Rating: W W W W
Disney’s latest animated feature, “Frozen,” is a blessed, inspired rejection of the princess culture the House of Mouse gleefully (and profitably) endorses. Little girls can watch “Frozen” and admire its protagonists beyond their looks and wardrobe while having a great time. And that goes for adults, who can postpone their “these punk kids today” speech for a little while longer.
“Frozen,” inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” brings us back to the long ago, where royal sisters Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) enjoy Elsa’s power to summon ice, snow, and other wintry effects. But as Elsa gets older, her magic gets stronger. After Elsa nearly kills Anna, who survives without memory of the incident, things change. Elsa, whose motto is “conceal, don’t feel,” goes into seclusion, barely seeing her frustrated younger sister, let alone the outside world.
Years pass. Elsa and Anna’s parents die at sea, so Elsa becomes queen. The coronation is barely over when an argument with Anna causes her to go all X-Men. Scared and confused, she runs away, leaving the kingdom of Arendelle in permanent deep freeze. Anna pursues her, eventually getting help from hunky ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and tiny talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad, used sparingly and effectively).
“Frozen” has the usual hallmarks associated with popular, family-friendly animated films, right down to the goofy sidekick and the thinly veiled love interest. There’s a big twist, though: Directors-writers Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee spend the bulk of the movie nimbly avoiding them while confidently espousing female independence.
Anna and Elsa aren’t looking to have their lives transformed by men. That’s something they, and anyone else for that matter, have to do on their own. (It’s no accident that one of the songs is called “Fixer Upper.”) By learning to accept her powers, Elsa accepts herself. In her big musical number, she literally sheds the pretty princess model, letting her hair down and bellowing about how “the cold never bothered me anyway.” Anna, for her part, is an active participant in chasing Elsa, and she actually saves the strapping Kristoff from a deadly fate.
The girls aren’t waiting for a rescue. And the biggest enemy here is Elsa’s shattered self-image, which has destroyed her once-loving relationship with Anna. “Frozen” is a sisterly love story, and the ingenious, refreshing approach is never rubbed in our faces. Lee and Buck incorporate these feelings into a jaunty, spirited affair that is briskly paced and brimming with energy. The songs are uniformly catchy so expect, without notice, to bellow “In the first time in forever!” aloud for a few days afterward. And the voice work is excellent, with Bell displaying a singing ability that rivals Broadway pro Menzel.
The most rewarding aspect about “Frozen” is how it urges girls to define themselves not by tiaras or by grabbing the attention of a handsome savior, but by looking within. “Frozen” is a movie for the modern girl—or the one who’s too young to see “The Hunger Games”—that should have been in vogue years ago. Better late than never.
- For more of Pete’s cinematic musings, please follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.