November 27, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Frozen”


FROZEN:  Buy A Ticket – Your Grin Won’t Melt Until It’s Time to Leave

A curious shift has been occurring at Disney over the past few years.  Glamor child Pixar has been churning out second-hand blockbusters like Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University, while the comparatively overlooked Disney Animation unit (both are overseen by John Lasseter, although the conventional wisdom is that he’s more involved creatively at Pixar) has been killing it with Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and now the new FROZEN, which is about as delightful a family entertainment as one could wish for a holiday season, a thoroughly traditional yet gently subversive collection of strong characters, tuneful songs and sublime visuals.

Taking off from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Frozen is the story of two sister princesses.  Anna (voiced once she grows up by Kristen Bell) is spunky and good-hearted, as “normal” as a Disney princess can be.  Her older sister, the crown princess Elsa (Idina Menzel), though, isn’t normal at all.  She has the power, or the curse, of creating winter with her fingertips, shaping vast panoplies of snow and ice with a touch or just a gesture.  When they’re both children, Elsa unintentionally injures Anna because of her inability to control her powers, and even though some nearby trolls (headed by Ciaran Hinds) are able to save Anna, after that Elsa closes herself off, unwilling to take the risk of contact with her sibling, who for her part can’t understand what she did to lose her big sister’s affections.  Elsa is a sorceress but not evil, which is a different color for Disney; those searching for metaphors could see Elsa as the victim of ungovernable teen hormones.

Eventually, Elsa is forced to go out in public to be crowned as queen, and the result is disastrous, driving Elsa to flee the kingdom to create an icy palace of her own.  But she’s left her home in a state of eternal winter, and Anna goes off in pursuit of her sister.  Along the way, she encounters the usual Disney assortment of adorable non-humans:  a cute horse, a cuter reindeer and cutest of all, Olaf (Josh Gad), a seemingly indestructible living snowman created by Elsa who longs for a beachfront life.  There are also two potential romantic interests for Anna:  charming Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), and grumpy ice-salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who’s being put out of business by the kingdom’s sudden overabundance of his merchandise.  It’s not tough to figure out who will eventually win her heart, but as with the relationship between the sisters, the script of Frozen, written by co-director Jennifer Lee (from a story by Lee, fellow co-director Chris Buck and Shane Morris) doesn’t play out in exactly the way you’d expect, quietly disrupting our idea of the traditional Disney fairytale ending.  (Lee, incidentally, is the first woman to direct a feature in the history of Disney animation.)

Frozen, though, isn’t an academic exercise in political correctness or updatinging cartoon cliches–it’s thoroughly marvelous to watch and listen to.  Elsa’s magical powers allow Lee and Buck, and their team of animators, to create winter wonderland on a massive wide-screen scale, a constantly re-forming universe of structures and storms that are both exquisite and dangerous.  Just as delicious are the songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (he’s best known as co-writer of the songs for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and this tuneful and often quite funny collection will hold the show in good stead when it arrives for the Broadway production that Disney no doubt already has in the works.

Frozen isn’t brilliant in the way that the best Pixar productions have been–it’s ultimately a far more traditional piece of work than Toy Story and its sequels, or Up or WALL-E or The Incredibles.  But with Pixar a tick off its usual standard, this is a first-rate animation, fun, exciting, hummable and warm-hearted in a way that recalls classics like The Little Mermaid (also based on Hans Christian Andersen) and Beauty and the Beast.

Note:  the film is being shown in theatres with a terrifically inventive short directed by Lauren MacMullan called Get A Horse! that gives the Purple Rose of Cairo treatment to classic Mickey Mouse (voiced, through vintage recordings, by Walt Disney himself), and featuring especially ingenious use of 3D.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."