Dan Lybarger on Frozen

November 29, 2013


Grade: 89
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Rating: Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor
Running Time: 108 minutes

By Dan Lybarger for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels

Frozen is a throwback to the sort of cartoons that Disney used to make back in the 1990s with lavish, Broadway-like musical numbers, animals that are smarter than people and comely animated princesses.

That’s not a problem.


Combining talent from Mouse House veterans with stars from the Great White Way, Frozen reworks Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen into a more palatable fairy tale. Considering how the Disney version of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid still managed to be a great movie despite butchering his story, it’s worth noting that director Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and writer-director Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph) present their tale free of irony and almost barren of in-jokes.

By abandoning this winking outlook, Frozen seems more magical and affecting. The magical part is appropriate because the young Scandinavian princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) discovers early on that she can create ice formations simply by waiving her hands about. Her gift seems more like a curse when she accidentally hurts her little sister Anna (Kristen Bell).

To prevent future harm, Elsa constantly keeps her hands gloved and shuts everyone else out of her life for fear of repeating her previous mistake. Anna has no memory of the incident and is troubled by her older sibling’s aloofness.

Elsa can’t keep her secret long, especially since stress makes her icy creations more massive and potentially dangerous. When her coronation as queen is marred by a mishap that causes all of her empire to turn cold in the middle of summer, she flees to the Northern Mountain to escape subjects who now think she’s a monster instead of a monarch.

Anna loves her sister and desperately tries to find her even though she wants to marry a hunky prince named Hans (Santino Fontana). Anna is as loving as she is naive, so she doesn’t understand it when others think she’s rushing into the relationship. Curiously, her impulsiveness actually earns her a group of friends on her quest. There’s a stouthearted, if eccentric ice-wagon driver named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven. Elsa also inadvertently created a friendly but sadly inexperienced snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who’s eager to experience summer, not knowing it can kill him.

This not-so-bright but endearing fellow steals the show, and Lee has a way of making most of the characters so sympathetic that it’s hard to keep a dry eye whenever they’re in danger.

Great voice casting certainly helps. Having starred in Rent and Wicked, Menzel bellows through the score with remarkable finesse, and Bell, who’s better known for Veronica Mars, manages to hold her own in their duets. As for Gad’s Olaf, don’t expect the toy versions of him to stay on shelves long.

Visually, Frozen consistently looks elegant and captivating and maximizes its northern European setting. The 3-D is handled with care and thankfully does more than raise the admission price.

Be sure to show up early, so you can catch Get a Horse!, a new vehicle for Mickey Mouse where he, Minnie and a host of early Disney creations like Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow wind up in an adventure that takes them in and out of their 2-D black-and-white world. It has the anarchic quality that made the early Mickey cartoons so enjoyable, and you can hear Walt Disney himself providing the Mouse’s voice through archival recordings.

Careful viewers will also stick through the closing credits, which feature one of the funniest disclaimers in recent memory and a genuinely amusing coda. Frozen may be a step back, but its sincerity and charm make it more of a lateral move than a nostalgic one.

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