Frozen | reviews, news & interviews
Cockle-warming animation blends traditional Disney songs and sentiment with cheeky wit
Although it begins, somewhat startlingly, with a 3D hacksaw to our collective mush - as it penetrates the ice on a frosted lake - the latest computer-generated offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios is far from an aggressive overhaul of Disney tradition. For the most part, Frozen marks a return to the studio's roots after the subversive, divisive Wreck-It Ralph (which I loved); it's a spirit-stirring musical crafted with finesse whose more schmaltzy moments are deftly (and thankfully) undercut by self-deprecating humour. In its tale of two sisters, Frozen is Christmassy fare to thaw even the frostiest heart.
Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, Frozen introduces us to two isolated and orphaned princesses, Anna (an endearing Kristen Bell) and her elder sister Elsa (Broadway star Idina Menzel, best known here for her work in Glee). As children they are forced apart by Elsa's supernatural secret - she has been born a sorceress with the power to freeze people and landscapes, and her inability to control these powers makes her terrifically dangerous. On the day of Elsa's coronation as Queen of Arendelle the sisters are reunited and finally open their palace to the public - an act which excites the lonely Anna and terrifies Elsa, who fears exposure.
When Anna meets and falls for fellow royal Hans (Santino Fontana), their whirlwind romance ends in a hasty proposal and Elsa's infuriated reaction unleashes the full force of her powers - plunging the kingdom into an eternal winter and compelling her to flee. As she sets off to bring her sister back, the plucky Anna befriends ice-salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a misanthropic mountain man whose only pal is his reindeer Sven. Along the way the trio pick up a suitably snappy acolyte, the magical snowman Olaf (pictured above right and voiced by an exuberantly entertaining Josh Gad who ensures the character is one of Disney's more successful sidekicks).
In the tradition of the musical Wicked and the recent film Oz the Great and Powerful, Frozen gives us contextualised evil-doing - it's a revisionist attempt to tell the story behind the wickedness. Although Frozen is so loosely based on The Snow Queen there's not much danger of Elsa's dark potential truly taking hold; instead it's a little while before the film's real "big bad" unmasks his or herself.
Key to the film's appeal and triumph is its successful fusion of old and new: Frozen feels like, to an extent looks like, and (with its catchy power-ballads) certainly sounds like a classic Disney film, but it has just enough modern sass to satisfy, alongside cutting edge CG-animation and largely well-employed 3D. This expert blend is epitomised by its co-directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee; it comes from a story by Buck, Lee and Shane Morris, with the screenplay penned by Lee. Buck's long history with Disney saw him work as an animator on The Fox on the Hound back in 1981 and design characters on The Little Mermaid (1989), whereas Jennifer Lee is a fresh figure in animation, responsible for the sharp screenplay on the aforementioned Wreck-It Ralph.
Lee is also Disney's first female animated feature director and, fittingly enough in Frozen, the women are not only powerful and courageous but ultimately sisterly love trumps romance. Considering that Disney is hardly known as a bastion of female empowerment it's nice that this time round sisters are most definitely doing it for themselves.
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