Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad
Directed by: Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (debut)
Written by: Chris Buck (“Surf’s Up”) and Jennifer Lee (“Wreck-It Ralph”)
The late Howard Ashman, lyricist behind the songs in such contemporary Disney classics as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” had a deceptively simple formula for building the backbone of a movie musical. Paraphrasing from the documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” Ashman’s Broadway-honed process involved writing four or five show-stopping songs first with the story strung in between. While it doesn’t make for terribly original storytelling, the songs were powerful and memorable enough to push through their rather basic fairytale trappings.
“Frozen” begins with two young princesses, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), sneaking out of bed for some late-night frolicking in the castle. There’s something special about the sisters’ playtime, though: Elsa has the power to create ice and snow from her fingertips, and turns a ballroom into a winter wonderland. When an accident caused by Elsa’s powers nearly kills Anna, the girls’ parents lock Elsa away from Anna. The years pass and as Elsa is set to ascend to the throne as queen, incidents at her coronation lead Elsa to lose control and cast the kingdom into a never-ending winter.
Brassy and beautiful, “Frozen” resurrects the Disney animated musical, a genre left for dead when the quality waned and upstarts like Pixar and Dreamworks started pumping out clever, computer-generated cartoons that didn’t rely on cornball songs shoehorned in every 10 minutes or so. While the marketing may overly-emphasize the lovably goofy magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad in an incredibly endearing performance), this is first and foremost a Broadway-bred fairytale told with soaring songs and crystalline CGI beauty. The romantic in me decries the demise of traditional 2D animation, but the frosty landscape rendered digitally here wouldn’t have been nearly as jaw-dropping had they been rendered in old-school ink and paint.
“Frozen” is a polished and exhilarating film, and Disney is surely hard at work lining up the characters for wintertime theme park takeovers from now through the next century. Get used to it, everyone: the Mouse House is back in the game of churning out instant classics.