Following in the footsteps of their 2010 film Tangled, Disney’s latest non-Pixar animated feature, Frozen, tells an old-school fairy tale with a modern attitude. Based loosely on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee find a way to give audiences a classic Disney princess story that feels contemporary enough to be embraced by all but the most steadfast gender-conscious critics. Frozen tells of two orphaned sister princesses who were once best friends but are now kept separate to protect the younger sister from the older sister’s uncontrollable power: she freezes everything into which she comes in contact. Rather than presenting the character as a villain (as in the Anderson story), Buck and Lee have made their Snow Queen a victim of her own magical gifts, and made the hero of the story the younger sister. This choice enables a narrative even more distinctly and refreshingly female-centric than Tangled or the previous year’s disappointing Pixar film Brave

Voicing the sisters, Kristen Bell (TV’s Veronica Mars, Heroes, and Gossip Girl) and Idina Menzel (Broadway’s Rent and Wicked) bring real vocal chops to this unapologetically traditional Disney musical. The songs by Robert Lopez, the Tony Award winning songwriter (Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon), and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who co-wrote the songs for 2011's Winnie the Pooh) amuse, charm, and excite. Boasting a supporting cast of original and endearing heroes, villains and sidekicks, Frozen continues the studio’s trend of not packing their films with recognizable celebrity voices, which helps the characters feel fresh. Like Tangled, the animation style is a blend of CGI and hand-drawn techniques, which looks impressive though I can’t help wonder what it could have looked like if Frozen were entirely traditionally-animated as, at one point, was the plan for this movie.

I didn’t see the film in 3D, but wish I had.  The Norwegian landscapes and snow and ice visuals are exquisitely rendered, and I bet they look impressive in the stereoscopic format. The film’s major flaw is its overly brisk pace. Though not oppressively relentless, like Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo or Brave, the film doesn’t take enough time to allow its story to breathe or cultivate moments that aren’t rigidly connected to each plot point. This slavish adherence to story beats and thematic signposts makes the film feel a little contrived. Still, the absence of either saccharine or cynicism makes this an extremely rare entry in the world of contemporary animated family fare, deserving of the highest praise.

Frozen has many similarities with one of Disney’s greatest modern classics, The Little Mermaid (1989). Each picture originates with a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, both represent important leaps forward in the depiction of female protagonists in popular children’s cinema, and both dramatically restructured the standard Disney formula. Frozen doesn’t quite reach the enchantment level of The Little Mermaid, nor are its songs as memorable and exquisitely integrated into the narrative. Yet this inventive, astute, and self-assured movie stayed with me longer than I expected it would. The story structure and subtextual themes stay fresh upon multiple viewings. The songs also prove more consequential in hindsight than they seemed during my first screening. The signature tune, “Let it Go,” a powerhouse number with both musical energy and lyrical depth, stands a cut above typical showstopper show tunes, especially as performed by the dynamic Menzel.  “Let it Go,” deservedly won the Oscar for best original song and became the earworm of anyone who spent time near a child in 2013. It’s a credit to Team Lopez that they crafted a number durable enough to take that kind of non-stop repeated exposure. Like its main song, Frozen should easily withstand the test of time and become an beloved animated classic.

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Produced by Peter Del Vecho

Screenplay by Jennifer Lee
Story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Shane Morris
Based on the fairy tale "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen

With: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds, Chris Williams, Stephen J. Anderson, Maia Wilson, Edie McClurg, Robert Pine, Maurice LaMarche, Livvy Stubenrauch, Eva Bella, Spencer Lacey Ganus, and Jennifer Lee

Editing: Jeff Draheim
Music: Christophe Beck, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez

Runtime: 102 min
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1