Don’t look now, but the year’s best animated film didn’t come from reigning champ Pixar or even perennial rival DreamWorks Animation.
Instead, it’s the patriarch of the genre, Walt Disney Pictures, which reclaims its throne with Frozen, a charming effort that successfully combines gorgeous modern animation with the retro feel of a Disney classic. There’s memorable characters, helpful animal sidekicks, dancing and singing. It couldn’t be a vintage Disney film without a slew of musical numbers, but they’re so well done it’s not disruptive to the overall story.
While the trailers would lead you to think the film is about a snowman come to life and befriending a mountain man and his reindeer companion, it’s actually a far more interesting tale of two sisters trying to repair their relationship.
Growing up, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) were inseparable, but as Elsa’s power to create and manipulate ice and snow became more and more unmanageable, she was forced to spend years in near isolation. And while she rarely sees Elsa anymore, Anna faithfully keeps trying to get her BFF back.
Once she’s of age, Elsa is set to become queen. During the coronation ceremony, Anna falls for the dashing and dreamy Hans (Santino Fontana), setting off a chain of events that leads to Elsa’s powers being revealed to everyone, fleeing in shame and unwittingly plunging the kingdom in a crippling blizzard.
Not willing to as easily write Elsa off as a monster like the rest of the kingdom, Anna races off after her but without powers of her own, she teams up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer, Sven, and a helpful snowman, Olaf, that resembles one of Elsa’s childhood creations. But will even that foursome be able to restore the kingdom and save Elsa?
Co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck juggle all the elements necessary to make a great Disney film from having just the right amount of songs to some action bits and some big laughs.
The visuals are some seriously stunning eye candy featuring stellar character designs, background settings and effects. There’s a depth to the animation that makes it more immersive than the now commonplace computer animated style without the need for 3D.
Frozen succeeds on all the levels that Brave, Pixar’s first film with a female lead, failed. While “Brave” featured more of a bratty heroine, Anna is instantly likable and relatable. Anna has depth we don’t find in the typical perfect Disney princesses, which is ironic since Anna’s one of the few Disney females that actually is a princess. She’s awkward and a bit of a klutz, but she’s also fearless and brave.
Lee also pulled double duty and wrote the script, which provides an exceptionally fleshed-out and well-developed protagonist. Lee doesn’t go to some extreme of making Hans or Kristoff goofs that needs saving from an empowered Anna, who could care less about being in love. Sure, Anna wants to be with that person that makes her heart skip a beat, but she won’t desert Elsa in her time of crisis — not even for Prince Charming himself. It’s a nice message for audiences of all ages of the importance of family.
Kids aren’t exactly the most discerning audience members and adults deserve merit badges for enduring some animated films, but Frozen is like a refreshing blast from the past with a modern touch. Even if you’ve already sat through every other animated film this year and feel like you can’t possibly do another one, you’ll easily warm up to Frozen. Don’t miss it.