Beautiful. I scribbled this word in my notebook seven times as I watched Disney's latest princess adventure, 'Frozen.' Lots of other compliments can and will be paid to this profoundly wonderful film, but it is, above everything else, spectacularly beautiful.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Snow Queen,' 'Frozen' centers on sisters Elsa and Anna, princesses of the bustling Scandinavian-inspired kingdom of Arendelle. As children they were inseparable playmates, but a dark secret has put up a wall between older sister Elsa and the rambunctious little sister she is determined to protect. See, Elsa (Idina Menzel) was born with the ability to manifest snow and ice, but it's a power she can't always control. So, her well-intentioned but misguided parents teach her to conceal this side of herself, and in doing so turn their eldest into a lonely recluse who fears who she is.
Undaunted, the tenacious and spirited Anna (Kristen Bell) has hopes her sister's self-isolation will melt away once Elsa is made queen. But on that fateful day, this carefree and klutzy little sister sets off a chain of events that runs Elsa out of town and throws all of Arendelle into an eternal winter. Determined to save her home and her beloved sister, Anna sets out on a quest into the icy wilderness. Along the way, she meets a gruff woodsman (Jonathan Groff), his loyal reindeer, a talking snowman (Josh Gad) and many more magical creatures.
While there's plenty of adventure and rousing action sequences, 'Frozen' is at its core a story about sisterhood, love and self-discovery. The screenplay by Jennifer Lee is vibrant and clever, subverting old-fashioned princess tropes over more progressive messages about love and romance. From this solid base, she and co-director Chris Buck have constructed a dazzling and entertaining narrative that's filled to the brim with fun and heart.
The animation is luxurious, reveling in delicate details like filigrees of ice, droplets that light up willow trees like Christmas bulbs, and brightly colored costumes with textures like suede, silk, velvet and satin. This care to detail naturally extends to the movie's characters, whose physicality feels grounded in reality, yet heightened by Disney musical theatricality. And the vocal performances from the likes of Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, and Broadway stars like Idina Menzel, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff radiate with verve and wonder.
Bell's ardent enthusiasm plays perfectly against the tension-strained delivery of Menzel's conflicted Snow Queen. And Groff pulls double duty as the socially awkward woodsman Kristoff, who also speaks on behalf of his reindeer sidekick Sven. Personally, I worried the talking snowman Olaf (voiced by Broadway star Josh Gad) would be too kooky and one-note to be much more than obnoxious long term. But instead he is an irrepressible joy, spurring characters (and us) to hope and laugh even in the movie's darkest moments.
Ultimately, 'Frozen' is a total crowd-pleaser from start to finish. Its musical numbers kick off the film with an intoxicating energy, and carry it through with one toe-tapping tune after another. With some of Broadway's best performing them, these songs thrum with so much emotion that I can't wait to listen to them on a shamelessly endless loop. Most of these numbers deftly deliver character info or drive along the story, but they are so entertaining that the effect is seamless, never stalling the plot. Well, almost never. There is one number about "fixer upper" relationships that seems to fly in the face of many of the movie's themes as well as stopping its momentum cold. But this ditty is mercifully short.
But in spite of this minor flaw, I can't stress enough how fantastic 'Frozen' is. It's funny and moving, exciting and thought provoking. Moreover, it's such a pleasure to watch that it's sure to be a favorite for audiences of all ages. Better still, 'Frozen' is so deeply beautiful that it is sure to inspire children, artists and animators for generations to come.
'Frozen' opens in theaters on Nov. 27.