First, credit where it’s due. Hats off to the Disney marketing team.
For the past few months they have successfully installed a keen sense of anticipation for their new animated adventure Frozen with articles, posters and teaser trailers but without ever telling us a thing about it. What a surprise, then, to find that Frozen isn’t simply a well-timed animated adventure for the oncoming winter in snow, it’s a giant, widescreen, full-blown Broadway standard musical based on a classic fairy tale. In the way that Rapunzel became Tangled, The Snow Queen is now Frozen, and it’s exhilarating.
The base story from the Hans Christian Anderson tale is changed somewhat. Here in the Scandinavian land of Arendelle two young girls, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), both princesses living in the royal palace, are more than sisters; they’re the best of friends. “The sky’s awake,” declares the excitable Anna as she begs her sister to get out of bed and play, “So I’m awake!” It’s during the following moments when a single event will alter the course of their lives, and not for the better.
The older sister, Elsa, has a magic ability to create ice and snow at will, but it’s a secret. When the two girls privately play in Elsa’s newly created ice land, an accident causes the younger sister, Anna, to be almost fatally struck in the heart with ice. What was a gift to the older sister has become a curse.
The childhood scenes are essentially the prologue. What follows next is the setup. Time passes for the Royal family of Arendelle. After the king and queen are lost at sea in a spectacularly animated sequence, it follows that on a summer’s day in July, Elsa is crowned queen, but what begins as a day of celebration for the kingdom becomes tragic. A sequence of events results with Elsa becoming emotional and losing control of her secret powers. In the way that Stephen King’s Carrie lets rip her telekinesis when upset, Elsa does the same, but with snow and ice. The castle becomes frozen, July turns into a blustery, snow laden winter, and Elsa runs from her royal duties and hides herself away in tall tower of ice up in the mountains. She essentially banishes herself from her own kingdom. “The cold never bothered me, anyway,” she sings as she seals herself off from the world.
There’s no doubt, the computer generated animation is outstanding. Quite soon, there’ll be a time with this sort of excellence will be common in all animated features – the industry is practically there already – but for right now, the animation in Frozen is as creatively inspiring and eye-popping as it gets. Clearly, what an animator can now achieve is limited only by his own imagination. The image of Elsa running away across the water, the surface freezing as she goes, is startling in its visual creativity, as is almost everything else. The creation of Elsa’s palace with its reflective walls of thick ice and oversized, pointy icicles are reminiscent of the interior of Superman’s arctic hideaway but with a more fairy tale quality to its design.
From the opening song where the two young sisters sing, Do You Want to Build a Snowman? you immediately recognize that the score by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez is not going to consist of simple though catchy pop tunes, this is Broadway. Idina Menzel, now something of a Broadway veteran after Rent and Wicked, is a perfect choice to voice Elsa, while Kristen Bell does some of her finest, big screen work as the younger sister, Anna. When they sing a duet, For the First Time in Forever, it’s a moment of pure, sublime pleasure, voices blending perfectly to an inspiring melody worthy of an emotionally delivered live performance on any Broadway or West End stage.
It’s also funny. Alan Tudyk comically voices the main bad guy, the Duke of Weselton, mispronounced as Weasletown by everyone else, who declares openly in front of the castle before entering for Elsa’s coronation, “Open your gates so I can exploit your riches.” He then stops himself, but adds in a quieter tone: “Did I just say that out loud?”
There’s also Olaf the talking snowman (another Broadway actor, Josh Gad who scored so big in The Book of Mormon) accidentally brought to life by Elsa’s magic who dreams of tropical locations and warm temperatures. His song In Summer is another musical highlight that only adds to the thought that if we wait about three years, Frozen will probably be playing live at the Minskoff in mid-town Manhattan with extra songs once The Lion King eventually closes, soon to be followed by a national tour.
The running time for Frozen is eighty-nine minutes, but the total running time of the show is slightly longer due to a cleverly creative Disney short called Get a Horse! What appears to be a classic thirties, black & white short, turns out to be a brand new supporting cartoon where early versions of Mickey, Minnie and the villainous Peg-leg Pete fall out of the screen onto the theatrical stage before them. It’s one of those rare times where the gimmicky appeal of 3D is used with great invention, the kind that would work at Florida’s Disney World as an exhibit illustrating the current state of the technology. This really is great entertainment.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 89 Minutes Overall Rating: 9 (out of 10)