Film Review: Frozen

When Queen Elsa casts a spell that freezes her kingdom, her sister Anna must find a way to rescue their people in Disney's lavish return to the fairytale genre.

Disney pulls out all the stops for Frozen, an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen." Not quite the return to form that the studio may have hoped for, the movie's grand scale and full-fledged musical score will still insure its long commercial afterlife.

Drastically revising Anderson's story, Frozen opens as two royal sisters play in a palace at night. Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has the magical ability to turn anything into ice. To her younger's sister Anna's (Kristen Bell) delight, Elsa builds a skating rink in a ballroom, then piles of snow to bounce on. By accident she freezes Anna, a spell broken by nearby trolls. The incident scars Elsa, who becomes a hermit so she won't harm anyone else.

Anna grows up on her own, naive about life and lonely for her sister. When their parents die, Elsa reluctantly agrees to open her coronation ceremony to the public. Anna meets the handsome Hans (Santino Fontana), who so sweeps her off her feet that she asks Elsa's permission to marry him. Elsa has secret reasons for forbidding the marriage, but when Anna persists she flies into a rage that casts her kingdom into perpetual winter.

Elsa flees into the snowy mountains outside the city. Anna bravely pursues her, determined to break her wintry spell. She's helped by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a handsome ice merchant, and his reindeer Sven. The three reach Elsa's enchanted ice castle, where they meet Olaf (Josh Gad), a talking snowman.

Despite Anna's pleas, Elsa won't break her spell. Unable to control her magic, she freezes her sister again in a fit of anger. As a troll warns Kristoff, only an act of love can thaw Anna's frozen heart now.

Frozen's palaces, magical spells, inanimate sidekicks, and elaborate slapstick and chases are familiar territory for Disney, evoking the glory days of Beauty and the Beast. And on a visual level, Frozen is astonishing. The castles, harbors and snowscapes are meticulously rendered, while the lead characters are consistently engaging. (Olaf and the trolls wear out their welcome pretty quickly.) Bell brings an appealing tomboy tone to Anna, while Broadway vet Menzel is expert at conveying Elsa's anger and confusion over her magic. Groff and Fontana contrast nicely as Kristoff and Hans, although Frozen is more interested in its female characters.

The plot works up credible emotions, particularly during its cliff-hanging climax, and screenwriter Jennifer Lee (who joined Chris Buck as co-director after production started) thankfully dials back the story's life lessons. Unfortunately, Frozen's score is sadly unmemorable, without the catchy tunes and wordplay found in movies like Tangled. There's no showstopper like "Be Our Guest." Instead, "In Summer" works more for its visual gags than its lyrics.

Studio executives are no doubt counting the days until Frozen becomes part of "Disney on Ice." Children will find plenty to love here, and even the most hardhearted adult will admire the movie's professionalism.

For some viewers, the best part about Frozen will be the short accompanying it in theatres. Directed by Lauren MacMullan, Get a Horse! is an ingenious and thoroughly delightful work that manages to tie together the earliest Mickey Mouse sound cartoons with contemporary computer 3D animation. In the short, Mickey (voiced in a bit of sonic legerdemain by Walt Disney himself) battles Peg-Leg Pete (Billy Bletcher and Will Ryan) for a hayride date with Minnie (Marcellite Garner and Russi Taylor).

Starting out in black-and-white and the old Academy frame, Get a Horse! recreates the barnyard humor and anarchic perspectives that the early Disney shorts employed. Then like Buster Keaton in Sherlock, Jr., Mickey and the gang lose control of the screen, and are transported to a 3D world. To say more would spoil the fun, but Get a Horse! manages to cram in more animation history than seems possible in six minutes, even while restoring Mickey to his place as one of cinema's great comedians.