Review: 'Frozen'

"Frozen" not only deserves kudos for its innovative premise, but also for showing off the first dynamic Disney soundtrack in years. A tale of a sisterly relationship, and the dual burdens of joy and love that said relationship can bring to a woman's life, "Frozen" has enough momentum to thrill children and pleasantly divert adults (hitting the ceiling that Disney Animation seems to impose on its films). While it has its share of flaws, the animation is beautiful to behold, and there aren't many moments where it's not actively fun. Which counts!

The Kingdom the aforementioned siblings reside in is called Arendelle, and of course it's the idyllic Disney setting we've become used to. In terms of the narrative structure, the gist of it is that Princess Elsa is a little girl with a unique gift. She has the ability to create ice, snow, ice in the design of snowflakes, or really anything that involves frozen water, all right from the palm of her hand. Her little sister, Princess Anna, is fascinated by her gift, mostly because her big sister often creates snowmen, snow drifts, ice skating rinks, all the things a tiny tot would fling herself into (or on to, as the case may be) at high speed. Quite reasonably, Elsa's parents become a little worried about her gift, as a close call with Anna during snow playtime indicates just how dangerous creating icicles out of thin air, all willy nilly, can be. Sidenote: for the first few minutes of the film Anna is a dead ringer for Agnes from "Despicable Me", but luckily the sisters don't spend long in their formative years, as a transformative incident occurs, driving them apart until they're both young women. Here's where you'll find the actual starting point of "Frozen", once the stakes have been set and dire warnings proclaimed.

Strengths are abundant throughout the 100-minute running time, but the two standouts achievements are the music and animation. The music is sooooo catchy, instantly so, and the lyrics are often clever and wry. Voice actors Kristen Bell (Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa) deliver sparkling and crisp performances, and there's many a time that slight lulls are bailed out by a big boisterous song. The animation is also as well done as we've ever seen in a Disney film; the rendering of ice castles and snow monsters is vibrant and focused. As we all know, there's something magical about snow and wintery weather, and "Frozen" does well to emphasize this beauty at every turn. The initial premise is also worthy of praise, placing the focus front and center on a relationship between two young women feels like something new in the animation universe, though clearly it shouldn't be. Lastly, although he doesn't come along until a bit later in the narrative, Olaf (Josh Gad) is responsible for most of the funny moments in the film. Somehow Gad's vocal inflection is infused with an earnestness that breaks down even the most hardened of grumpy walls. He's a talented vocalist too, and his performance of the song, "In Summer" is both well conceived and excellently delivered, it's the stuff YouTube viral videos are made of.

What's not to like? What keeps this from joining the pantheon of animated classics? Slight issues, and in fairness the same problems that haunt most traditional family movies, they include pacing and a lack of narrative tension. "Frozen" falls into the unfortunate movie "princess trap" of "true love" (although they do a slightly better job with the resolution). Though there's not an overarching traditional villain in the sense of Ursula or Scar, there are definite moments meant to convey an "Oh no!" to the children out there, but surely the adults must realize that Disney won't be killing off main characters, "Game of Thrones" style. I mean, it's slightly silly to place artificial tension into this equation, in the form of forced character motivation, when the initial concept was more than sturdy enough. An older sister with a devastating secret? A younger sister who just wants to be let in? That's pretty much the entire plot of "X-Men" meets "Dynasty", so there wasn't much sense in throwing in "Cinderella" too. But for these hiccups, "Frozen" would have been a slam dunk.

Still, as it stands, "Frozen" is a solid recommend. Though we're still showing our children the lives of princesses, at least the two main characters here have a relationship steeped in humanity. That, plus strong music and pristine visuals adds up to some lovely moments. "Frozen" is a family film, sure, but the fact that it's brave enough to to not fully reside in the snow bluffs of blatant child pandering is to its eternal credit, because no one wants to be the guy dinging the innocence of youth at this time of year.

SCORE: 8.0 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and prefers cold weather.