Last year was an embarrassment of riches in terms of the animation film game. With Paranorman, Frankenweenie, Wreck-It-Ralph and even Rise of the Guardians bringing engaging and fresh stories to the genre, films this year had tough acts to follow. While Monsters University kept that momentum this summer, FROZEN, the newest Disney contribution directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, falls a bit short.
It's not because the film is sub par. Actually, it's quite lovely. It's just not particularly new. The story centers on Anna (voiced by an effervescent Kristen Bell), an energetic and hopeful teen who tries not to let the fact that she's been confined inside a castle much of her life ruin her joyful outlook. Her older sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has been blessed/cursed with the ability to turn everything and everyone she touches to ice. Their parents lock Elsa away in her bedroom so that she can't harm anyone (including her sister, who's unaware of Elsa's true predicament). They have also to some extent shielded Anna from the outside world, too (though she yearns for the endearing sisterly bond she once had).
Anna dances around her gigantic home with tin soldiers and other inanimate objects just to pass the day, singing beautiful tunes that warm your heart, while her sister sulks in her bedroom. The two have a number of harmonious duets (from opposite sides of Elsa's bedroom door) that capture the dichotomy of their points of view. And the photography! Oh the photography, the sheer eye candy of it, is breathtaking. When Elsa's "gifts" are later exposed in grandiose fashion, she inadvertently transforms their beloved town into a bitter--but pretty--winter wonderland, but the townsfolk turn against her. Throughout Elsa's ordeal and subsequent exile to a faraway self-made ice castle, she discovers--with her sister's help and perseverance--that while she is the ice queen, her heart is indeed warm.
The story, inspired by The Snow Queen, published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845, is typical Disney fare, but traditional Disney (from, like, 1965). It doesn't attempt to reinvent the rules of animated stories--especially with its all too customary princely helper and magical kiss that solves everything (though the latter has a slightly updated effect here--yet with the same outcome). Maybe I'm just tired of the prince and princess trope, maybe I've been spoiled by the many more original tales we've seen over the last few years, but the film overall just left me very...blah. It's safe and virtually derivative in its familiar format.
Where Menzel shines most, however, is in her musical performance. When she is singing, she is confidant, radiant and completely commands the screen. But, she's not always singing, so when she's dialogue acting, it's like...bring back Anna, please.
Is FROZEN a another Disney classic? Eh, not really. I doubt many people will remember it next year. But its gorgeous, postcard-pretty animation will delight audiences of any age. Plus, Bell's performance, and how it teaches the power of the sisterly bond, will keep a smile on your face. See it on the big screen to get the full effect.
Rating: B- (*** out of *****)
FROZEN is in theaters November 27th.