Every snowflake is unique – as the exquisitely animated flakes swirling around the beginning of Frozen remind us – but is every Disney princess musical unique?
Frozen certainly does its best to offer something new, as it’s mostly the tale of two sisters: Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), a pair of princesses in a fictional northern kingdom. Elsa has been cursed with a form of Midas’ touch – whatever she lays a hand on turns to ice. She manages to keep this a secret until the time comes for her coronation, when an accident causes her to flee for the mountains with a confused Anna in pursuit.
There’s a lot more narrative than that; in fact, the opening section begins with the sisters in childhood and rushes through all sorts of magic and major incidents before we even get to know much about any of the characters. It creates a sense of distance from which the movie never fully recovers. The music, meanwhile, is hit or miss; when it’s in the Broadway tradition, it soars, but on occasion the soundtrack takes an unfortunate turn toward powerhouse pop. (Demi Lovato belts out the radio version of the signature number, “Let It Go,” over the end credits.)
On occasion the soundtrack takes an unfortunate turn toward powerhouse pop.
As for the animation, the ice itself seems to have gotten most of the attention; the way it captures and filters light here is absolutely gorgeous. Less impressive are the characters themselves, including Anna and Elsa (I was afraid I was going to be eaten alive by the princesses’ monstrous eyes). And then there’s Olaf, a magical snowman whose simple design seems to have been dropped in from a straight-to-video side project. Josh Gad hits the punch lines well in his vocal performance, but visually there’s something creepy and morbid about the character, who never stops grinning even as he’s repeatedly impaled or beheaded.
A lot of Frozen works this way – well-intentioned, but something’s off. It feels like you’re either watching the first draft of a classic Disney animated musical or the 347th one.