It's taken the Walt Disney Company more than 70 years to bring Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" to the big screen. Originally conceived by Walt himself in the studio's post-war period, it was eventually attempted (and canceled) at least a half-dozen times in the decades that followed, taking a number of different permutations (including, briefly, a Disneyland attraction and a potential Pixar film).
But now it's here. And it was worth the wait.
The story of Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), two characters from a vaguely Scandinavian storybook kingdom who find themselves locked into an eternal winter after Elsa unwittingly unleashes her frosty powers (in glorious 3D, no less).
Of course, the question is: Does "Frozen" recapture the classic Disney magic, or is doomed to go the way of "Home on the Range" or "Atlantis: The Lost Empire?" Read on to find out!
1. It's Very Different From "Wreck-It Ralph"
Last year's Disney Animation offering was "Wreck-It Ralph," a rosily nostalgic movie that harkened back to the arcade games of yore, with a knowing, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"-style smart-aleck sensibility. The movie was a hit critically and commercially, and was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, which it should have won. "Frozen" is nothing like this. It's what we would identify as more "classically Disney," a tale of fairy tales, plucky sidekicks, and wicked curses. If you're going into "Frozen" thinking it will be irreverent and spiky like "Wreck-It Ralph," you will be sorely mistaken. Also: there are musical numbers.
2. It's Better Than 'Tangled'
The last time Disney Feature Animation did the fairy tale thing, we wound up with "Tangled," a movie that was not without its charms but often felt like a labored attempt at recapturing that fabled Disney magic. With "Frozen," they've refined their approach and the results are absolutely jaw-dropping. It feels like a movie that could have been released alongside "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast" during the "Disney Renaissance" of the late '80s and early '90s, full of color and vibrant life. If "Tangled" was a "good try," then this is a "roaring success."
3. The Female Characters Are Amazingly Strong
One of the many wonderful surprises of "Frozen" (more on those in a minute) is how strong the female characters are. For all of the praised heaped on Pixar's "Brave," this feels much more like an emboldened, empowered feminist fairy tale. Elsa might ostensibly be a "witch," just in the sense that she has magical powers and is responsible for the wintery whiteout, but she's never characterized as a villain, and her big musical number, "Let It Go," is her assuming her powers in a really positive way. It's really refreshing to see an animated film anchored by two strong women, who while technically are "princesses," don't act like fussed-over royalty (Anna is determined to stop Elsa's spell and teams up with a rugged mountain man to get the job done). And while there is a romantic strain in the film, it's definitely not your typical Disney romance.
4.A Snowman Will Melt Your Heart
"Frozen" features one of the all-time great sidekicks in Olaf, a chatty snowman that Elsa and Anna build as children, who magically springs to life once her spell is cast. He's wonderful and warm-hearted, a hilarious center to a movie that could have been awfully glum with all that snow. As voiced by Josh Gad, he's a snowman who is happy to help in any way he can, and dreams of a time when winter is over and the summer returns (unaware that the summer will turn him into a lumpy puddle). He also gets one of the best musical numbers with "In Summer," an upbeat ode to the pleasures of warm weather.
5.The Songs Are the Strongest Since Disney's Menken/Ashman Heyday
Speaking of the songs, they're probably the strongest Disney tunes since the Disney Renaissance heyday, when lyricist Howard Ashman (who lost his battle to AIDS shortly after "Beauty and the Beast" was released) and composer Alan Menken were cooking up songs that you had to forcibly remove from your noggin. This time, the songs were composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the husband-and-wife team who wrote the tunes for "Winnie the Pooh" and the "Finding Nemo" musical at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, and they turn in some really unforgettable ditties. From the opening number, "Frozen Heart," to the stirring "Let It Go" (a surefire Oscar nominee), they really know where the songs go and what emotions should be conveyed. There's even a wonderful "Kiss the Girl"-type courtship song, but that's one of the movie's best surprises, so we'll just keep quiet. You'll be singing these songs for days. Seriously.
6. There Are Twists Galore
There are a bunch of unexpected twists and turns in "Frozen." But to detail them would probably get me locked inside that jail underneath Spaceship Earth from "Escape From Tomorrow." So we'll move along now...
7. You've Never Seen Snow Like This
At a recent guild screening of the film that I hosted, I told co-director Jennifer Lee that the snow that piles up around the castle reminded me of "The Shining." She said that they didn't actually have any filmic reference points for the snow and were really trying to do something new. And you can tell. The snow fills both atmospheric and emotional duties, giving the images weight and also telling the story of Elsa's psychological state. It's a sight to behold.
8.It's Yet Another 3D-Essential Experience
Like "Gravity" and "Metallica: Through the Never," "Frozen" is another movie that demands to be seen in 3D. The flakes of snow are absolutely brilliant in 3D, and there are some moments that really pop with the added dimension (I've seen it both ways at this point and the 3D version was infinitely more satisfying). It's hard to justify spending another $3 on glasses that you'll never use again, but this time it's worth it.
9. The Disney Short Played Before the Movie Will Blow Your Mind (Be on Time!)
There's a Mickey Mouse short before "Frozen" called "Get a Horse" that is worth the price of admission alone. It's brilliant, featuring Walt Disney's voice for the character. And that's about all I can say without spoiling it. Just be there on time. You'll thank me later.
10. It Will Remind You of the Norway Ride at EPCOT Center
Anyone who has ever been on the Norway ride at EPCOT Center will instantly feel a sense of kinship with "Frozen." There are a lot of things that are represented in both the ride and the movie, and Disney is (of course) offering "Frozen"-themed vacation packages to Norway. Because, obviously, if you're going to Norway, you might as well take a little Disney magic with you.