Walt Disney Pictures has its animation mojo back. Finally.
With a cool, contemporary spin on a fairy-tale classic, a dramatic Nordic landscape animated in splendid storybook style and Broadway vets belting out power ballads, Frozen is an icy blast of fun from the very first flake. A certain scene-stealing snowman named Olaf chief among them.
Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee create a magical 3-D winter wonderland in Frozen. A sisterhood saga loosely based on Hans Christian Andersens The Snow Queen, it is filled with heart and heart-stopping action.
It is a much needed thaw after a very long winter for Disneys legendary cartoon brand.
Last years Wreck-It Ralph was a hoot the video-arcade battle between good and evil very current in story and style. But Ralph never felt like it belonged to the same family as Disneys modern-day classics such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.
The in-between years have been marked by a lot of nice, but not especially noteworthy movies. Meanwhile Pixar stepped in and stole the companys animated show with Up, Cars, Toy Story and Wall-E, to name a few.
But Frozen is fabulous. Its thrills and chills are brought to life by an excellent ensemble of voices led by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. As Anna and Elsa, respectively, they are sisters and the princesses of the mythical Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle where the story is set.
The film represents a fusion of old and new both on-screen and behind it. Lee, who co-wrote Wreck-It Ralph (with Phil Johnston) and has sole credit for Frozen, is also the first female to sit in a Disney animation directing chair. Shes done a bang-up job wearing both hats. For Buck, whos been in Disneys animation trenches since 1981s The Fox and the Hound, Frozen is his third feature and his best as a director. Despite the blizzard conditions, there is nary a slip or stumble from start to finish.
As with the best of Disney musicals, Frozens songs soar. The original pieces come from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who has a couple of Tonys on his shelf for co-writing The Book of Mormon.
Which makes you wonder whether Frozen might be Broadway bound. Youd expect Menzel, who earned a Tony for making Elphaba so deliciously Wicked, to crush all those soaring notes.
But Bell is the stunner.
Frozen begins when the princesses are young and wishing for the seasons first snowfall. Elsa makes it happen, conjuring up a blizzard indoors with magical powers shes just discovering. But the fun soon ends when a slip and a fall puts Annas life in jeopardy.
Though Anna recovers, Elsa doesnt. Fear of hurting her little sister with her powers sends the princess behind closed doors, separating the girls the entire time they are growing up and presenting the perfect opportunity for one of the films show-stoppers. A very catchy number called Love Is an Open Door, it is among the most memorable, in part for the delightful door-slamming antics that accompany it.
The action really gets underway when Elsa comes of age and comes out of seclusion for her coronation. Love is in the air. Annas already swooning over Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), and a number of suitors are vying for Elsas hand glove-covered always to keep her secret secret. Her powers make for some of the films most stunning animation as snow and ice fly and form into incredible shapes, from lethal shards to towering ice castles.
At the heart of the film is the battle between love and fear. Resolution becomes a long journey when Elsa flees Arendelle, leaving the kingdom locked in winters fierce grip and Anna searching for her. This is also where the film develops its very playful sense of humor.
Annas something of a tomboy, forever getting into scrapes, which Bells comic timing makes absolutely charming, and the entire film is populated by characters who spend a great deal of time teasing and pranking.
There is the handsome, reclusive mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer buddy Sven. By turns captivated and incensed by the headstrong Anna, hes soon enlisted in the search. There are rock trolls rolled out to help decipher questions of magic led by Pabbie (Ciaran Hinds). One of the main villains is the scheming Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), a name that always gets a laugh.
And then there is Olaf.
The snowman is an animation marvel, designed to keep coming apart and bouncing back together. His broad smile, buck teeth and wide eyes are the very embodiment of innocence and adoration. Josh Gad, who voices Olaf, is so endearing you really do want to just hug him knowing Disney, Im sure theres a plush toy in the works.
Fortunately, Gad is far from the only reason to go see Frozen. In fact, there are so many good ones, I cant begin to count them all kind of like snowflakes, a flurry of them.