Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: 'Frozen' a warm, fun treat for both children and adults

This movie review was originally written for KPC Media Group and published online and in its daily newspapers. Read the original version here. Reprinted with permission.

Despite the huge amount of snow and ice in Disney's latest animated feature, "Frozen" is as warm and fun an animated musical as I've seen in several years. The movie hearkens back to the old Disney princess movies, which makes it feel extra cozy for fans, but it also has a modern edge, featuring princesses with a little more personality than the old damsels I grew up watching.

"Frozen" follows Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), the princess of a small kingdom called Arendelle. On the coronation day of her sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna discovers why Elsa has been cold to her for years - Elsa is magical and can turn things to ice and snow, but she can't control her magic. When the people of Arendelle find out, however, they call Elsa a monster, and Elsa disappears into the mountains, leaving the kingdom in a deep freeze. Anna, however, wants to help her sister, and so she enlists the help of the burly Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer, Sven.

It's a sweet, exciting story, but what really gives "Frozen" some bite are the characters - specifically Elsa and Anna. The sisters are distant and at odds for most of the movie, but it's clear throughout the entire film that they really love each other. It probably helped that I was sitting next to my own sister when I was watching the movie, but I was really touched by the depth of their bond and the way they watched out for each other.
It was also incredibly refreshing to see some royal women who could stand on their own two feet. Elsa is an incredibly strong, magical woman, and although she functions somewhat as the villain for a lot of the movie, she's a much more nuanced character than the old Disney villains. As much as I adore old-school bad girls like Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty" or Ursula the Sea Witch from "The Little Mermaid," it's refreshing to see a powerful woman who isn't irredeemably corrupted by power. She's confused and terrified, and she does some bad things, but it isn't because of jealousy or because she's just plain old evil, like the villains of old.

Anna is also an interesting and strong character. Yes, she's silly sometimes, and, yes, she does need the help of Kristoff sometimes, but she's also brave, smart and cares deeply for her sister. There's even a some sly commentary on the Disney princess tendancy to fall in love immediately with a cute guy she barely knows. A friend of mine was just complaining about that tendency a few weeks ago, so I was pleased to note that it's not treated as the norm in this movie.

There are plenty of other characters to love, too. Kristoff is quirky and adorable, and his friendship with his goofy reindeer provides a lot of the comic relief in the movie. Also on the silly end of the spectrum is a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) who Elsa has brought to life. The posters and some of the commercials for "Frozen" made me nervous that Olaf would be too obnoxiously silly, but he actually hit the perfect balance between the wackiness that children will enjoy and being a real enough character so that he doesn't annoy the adults in the audience.

"Frozen" is also a very beautiful movie. The characters' designs are fairly reminiscent of those in "Tangled," but the scenery is stunning. Arendelle was clearly influenced by Scandinavian countries, specifically Norway, and the buildings are all decorated beautiful, colorful rosemaling designs. The warmth of those buildings stands in contrast to the stunning ice castle that Elsa creates for herself. The winter scenes are the most beautiful in the movie, and they're so realistic that I shivered several times while watching the movie. You can almost feel the icy cold coming off the screen.

"Frozen" is never going to be a timeless classic like "The Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast," but it's solidly in the second tier of Disney movies - a little less stunning and a little more silly than the best the studio has to offer, but ultimately still a pretty darn great movie. "Frozen" is a warm little treat that children and adults alike will enjoy.

Jenny's Take: See it tonight.

(Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. Runs 108 minutes.)

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