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'Frozen': A warm tale for a cold season

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If you know the Disney tropes by now, you know what to expect: girl suffers tragedy, boy overcomes great odds to rescue her, boy and girl get married, the end. That's exactly what "Frozen" expects you to think, and it cleverly plays against every standard trope to upend our expectations about what true love is all about. In this case, it's sisterly love.

In the kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa (Idina Menzel) the elder has Ice Man-like powers to create snow. Her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) thinks this is the best thing ever and encourages her to make snowmen in the palace ballroom, including a little guy who "likes warm hugs" named Olaf (Josh Gad). An accidental use of her powers nearly kills Anna, which causes Elsa's parents to lock her away and forbid contact with the outside world. Shortly thereafter, the king and queen are lost at sea, leaving Elsa to come out of her shell on coronation day.

The rush of new experiences is too much for the sisters. For Elsa, her powers (tied to her emotions) are unleashed in a big way, creating an unending winter and causing her to flee into the mountains. For Anna, she falls instantly in love with the first prince she meets, Hans (Santino Fontana) and plans to wed. It's all very fairy tale standard...and then Frozen takes an unexpected turn when Anna, not Hans, decides to go after her sister. This is a tale in which the women are firmly in control.

Along the way, Anna meets Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven. Kristoff mostly just stays out of Anna's way, all the while acting as a foil to explain how marrying the first guy she meets is pretty much the dumbest thing he's ever heard. It's a gentle attack on decades of Disney lore, but it's about time. The finale revolves around a lifesaving act of true love -- but it's not what you think.

"Frozen's" special effects are gorgeous, particularly the snow and ice crysals in 3D. The character designs are distinctly reminiscent of "Sleeping Beauty," an intentional parallel to show how different the characters are from their archetypes. Anna looks and acts a lot like Rapunzel, complete with verbal and physical expressions that are far more modern than previous princesses. The songs are cute but not nearly as catchy as say "The Lion King" or "The Little Mermaid." And Olaf is there to keep the kiddies entertained -- the high point is when the little snowman imagines how awesome summer must be (nobody has the heart to tell him).

And that's what's so great about "Frozen." It could easily be a cynical, cold-hearted approach to its subject matter, but instead it manages to be both earnest and sincere while still maintaining that ignorance is not bliss. A warm tale for a cold season.

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