- - Thursday, November 28, 2013

Disney’s princess films, like “Pocahontas” and “The Little Mermaid,” come in for criticism for their portrayal of damsels in distress who require the services of young princes to save them from all manner of peril.

“Frozen” takes the criticism to heart. In this animated, musical tale of loyalty and redemption set in a lonely Nordic kingdom, sisters are definitely doing it for themselves. There are shades of “Twilight” here, with tortured teens and dark powers. Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is afflicted with the ability to turn things to ice with her touch. As a young child, Elsa used the power to delight her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), but an accident left Anna near death, and led her parents to isolate Elsa from contact with people, separating the sisters. “Conceal it, don’t feel it” becomes Elsa’s mantra as she grows up.

The parents soon die, as they so often do in fairy tales, leaving Elsa and Anna alone in their desolate castle, devoid of human contact, even with each other. But when Elsa’s coronation day arrives, custom requires that she open the castle to visiting dignitaries and her own subjects. That day, the gullible, optimistic Anna meets handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) from a neighboring kingdom. Their encounter quickly morphs into an engagement, a development that is not received well by now-Queen Elsa. She doesn’t just lose her cool — her powers erupt, transforming the mild summer into a deep winter freeze, locking boats into place in the fjord and making trade and travel impossible.

Liberated by her transformation into an ice queen, Elsa decamps to a frozen fortress of her own design on a mountain high above the town. She intends to abide in her own desolation, but her loyal sister Anna is determined to redeem her, and to get her to maybe unfreeze the town so that all the coronation party guests can get home in their schooners. It’s a hard job just finding her, but she gets help from the rusticated but still hunky Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) as a guide on the steep mountain landscape. Kristoff has his own interest in putting things back to normal — he makes a living hauling ice from snowy mountains to the warmer towns. With the help of his faithful reindeer Sven, they make their way to Elsa’s lair and try to convince her to return.

What follows isn’t entirely unexpected, if you have seen more than a few of these movies. But the story unfolds in a few surprising ways, with as much emphasis on the complicated relationship between the sisters as on Anna’s romantic awakening. There’s a fair bit of comic relief, provided by Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman who dreams of frolicking on the beach in summer, and by a family of magical trolls who take a rooting interest in Kristoff’s pursuit of Anna’s affections.

A lot of creative muscle went into “Frozen.” There are eight original songs from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (he co-wrote songs for Broadway hits “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon”). The widescreen 3-D animation is at times breathtaking, especially the glittering, crystalline ice palace created by Elsa in her wrath. The action sequences are crisp, and care is taken to keep them plausible within the context of the story. There are frequent visual allusions to memorable moments from films ranging from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

“Frozen” works with a short clock, and wraps up a lot of loose ends rather quickly at the end, but on the other hand it’s not likely to try the patience of older viewers, and it’s doubtful that children will get too bent out of shape by plot contrivances. “Frozen” is more about heart, and song, and compelling visuals than the storyline. While it’s not going to take its place in the firmament of Disney classics, “Frozen” is likely to be a hit with young moviegoers this holiday season.


TITLE: “Frozen”

CREDITS: Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; screenplay by Miss Lee, inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Snow Queen”

RATING: PG for romantic overtones, mild action, offscreen death

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes