Frozen, the newest animated tentpole feature from Disney, is an entertaining if slightly bland entry in their continuing Princess movie genre. I can think of nothing particularly wrong with the film, other than it never fully engaged me like classic Disney. It certainly wants to be mentioned in the same breath as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, and every moment of the film demonstrates that desire. It hits a lot of the same notes, and while I certainly enjoyed the movie, it is a rather pale imitation.
Based on the fairy tale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen tells the story of the princesses Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), sisters growing up in the fictional Nordic kingdom of Arendelle. The King and Queen discover that Elsa has the power to turn anything she touches to ice. As she gets older her power begins to grow out of control, so her parents keep her isolated in the castle, separated from everyone, including her beloved little sister. Their parents die at sea; years pass before Anna sees her sister again, on the occasion of Elsa's coronation as Queen. Elsa accidentally reveals her powers, and in her anguish she runs away, turning all the land to an icy wasteland. Anna follows after her, to bring her sister home and end the winter. Along the way she enlists help from Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a peasant with the rather antiquated job of ice salesman, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a living snowman enchanted by Elsa.
The pedigree of the voice talent is beyond reproach. We have not one, but three, Broadway stars in Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Kristen Bell, as well as a former Glee actor (Groff). Menzel has her bring down the house moment with "Let it Go," a song that is so much like "Defying Gravity" from Wicked that it almost invites lawsuits. Menzel and Gad both do good work, especially Gad as the adorable yet inept sidekick. The animation, while for the most part pretty standard, has moments of brilliance, particularly when Elsa discovers the full extent of her powers and creates an ice castle high in the mountains. These moments actually elicit a feeling of awe.
And yet, the film does not satisfy as much as I'd hoped. None of the songs, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, are as memorable as the work of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The story is completely paint by numbers, right out of the Disney playbook. Not once during the film did any of the plot developments surprise me, nor will they surprise anyone who has seen more than a few movies. Predictable is not always bad, if the filmmakers manage to infuse some original element. There is nothing here we haven't seen before, from the romantic subplot, to the comedic sidekicks, to the family tragedy. (You can count on one hand the number of Disney animated films where the parents aren't dead.) I'm probably being overly critical. There is nothing offensively bad in the film, and its target audience will eat it up. I suppose my expectations were unfairly high. Aside from the Pixar films, Disney hasn't released a truly classic animated film since The Lion King, and it could be I'm disappointed because I know there is a possibility of creating great art, not just a lucrative marketing opportunity.