“Knock. … Just knock. … Why isn’t she knocking? … Do you think she knows how to knock?”
In 2010, Disney’s Tangled rang in the animation studio’s Second Renaissance, bringing alive from the dead a studio that once reigned supreme but had recently fallen far behind its in-house rival, Pixar. Tangled proved wildly successful, both critically and at the box office, and ever since, the House of Mouse has been on a decidedly upward trajectory.
In 2011, we were blessed with a new adventure of Winnie the Pooh, an oh-so-charming, breeze-by-the-wind tale of an unabashedly adorable bear who just wants some honey. And last year, the studio gave us Wreck-It Ralph, a fun, video game-centric story involving a down-in-the-dumps bad guy who just wants to be liked by his peers.
And now, in 2013, Disney has given us Frozen, the studio’s fresh take on the tale of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” an impressive rebirth of the animated musical the studio once produced ad nauseam. It’s a fantastic return to form for the studio, and quite honestly, it just may be Disney’s best animated adventure since The Lion King. Scratch that: it most certainly is.
Frozen tells the tale of two sisters, one who has magical powers — that’s Elsa, first in line for the throne — and one who doesn’t — Anna, second in line. The pair of siblings were close as children, but following an accident, Elsa, at the suggestion of her parents, shuts herself off from the world — the castle’s gates are closed, its staff reduced, and her bedroom door remains shut as she sits in solitude and does her best to control her powers.
But when the King and Queen of Arendelle are lost at sea, it’s only a matter of time before Elsa must accede to the throne. The Princess becomes the new Queen, but it’s not long before her powers are discovered publicly, and as defense mechanism, she accidentally freezes the whole of her kingdom and subsequently flees to the North Mountain to be alone.
As you might guess, the remainder of the film is centered on finding the Queen and making warm again the frozen tundra she has left behind, but how we get there is quite interesting, and turns on their respective heads a fair number of traditional Disney tropes. Frankly, the whole thing is just a lot of fun.
The film features a standout voice cast, led by Idina Menzel from Broadway’s “Wicked,” who lends her powerful yet gentle vocals to Elsa. Kristen Bell voices Princess Anna, Alan Tudyk plays the Duke of Weselton — one of Arrendelle’s greatest trade partners — Jonathan Groff voices the frontiersman Kristoff, and Santino Fontana plays Prince Hans, a love interest for Anna. It’s a pretty low-key cast, with Kristen Bell the most recognizable name on the menu, but they jell together really well.
And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Josh Gad’s voice performance as the snowman Olaf, who never quite grasps the concept that ending Arrendelle’s eternal winter would render him, well, a puddle. Olaf is a treat to watch, one of Disney’s finest animated characters in recent memory, and Josh Gad plays him to near-perfection.
But Menzel is the real scene stealer here. When I first saw Elsa belt out “Let It Go” while she simultaneously makes her way to the North Mountain and raises up her ice castle in a showcase of the magical power she possesses, I was transported. It was like being at a live musical — when she finished, I felt the need to applaud. Heck, I think most of the people in the auditorium felt the same way.
It’s all animated sure, digitally tweaked to produce the greatest effect, but my, what a beautiful performance. The music, the voice, the mannerisms, the animation, the effects, it’s all so perfectly pieced together — I could recommend the film on this one sequence alone, but Disney chose to treat us with even more goodies, providing audiences with the best film in its Second Renaissance, and arguably one of its biggest single highlights to date.
But for all its animated wonder and musical prowess, the film would be nothing without an interesting narrative; fortunately the film, co-directed by Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (who wrote both Wreck-It Ralph), who also wrote the film, doesn’t lack in the story department.
Elsa is told early on by her parents to “conceal, don’t feel,” to hide her magical powers and ignore them, but what she discovers is that she shouldn’t hide who she is; she can break free from her proverbial chains, harness her powers, and bring good to those around her. And that includes happiness for herself. It’s a classic storytelling theme, sure, but it works really well within the confines of this fictional frozen tale.
Frankly, my love for the film has only grown since leaving the theater. I’ve now seen the film twice. I’ve watched the animated performances of “Let It Go” and “In Summer” on Youtube countless times. I’ve sung and hummed the songs in the shower and while I do my laundry or wash the dishes. I’ve listened to the album all week, in the car, at my desk, as I lay down for bed.
Overall, there’s not much bad I can say about a film I enjoyed so much. Maybe there could have been more music in the film’s second half, as Buck and Lee abandon musical performances for a substantial bit of runtime, but you can only move the story so much through these types of performances before it becomes overbearing.
The first hour of the film is among the most fun I’ve had in the theater all year, and the movie just keeps on ticking as it nears its heartwarming climax. Those who have seen it will understand best what I mean by that, but suffice to say, it’s quite touching.
Pardon the pun, but Frozen is a real snow-stopper.
Grade: ★★★★½ out of ★★★★★
MPAA Rating: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Runtime: 102 minutes