Although Disney’s films have long concerned themselves with princesses, Frozen is the studio’s first film with a woman in the director’s chair. Jennifer Lee, who also wrote the film, directs here alongside Chris Buck, in what turns out to be a thoroughly pleasant, if fairly formulaic, entry in Disney’s ever expanding canon.
The film was inspired by but is only loosely based upon The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, and stars Kristen Bell and Idrina Menzel as two sisters orphaned at a young age when their parents’ ship is lost to a stormy sea. Elsa (Menzel) is in possession of a strange power which grants her the ability to manipulate ice and snow; a power which, it turns out, she finds it difficult to control. This leads to an accident in her youth that almost claims younger sister Anna’s (Bell) life. As a result, Elsa isolates herself from society and people in general, and the bond that once linked the two inseparable sisters is, well, frozen. But years later, when Elsa comes of age, she must ascend to the throne and govern the kingdom, which means interaction with people. And that might not go so well.
Frozen begins well enough but doesn’t begin to really kick into gear until the castle’s gates are opened up, at which point the film can branch out and start to have fun. Anna’s adventure to reconcile with Elsa and save the kingdom plays out in a fairly standard fashion, but is never dull, particularly when, about midway through, we are introduced to Olaf (Josh Gad), a living snowman brought into being by Elsa’s powers. This film understands – as did the recent Disney film this most closely resembles, Tangled – how effective anthropomorphised creatures can be in adding spark into a family adventure, and Olaf – the snowman who amusingly longs for summer – certainly does that. As too does our hero Kristoff’s reindeer sidekick Sven, who, like comedy equine sidekick Maximus in Tangled, gets a fair few laughs.
The film’s soundtrack is composed by Christophe Beck, with original songs by husband-and-wife song writing team Robert Lopez and Kristen Andersen-Lopez. Again like Tangled, the songs aren’t all knockouts, but there is enough good stuff here, along with the film’s strong visual design, to give life to Frozen’s icy wastelands. The character designs may not be strikingly different to previous animated films, but it’s in the icy environments where Frozen does have a chance to differentiate itself from other animated fare, and it does so successfully, despite the fact that the 3D makes the film’s whites and pale blues look disappointingly dingy. On a couple of occasions I briefly removed the glasses and can confirm that the film is brighter and more vibrant without the stereoscopy.
Frozen is reminiscent of Tangled in a mostly positive sense, and while for me it didn’t quite reach the same level, it is certainly likely to entertain family audiences this holiday season. There is a compelling sibling relationship at its heart, and a lovable comedy creation in Olaf the talking snowman. Disney’s animation renaissance continues apace.