I'm a Disney Princess skeptic. As a kid, I loved all of the Disney movies, but as the princesses became a brand of their own, leading to seemingly ubiquitous merchandising, I started to find them tiring. This year, however, Disney created a princess movie so good I almost forgot it was about princesses.
Based loosely on "The Ice Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen tells the story of two sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), who grow up as royalty in the temperate kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has the magical ability to create ice and snow, a power that provides the girls with plenty of fun building snowmen and ice skating in the palace ballroom. When an accident threatens Anna's life, the king and queen decide to hide Elsa's magic from everyone so that her power doesn't become too dangerous. Years later, after their parents' tragic death, Elsa becomes the queen and has to decide how to rule while continuing to hide her magical powers. Before she can get very far, however, she and Anna have a fight at the coronation which accidentally exposes Elsa's secret. Elsa flees, leaving an eternal winter in her wake. It's up to Anna, with the help of an ice merchant, Kristoff (Jonathan Graff); his reindeer, Sven; and an adorable snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad) to find Elsa and bring her back. Meanwhile, Anna's fiance, Hans (Santino Fontana) is left in charge of the kingdom, a task he's a little too comfortable with.
I don't think I've loved an animated movie this much since I was a kid myself. Thanks to Kristen Bell's funny and endearing voiceover, inspiring and clever songs (including one in which a naive snowman waxes poetic about how great summer would be), and a nuanced message about love, Frozen was an all-around joyous movie-going experience. I was particularly impressed by the message of the film. It starts out looking like Frozen will follow the tired marriage plot that most Disney romances take. In the end, however, it instead celebrates true love in a variety of relationships--friendship, sisterhood, sacrificial love, and yes, some romance too. It's a positive message about putting other people's needs first that leaves each of its characters better off than when the story started, balancing personal power and strong relationships.
I also thought it was great to see a Disney movie with such a positive message for little girls. Rather than make the Ice Queen the villain, as she is in the original story, Frozen instead depicts her as a woman with powers that are both beautiful and dangerous, making her story about learning how to focus and harness power. Also, unlike other Disney princesses, Elsa is actually a ruler on her own, without a king or advisor who really pulls the strings. Still, there are also strong male characters, such as Kristoff, so the film shows men and women working together in a really positive way. All these empowering messages are wrapped up in great songs, exciting action scenes, and plenty of visual jokes worth giggling over. I think kids and their parents will both love the movie.
The characters are brought to life by a talented ensemble cast. Idina Menzel's singing is always amazing and it's a shame that Jonathan Graff only got one song of is own, but I was really impressed by Kristen Bell's voice acting. From her other TV work, I knew that she could deliver a wordy joke with her trademark mixture of sarcasm and a fairy princess-like voice, but her singing was also fantastic. As Olaff, Josh Gad manages to contribute a giddy optimism that somehow never feels too over-the-top or annoying.
Frozen is the kind of movie I find myself wanting to watch again and again. It's feel-good, but not corny, and the mixture of physical comedy and nuanced jokes (including references to fine art and Arrested Development) makes it the kind of film that will still deliver more fun on repeated viewings. For an empowering story, excellent songs, and a quirky sense of humor, but a plot that perhaps escalates too quickly, I rate Frozen 4.5/5 stars.
Frozen was written by Jennifer Lee and directed by Lee with Chris Buck. It runs 108 minutes and is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor (basically stuff to entertain adults that will probably go over kids' heads).