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Frozen (2013) Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel. Dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

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Frozen (2013)

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Frozen, the latest animated feature from Disney, is loosely inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. Disney of course, has a long history of fairy tale adaptations and this latest entry is an attempt to dip back into that classic well of Disney Princess movies that, judging from the box office over the last few months, has captivated a whole generation of young girls much the same way those earlier films did. What's even better is that this one has a more overtly feminist message about female power, familial love and sisterly bonding, one that tells kids and girls especially, that family is much more important than finding true love.

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That's a wonderful and well-intentioned message to depart, and the movie itself is a lot of fun, even if it doesn't quite reach the transcendent heights of past Disney classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Anything from the Howard Ashman era is probably out of reach though, unless they can find another lyricist and composer with a similarly gifted touch for combining musical theater and animation so seamlessly. Not that they don't try here, but given that this is an original full-length musical (8 new songs total), the music is unfortunately fairly lackluster, aside from the one show stopper, "Let it Go," which Broadway singer Idina Menzel belts out with force. It's the most memorable scene in the film, but I've already forgotten most of the other songs, even though the movie takes pains to place them carefully throughout the running time.

That structure doesn't exactly flow as well as in the older movies, where the songs were so brilliantly part of the storytelling, and here it's clear that the movie at times stops in order to make room for a song, often one that isn't exactly integral to the plot (I'm thinking of the snowman Olaf's introduction, or the final song in the movie, "Fixer-Upper," involving a group of singing trolls). But complaints like that are fairly minimal, and the story itself is about two sisters, both princesses of Arendelle- one is Elsa (Idina Menzel), the Snow Queen with magic powers who can freeze anything she touches, and the other her feisty younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell). The sisters are separated when Elsa's powers grow out of control, and she's taught to suppress and ignore them while living in isolation from the outside world.

When the sisters are grown, the townspeople accidentally witness Elsa's uncontrollable power and she flees Arendelle, leaving the village trapped in eternal winter. Of course, it's up to Anna to go fetch her sister and bring her back, running into friends along the way, including Olaf the snowman (slyly voiced by Josh Gad) and Kristoff the friendly ice deliverer (Jonathan Groff, who surprisingly isn't asked to capitalize on his own Broadway background for this). It's fairly thin material but the characters are cute and clever, and the animation is absolutely gorgeous. The eternal winter we see in the movie is stunning to look at and the animators are to be commended for the exquisite ice worlds they've created. The one thing the movie could have really used however was a better villain. For most of the film there isn't one, but when one is revealed towards the end it's in a kind of half-hearted manner that doesn't fully take advantage of the opportunity to present any real, threatening conflict. And hey, if there's one thing that makes Disney movies memorable it's all the great villains they've been able to come up with. Everything in this movie is a little too nice and simple by the end- some more conflict would have raised the stakes a little bit.

Still, it's a nice movie that kids will love, and it's great to see Disney attempting to revisit the highs of its glory years. After Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph (which was underrated and I think a better movie than this one) and now Frozen, it looks like the Mouse House is starting to regain some footing in animation again, and things definitely look to be headed in the right direction.

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