pick up their plush and squeezable counterparts. Frozen, which goes just a tad darker than we're used to from Disney (but not quite to Pixar!), is a beautifully animated and perfectly cast film that deserves to heat up the box-office this holiday weekend as an absolutely delightful choice for families seeking a kid and parent friendly cinematic outing that springs us into a holiday season of hope and wonder and gratitude.
The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are perfectly suited to the story that unfolds yet could easily stand alone. Parents should be prepared that you and your children are likely to want to hear these tunes over and over again, a fact that offers promise for the film's post-holiday home video future. While we all knew that Idina Menzel could belt out a tune, think Rent and Wicked, the delightful and spirited work by Kristen Bell is a bit of a surprise as is that of Josh Gad, who provides the film's comic relief as a snowman created by Elsa years earlier. Jonathan Groff is also a joy as the goofy but goodhearted Kristoff, who companions Anna on her journey.
Those expecting a spot-on recreation of "The Snow Queen" may be a bit disappointed as Frozen is more "inspired by" than truly "based on" the Anderson story that Disney has long aspired to bring to the big screen. Without giving away too much of its characters, one can also suffice it to say that Frozen also continues Disney's move towards a different sort of "princess" type that they began with their Pixar-labeled Brave.
Frozen isn't quite a flawless film, but it is one of 2013's most immersive and enjoyable animated features and should easily find itself as the year's favorite to take home the Academy Award. With an emotionally appealing blend of true drama and comedy along with tunes you can hum along to and characters you will remember and really love, Frozen is the perfect weaving together of warmth and wonder to kick off the holiday season.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic