There is no denying that the late 1980s and ‘90s was Disney’s animated heyday. From The Little Mermaid in 1989 to Hercules in 1997, Disney released some of the most important and well-received animated films of all-time. They truly helped shape a generation, and have influenced virtually every animated film since. It was clear, though, that once Buzz Lightyear and Woody hit the scene in 1995 in Toy Story, Pixar had arrived to take over the animated game, and they haven’t really looked back ever since (not that Disney minds anymore, of course, since Pixar is now “Disney Pixar”).
Once Wreck-It Ralph hit last year, it was clear that Disney was ready to challenge Pixar for the top animated slot each year. I adore Wreck-It Ralph, but it is nothing like the Disney classics Pocahontas or The Little Mermaid. With the release of Frozen, though, Disney plays it old school and reminds us why they were once the kings of the animation mountain. Frozen is a Disney princess film through and through, but it’s what it does differently that makes this one such an enjoyable ride.
In Frozen, we meet two sisters: Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). These two princesses start off very close, constantly playing with one another. Elsa, though, has a special power that she cannot quite control: she can turn anything and everything into snow and ice. In order to protect her younger sister, their parents decide that Elsa must keep her power a secret, and they lock her away in her room, isolating Elsa and making Anna wonder why her big sister ignores her. As the two get older, their parents die suddenly, leaving Elsa in line to become Queen of Arendelle. On the day of her coronation, Elsa becomes upset at Anna, and her power unleashes itself, freezing the entire town of Arendelle in ice. Anna then must set out on a journey to get her sister back, who has run away to the mountains, and thaw the town from her sister’s icy doings.
It takes a little while for Frozen to really take off. At any one point in the first twenty or so minutes, the story can branch off in a hundred different ways. This keeps the audience guessing, which is a theme that continues until the credits roll. Every time Frozen takes a different path than expected, it sinks its hooks deeper into the viewer, making them more and more enthralled in what is happening. Constantly taking unique paths is arguably Frozen’s greatest achievement.
There are times when one cannot help but know they are watching a Disney film, though, and this too is a positive because it happens whenever a new song starts up. There has been a lot of buzz about Idina Menzel’s rendition of “Let It Go”, and having now finally seen this song in action, I can see why: it is a beautiful, catchy song that begs to be sung along with. Aside from this one, though, I find that Anna’s songs really help to drive the plot forward, making them some of my favorites. Anna’s opener – “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” – is both catchy and heartbreaking, and I love every second of it. Then there is “Fixer Upper”, which is a blast simply because of the context of the song. Even the lesser songs, like Olaf’s “In Summer”, are entertaining because they fit the story perfectly. Though I would have loved to see more challenging moments like the duet in “For the First Time in Forever”, the song list for Frozen is one the most listenable from a Disney film in quite some time, and I love the film all the more because of it.
Aside from the beautiful, eye-grabbing animation that has come to be the norm nowadays (looking especially gorgeous on Blu-ray), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how shockingly strong the casting is in Frozen. I had no idea that Kristen Bell had such a powerful, leading lady type voice. I’d seen her in Burlesque, which she does a fine job in, but hearing her struck a chord with me that I didn’t expect. Outside of her songs, her Anna is perfectly naïve, curious, charming, and hilarious all at the same time.
Opposite her for most the film is Jonathan Groff as Kristoff. He plays this outsider role incredibly well, and it only takes about one minute of dialogue from his character before I fell in love with him. This is a key element to all of the characters: they’re all likeable in their own ways. Even Elsa, who I wanted to strangle at points, is a good person who just happens to be in a bad situation. This makes for a wonderful build to the climax, which takes things in yet another direction than I expected. Finally, Josh Gad as Olaf is brilliant. Olaf acts as the comic relief in the film, and he had me laughing so hard that I would miss the next lines on multiple occasions. Not only does Gad play the character very well, but the writing is also spot on.
If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. Frozen is an absolutely delectable treat. It is, at all times, cute, sweet, heartwarming, hilarious, beautiful, and intelligent. It feels like it is welcoming in a new era of the Disney princess, and sets the bar high for the next Disney animated film. The future of Disney is here, and somehow, they’ve managed to make this future look brighter than their diamond-studded past. Frozen is a must-own film that I’m sure I’ll be watching many times over in the years to come.