The buzz around Disney Animation’s latest animated musical that features a princess as its protagonist, Frozen, is that it’s the strongest work the studio has done since their most recent golden age, when they were releasing first rate work like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. While that might be a little bit of a stretch, seeing as their recent releases Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph have actually been pretty respectable cartoons and Frozen doesn’t quite reach the heights of the new classics from the 90s, it’s not hard to see where all of that praise is coming from. Whereas Tangled did quite a bit to separate itself from the sappiness of the established Disney brand and Wreck-It Ralph felt more like a Pixar production than something from the parent company, Frozen very much fits into the classic Disney mold, and it experiences a heck of a lot more success while sticking to the formula than anything else we’ve seen in a good fifteen years.
The story actually focuses on two princesses this time, though one of them is the real main character and the other one is mostly the plot element that puts the story into motion. The older sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), is the plot point. She was born with an out-of-control mystical power that allows her to create ice and snow, a power that led to her being locked in her bedroom for most of her life so that she wouldn’t hurt anyone with her ability or be labeled a freak of nature. The younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), is the protagonist. She was injured by her sister’s powers when they were young, a trauma that has been erased from her memory, so she isn’t privy to why Elsa has spent the last however many years locked up in her room and refusing contact with anyone. The growing tension between the estranged sisters eventually comes to a head when, on Elsa’s 18th birthday, she’s forced into the public eye while being crowned the new Queen, and her little sister’s impetuousness pushes her emotions so far that her powers spin out of control and she puts her entire kingdom into a state of eternal winter. An adventure where Elsa goes into seclusion in a mountaintop ice castle and Anna (with the help of a schlub voiced by Jonathan Groff, a reindeer, and a talking snowman voiced by Josh Gad) attempts to reach her citadel and convince her to break the mystical curse follows, with action and danger lurking around every ice-crusted corner.
Though Frozen is structured like your typical Disney Princess story, Anna is pretty far from the sort of character you’d think of as your typical princess, and that’s where the film degenerates into a bit of clunkiness. Co-writers/directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s script goes overboard when it comes to subverting the Disney Princess expectations. Anna is portrayed so thoroughly as being a regular girl (complete with bad morning hair and chocolate cravings), and the path her story takes so thoroughly subverts the notion that the main goal of a woman’s life should be experiencing romance, that it all plays as being too self-aware and PC. Really though, if your biggest complaint about a movie is that it’s trying too hard to be modern and smart, then you should count your blessings. Frozen is such a fun and palatable bit of entertainment, whose heart is so much in the right place, that if you take someone to see it and they walk away not liking it, chances are you went to the movies with a real jerk. You should fix that.