Not just one but two — two! — plucky princesses pluck their way through troubles created by magic and schemers in Frozen, a beautiful but meh Disney animated feature.
Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are sister princesses who live tucked away in a castle, unseen by the world since their childhoods. Since the death of their parents, the girls have lived a particularly lonely existence, especially Anna, who doesn’t understand why Elsa, once a constant companion, now mostly avoids her. What we know is that in childhood, Elsa, who has magical snow-making, freezing-stuff powers, accidentally froze Anna. Trolls unfroze her and took Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers, leaving her only with a sense that her sister used to be fun and a white streak in her otherwise red hair. For her part, Elsa was given a pair of gloves and told to lock her powers and her feelings deep down inside.
Yeah, that usually works.
On the day of her sister’s coronation as queen, Anna is delighted to open the castle gates and meet people — maybe even a boy! Elsa is terrified that she will freeze things. And, indeed, Anna does meet a boy, the handsome Hans (Santino Fontana), and Elsa does accidentally freeze things. Soon, Elsa is running for the hills and accidentally throwing the kingdom into an eternal winter and Anna is hurrying after her to offer, er, hugs or something. In a quest to find her sister and save the kingdom, Anna meets up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an ice salesman who talks more to his reindeer Sven and to his adopted family of trolls than to humans, and with Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman Elsa made and brought to life during her declaration-of-intent song.
Frozen is beautiful. I saw the movie in 2-D and even so the animation is rounded and three-dimensional with visible strands of fur on the reindeer and sparkles on the snowflakes. I found myself marveling at the sisters’ hair — during her “gotta be me” moments, Elsa’s neatly pinned back hair breaks free and she goes from looking like, well, like a fairy tale princess to a Nashville performer, with thick, wavy hair pulled back in a braid and a sparkly cape, like she’s trying out her costumes for a run in Vegas. I was mesmerized — not particularly moved by her song or whatever was happening with her character, but totally mesmerized. Likewise, watching Anna sing and dance and trip around the castle grounds as she prepared for her sister’s coronation, I thought “what a pretty, plucky girl” and “yes, I think I would be OK, child-development-wise, buying an Anna doll for my daughter; she represents girl-positive things.” Was the song any good, you ask? At the time I thought it was fine, but within moments of leaving the theater, I couldn’t remember a one of the tunes sung herein. They’re sweet and funny and completely forgettable.
And as go the songs, so goes the movie. As a parent and consumer of Disney goods, I like the things this movie is doing but perhaps the reasons I like it contribute to the reasons the movie doesn’t ultimately feel like an instant classic. The central relationship here is between the sisters, and the romance actually has some good lessons about inner and outer beauty. The central actor is Anna, a plucky can-do girl, and the central villain isn’t really Elsa but all the people who misunderstand her or are using people’s fear of her for their own gain. There’s a lot of “be yourself” happening here as well. So “yay!” I guess, except the resulting movie feels a lot more like good marketing than a good story.
Frozen is completely fine kids’ entertainment — pretty as a picture book with decent enough songs and characters you can feel good about. But it never shows the heart or the complexity to be something more than a long commercial aimed squarely at the wallets of skeptical princess-toy-buying parents. B-
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee with a screenplay by Jennifer Lee and a story by Lee, Buck and Shane Morris (inspired by “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson), Frozen is an hour and 48 minutes long and distributed by Disney.
Appeared in the Dec. 5, 2013 issue of the Hippo