‘Frozen’ a welcome return to form

By Nathan Frontiero

Courtesy of Flickr/Loren Javier
Courtesy of Flickr/Loren Javier

What a nice surprise.

Childhood years overfilled with Disney movies have left me feeling queasy at the slightest mention of the brand. However, after seeing “Frozen” on a whim, I’m glad I gave the company another chance.

Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee have crafted a fresh, fun film, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” In “Frozen,” we do meet our snow queen, of sorts, in Elsa (Idina Menzel).

Elsa was born with the power to make pretty ice and snow appear out of nowhere, but after a childhood accident involving her younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), the two are separated, and Elsa’s power kept a secret. The musical numbers, penned by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are great overall, and songs like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” offer exposition without feeling forced. That song in particular creates a neat, heartbreaking and completely seamless transition through Anna and Elsa’s childhood and adolescence. It works wonders to set up the divide between the two.

Some of the foreshadowing is a little heavy-handed (the film opens with a song called “Frozen Heart”), and the cutesy humor often feels familiar, but the plot is simple and easily enjoyable. “Frozen” was a film released for the holiday season, and in that respect it’s a harmless, light-hearted escape. The story and twists can get predictable, but there are some great moments when typical fairy tale tropes are subverted. For example, an amusing amount of time is spent knocking some sense into Anna, as variations on the line “you can’t marry a man you just met” become a running gag.

Many have lauded the film as one of Disney’s best animated musicals in over a decade, and as mentioned, the numbers here do not disappoint. The best of them is “Let It Go,” an award-bait anthem that Menzel belts to the snowy heavens. The song is both an immense moment of release for Elsa and an affirmation of Broadway-veteran Menzel’s ideal casting.

Kristen Bell has decent singing chops herself, and holds her own, especially during an impressive reprise of “For the First Time in Forever,” in which she and Menzel launch dueling vocal fireworks. Josh Gad is hilarious as the talking snowman Olaf, and his gleefully misguided and vibrato-laden tune “In Summer” is priceless. Also charming is the gospel choir-infused “Fixer Upper,” a wonderfully frank love song in the latter half of the film.

Aesthetically, Walt Disney Animation Studios delivers the magic once again. “Frozen” is not just a musical wonder but a visual one as well. The characters are vibrant and expressive without constantly looking like obviously animated characters, and the snow and ice visuals are especially lovely. Story aside, Disney’s animation is consistently gorgeous. Even scenes that may not be meant to be especially breathtaking are nonetheless very easy on the eyes.

“Frozen” is a welcome return to form for Disney. A charming twist on the fairy tale backed by some knockout musical numbers, the film is easy to love, and it may very well join the ranks of the company’s beloved classics. It holds in some respects to the formula that keeps audiences coming back to Disney, but thankfully gives us two female leads with realistic conflicts of identity and self-acceptance, and offers a poignant glimpse at the estranged bond mended between these two sisters.

The film is wrapped up neatly and the denouement is admittedly unsurprising, but even some of the more common elements are livened up a bit. The story has a few holes, but it feels fresh and the film is a joy to watch. Pardon the atrocious pun, but “Frozen” makes you melt.

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at [email protected]