Ostensibly adapted (very, very loosely) from Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fairy tale The Snow Queen, Walt Disney Animation’s newest film, Frozen, dips into familiar territory. The movie tells the story of two sisters, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with the power to produce and manipulate ice, which she uses frequently to delight her younger sister. But after she accidentally injures Anna one night as they play, the girls’ parents urge Elsa to control and hide her power instead of exercising it. Elsa, fearful that she will somehow hurt Anna again, closes herself away, leaving Anna (whose memory of the event, and of Elsa’s powers, was magically removed afterwards) unable to understand what she did to drive her sister away.
When Elsa eventually takes the throne, opening the castle to the public for the first time in years, Anna is thrilled to finally discover the world outside its walls. On her first trip through the city, Anna meets Hans (Santino Fontana), a handsome prince from another land, and the two immediately fall in love. After the coronation, Anna asks for Elsa’s blessing for the marriage, but Elsa, upset at Anna’s recklessness and haste, forbids it. Anna and Elsa argue, which causes Elsa to lose control of her powers, unleashing an eternal winter in the kingdom. As Elsa flees into the mountains, seeking solitude away from her responsibilities, Anna goes after her, enlisting the help of an ice harvester, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman that Elsa inadvertently brought to life on her way up the mountain. But bringing the Snow Queen down from the mountain is going to be a much harder job than Anna could ever anticipate.
Disney’s return to the fairy-tale well (after 2010’s Tangled) is an enchanting film, marked by a well-composed storyline, a phenomenal soundtrack, and unfailingly beautiful animation. Simply put, Frozen is a monumentally gorgeous film, with some of the most detailed and skillfully-rendered scenes Disney has produced in years. The way in which the animators use light in reflecting off the icy surfaces throughout the movie is stunning; I found myself particularly admiring the intricate design of Elsa’s snow palace.
The vocal performances are top-notch, with especially effective work by leading ladies Bell and Menzel. Menzel, the powerhouse vocalist behind such Broadway smashes as Rent and Wicked, is a brilliant singer, as one might anticipate, but Bell’s lovely singing lilt is a pleasant surprise, matching Menzel’s belting almost note-for-note. Indeed, Bell is the veritable VIP of the cast here, bringing a lovable, welcome goofiness to her character; who would’ve thought that a storied “Disney Princess” could ever make a joke about being “gassy” and that it would come off as utterly charming? As for Menzel and Bell’s male counterparts, Gad makes for engaging comic relief, and though Groff—a Broadway veteran perhaps best known for his role on the series Glee—is not given a real chance to show off his singing prowess, he brings an appealingly gruff warmth to the role of unlikely hero.
More than anything, Frozen feels like a true return to the style of those movies from the early Disney Renaissance period, where the Broadway stylings of the music play a vital role in moving the story along. Frozen boasts the best Disney soundtrack in ages, with catchy songs, lovely melodies, and thoughtful lyrics, all masterminded by husband-and-wife songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and composer Christophe Beck. The highlight of the soundtrack is “Let It Go,” a stirring ballad that showcases Menzel’s impressive vocal talents to full effect (and will almost certainly garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Song). It is closely matched by the emotional heft of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, Anna’s heartbreaking plea to Elsa to come out of hiding and play (as the song spans Anna and Elsa’s youth, Bell shares vocals with two younger singers—Agatha Lee Monn and Katie Lopez, daughter of the songwriters—as it moves through the years). The other tunes on the soundtrack don’t quite reach the ethereal heights of these two, but they are universally enjoyable nonetheless; the most notable among these being the sweet Bell-Menzel duet “For the First Time in Forever” and Olaf’s naïve ode to warmer weather with “In Summer.”
Honestly, next to Tangled (which boasts its own musical strengths), I haven’t enjoyed a Disney feature this much in years. This is one that adults will love just as much as the kids. Don’t miss it while it’s in theaters. I strongly recommend catching it in 3D so as to fully appreciate all of the elaborate beauty the film has to offer.
If the promise of Frozen’s panoramic snow-and-ice vistas isn’t enough to persuade you to see this one in 3D, perhaps the innovative accompanying animated short, Get a Horse!, will convince you. This clever cartoon, the brainchild of longtime animation director Lauren MacMullen, is worth the price of admission alone. A creative mix of old and new, Get a Horse! pays homage to Mickey’s storied origins while bringing him (literally) swinging into fresh, modern life.
The cartoon is styled as a classic black-and-white Disney short of old, complete with the traditional Mickey title card. Continuing that theme, Get a Horse! utilizes the same kind of manic, elastic screwball gags and “rubber hose” character design that highlighted those early Disney shorts. There are a number of callbacks to the Disney shorts of old: the strains of Mickey’s early theme song, “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo;” familiar characters of old like Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and Peg-Leg Pete (embodying his old pre-sanitized villainous persona); even the use of Walt Disney’s voice for Mickey (taken from old recordings and shorts in which Disney played the mouse). As the cartoon continues, however, the classic is blended beautifully with the modern as Mickey finds himself thrust into a strange new world.
To say anything more would give away some of the wonderful surprises this cartoon has in store. So get thee to a theater and see it for yourself. And I can’t stress it enough: like the film that follows it, Get a Horse! is a must-see in 3D.