The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast. Aladdin. The Lion King. These animated musical classics were all released within a 5 year period (1989-1994) when Disney animation was at its high point. This fruitful period, known as the Disney Renaissance, continued until the end of the century and also included films such as Mulan (1998) and Tarzan (1999). However, during the mid 90’s, a little company named Pixar came along and blitzed the competition, experiencing a ridiculous run of critically and commercially successful films, including Toy Story (1995), Monsters Inc (2001) and Finding Nemo (2003). While still a Disney entity, Pixar became the pinnacle of animated films while non-Pixar Disney films took a real tumble. It wasn’t until the release of Tangled in 2010 when the traditional Disney animated musical made its comeback. The film was a huge hit for the studio, and rightly so; it was an immensely enjoyable film that contained catchy songs and had real heart. Three years later Disney has released another animated musical in the form of Frozen.
Sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are the princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has grown up with a magical ability that enables her to create ice and snow. A childhood accident caused the King and Queen to force Elsa to hide her powers, and she has spent many years alone in her room with no contact with her sister or the outside world. After inheriting the throne, Elsa accidentally sends Arendelle into an eternal winter and she flees into the mountains. It is up to Anna, with the help of ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and enchanted snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), to venture into the frozen wilderness to bring her sister home and save the kingdom.
Based on the fairytale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, Frozen tells an emotional story of the bond between two sisters, one of whom has been forced to hide her true self for years. The emotional journey that Elsa experiences throughout the film may go over the heads of younger viewers, but it is the true emotional heart of the film. The film-makers originally conceived Elsa as the film’s villain, but the clever decision was made to make her a sympathetic character. The film’s standout sequence occurs when Elsa is finally able to test the limit of her powers by creating an ice palace in the mountains. Her relief at being able to finally be her true self is incredibly moving. It doesn’t hurt that this sequence contains Idina Menzel’s spectacular performance of the film’s best song, ‘Let It Go’. The sequence stands among the greatest musical numbers in Disney’s history; a perfect marriage between character development and music. It will be a travesty if the song does not win this year’s Oscar for Best Original Song.
The cast is universally strong. Bell makes Anna a feisty heroine, perfectly portraying Anna’s desire to understand her sister. As previously mentioned, Menzel gives the best vocal performance of the film, closely followed by Josh Gad as the lovable Olaf. Operating as the cliché ‘sidekick’ character, Olaf is not overused and hence does not outstay his welcome. In a clever twist on the ‘talking animal sidekick’, the filmmakers have Kristoff holding imaginary conversations between himself and his pet reindeer Sven, with Kristoff providing both voices. While the script is generally brilliant, it might have been more interesting to allow Elsa to relish in her ice palace for a longer period of time. As it stands, the main bulk of the plot takes place over a few days, and a gap of a few years would have added more emotional distance between Elsa and Anna, making their eventual reunion more satisfying. The animation on display is flawless, as we have come to expect from modern animated films. The animation of Elsa’s ice palace is particularly impressive, as is all of the character animation. But the film never reaches a visual crescendo, and there is nothing on screen as impressive as the awe-inspiring lantern sequence in Tangled. The songs, by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are catchy and fun, and Christophe Beck’s score complements them perfectly.
Frozen caters for audiences of any age. Young viewers will love the songs and characters (particularly Olaf) and mature viewers will be touched by the themes of forgiveness and self-acceptance. Elsa’s journey to becoming comfortable with who she is, and Anna’s desire to support her, is a touching and mature development that brings incredible depth to what could have easily been a shallow children’s film. Disney has created another animated hit that sits comfortably among the ranks of the classics of the genre.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Frozen is in cinemas on Boxing Day, 26th December.