It’s been a rough year for animation fans, but “Frozen” splendidly warms the cockles of our cold, cold hearts.
Easily the best animated film of 2013, it’s a sprightly adventure from Disney featuring stunning eye candy, colorful characters and some of the best musical set-pieces since “Beauty and the Beast.”
It’s not quite up there with the very best of the Disney-Pixar universe: B&B, “Finding Nemo,” etc. This is owing to the main characters not having quite as much depth as other protagonists we’ve cherished. But much like the surprisingly good “Tangled,” in whose vein it very much follows, “Frozen” wears the flouncy clothes of a fun romp while harboring darker and deeper ambitions underneath.
A very loose retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Snow Queen,” the film puts two sisters in conflict. Anna (voice by Kristen Bell) is the gleeful younger princess of the kingdom of Arendelle. Since childhood she’s been purposefully shut away from her older sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), because of a tragic accident. The Troll King (Ciarán Hinds) banished the memory from her mind, and their parents took the secret with them when they disappeared beneath the ocean waves.
In her turn, Elsa is trapped by the knowledge of her uncontrollable magic powers to freeze things with a touch. It’s set off by negative emotions, so she learns to yoke in her feelings – cutting off everyone else in the process. “Conceal, don’t feel” is her motto.
With Elsa’s coronation as queen about to take place, Anna is thrilled at finally getting to interact with the world outside the castle’s closed doors. In short order she meets a handsome prince named Hans (Santino Fontana) who’s just as goofy and giddy as she. But things take a tragic turn when Elsa unwittingly causes the entire kingdom to freeze over, then flees into hiding in the mountains.
Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, who wrote the story along with Shane Morris, with Lee penning the screenplay, occasionally wander too far astray from the central opposition between the siblings. This is best encapsulated in the character of Kristoff, a gruff woodsman Anna encounters while trying to save Elsa.
Though ably voiced by Jonathan Groff, Kristoff mostly is just around to provide any needed derring-do, and a secondary romantic interest for Anna. (I also wasn’t too pleased with this lyric about the towheaded character: “Are you holding back your fondness due to his unmanly blondness?" Blond guy bias lives.)
One character I couldn’t get enough of is Olaf, the resident supplier of comic relief. A pint-sized snowman lovingly voiced by Josh Gad, Olaf is one of Elsa’s creations who wandered off the ice-bound plantation.
Innocent, somewhat dim -- he yearns for summer, unaware that it will spell his demise -- and with a tendency to fall into pieces, he’s a classic Disney sidekick who’s so joyous to have around, he deserves his own flick.
Broadway fans may recognize Gad and Menzel as names associated with stage musical hits, and both get to show off their impressive pipes in the lineup of terrific songs composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
Gad’s “In Summer” is a comedic ditty, while Menzel’s “Let It Go” is a full-on power ballad about being true to yourself. Bell, not hitherto known for her singing, proves quite adept in a solo tune and “For the First Time in Forever,” a duet with Menzel.
Though not an absolute necessity, I would recommend seeing this movie in 3-D so you can get the full effect of Elsa’s enormous icicle creations, the abominable snow giant and other visual treats.
While some cold-hearted critics might dismiss this film as the ‘Disney-fication’ of a very dark classic fairy tale, taken on its own “Frozen” is a ravishingly good movie that’s richer than its frolicking first impression might suggest.
Note: “Frozen” is preceded by a 7-minute short film, “Get a Horse!”, that is a wondrous mash-up of old and new Disney animation traditions. At first it seems we’re watching a venerable 1920s black-and-white cartoon with Mickey Mouse and his cartoon pals enjoying a hayride. But then they get into a road-rage scuffle with Peg-Leg Pete, the whole gang crashes through the screen and into our laps, bursting with color and originality. What a delight from director Lauren MacMullan and her crew.