(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: You might not notice it, but FROZEN has a more complex and interesting plot than most Disney animation films do. The chief conflict is between two sister princesses who love each other even as they do conflict. The real villains in this tale are not people but Elsa's (super-)power to freeze with a touch and her indecision as to how to use the power. Younger sister Anna searches for Elsa to have her remove the curse of year-round cold winter weather from their kingdom. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

A few animated Disney Studio films grab the public's interest and can be the basis of merchandising and being adapted into live musicals on Broadway. Notably there was BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LION KING. At first brush FROZEN could well be headed for Broadway with at least a few good songs. Some of the songs definitely have a Broadway feel.

Nominally at least, Disney Studios is back supposedly basing films on Hans Christian Anderson stories, though there is little of the original story left. There is a lot going on in FROZEN but at the front is the sister relationship. Elsa and her younger sister Anna (voiced as adults by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell) are princesses of the northerly kingdom of Arendelle. As a child Elsa discovers to her horror that she has a Midas-like touch, but what she touches turns to ice. She wears gloves to avoid touching anything directly. To keep her powers a secret and to avoid accidents, Elsa hides away in her room and refuses to see anyone including her sister, a behavior that breaks Anna's heart. So it goes for several years. Meanwhile Elsa has to decide is she proud of her powers or frightened. Are the powers good or bad? Should she hide her powers or show the world who she is?

Three years pass. The king and queen are dead and Elsa is to be crowned the new queen of Arendelle. And if that were not exciting enough for Anna, who still loves her sister, she meets handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and with love at first sight the two decide on the spot to marry.

But things are going just too well to last. Elsa, now queen of Arendelle, refuses to let Anna marry a man she barely knows. In the ensuing disagreement Elsa accidentally lets loose her freezing powers. The kingdom is horrified and during the chaos that follows Elsa accidentally dooms the kingdom to the curse of eternal winter. She flees to the North Mountain. There she finds how to use her powers to build for herself an ice palace. Soon after Anna sets out to find her sister and to get the curse lifted. On the way Ana picks up a traveling companion, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a burly ice cutter, and his comical reindeer sidekick Sven. And if one comical sidekick is not enough there is also the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) who longs to be a warm-weather snowman. Kristoff brings in another complication. How does Anna feel about Kristoff, given that she is still in love with Prince Hans?

I cannot remember a Disney musical about two sisters before this. Sister relationships are unusual in general. And almost as a tradition in the first song the main character tells why she or he is unhappy. ("There must be more than this provincial life" or "I just can't wait to be king."). This film's first song after some native chanting asks the question "Do you want to build a snowman?" It seems to have escaped that device, but between the lines the song is about how Anna misses her sister.

The days of shoddy animation are gone, at least at Disney. This film is straight Disney animation, not Pixar, but the images feel three-dimensional and particularly in the song sequences it really has the effect that the image really is singing. I am not sound expert enough to explain it, perhaps there is a slight echo, but one feels more that the song is performed on a stage in a way it did not in, say, SLEEPING BEAUTY. Considering it is a Disney musical, it may well come from a stage soon.

There are some things not very logical that the script asks us to go with. Anna knows her sister can create ice with her touch, but she has no reason to believe her sister can remove ice and turn the winter of Arendelle back into summer. It is just we have to accept the magic I suppose, but Elsa can avoid touching things and turning them to ice by wearing gloves. What stops her gloves and her clothing from freezing? And my pet peeve, with the notable exceptions of the films NEVER CRY WOLF and THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN, wolves are always ravening menaces in Disney films. Real wolves are rarely a direct threat to humans. Real-world wolves seem to think/know that attacking humans entails more risk than reward.

The film somewhat loses some of its interest in the second half as fewer new ideas are introduced to the mix. Part of the problem is that this film needed Olaf the snowman about as much as STAR WARS needed Jar Jar Binks, and for much the same reason.

FROZEN is just about as intelligent as Disney musicals get. Both Elsa and Anna are well-developed characters and story has some nice complexities. This film is much more than children's entertainment, though it is that too. I rate FROZEN a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper