With icy 'Frozen,' Disney regains its footing with fun animation

The Fresno BeeNovember 25, 2013 

Olaf the snowman is one of the characters in Disney's "Frozen."


Recent Disney Studio animated films have not held up the high standard of the studio.

"Wreck-It-Ralph" was fun, but it played so much into current pop culture it doesn't have the feel of a film that will appeal to future generations.

And "Brave" was a total mess, including a complete misfire in having the central heroine be the cause of the calamities.

The studio has found its footing again with "Frozen."

The production, based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," has the successful Disney combination of a solid story, strong animation, breakout character and memorable music. That's the blend that has worked for decades and continues to work here.

Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) — the two latest princesses to join the Disney royal family — are sisters facing two different dilemmas.

Elsa can create ice and snow with a simple touch of her hand. Out of fear of her chilling powers hurting her sister, she locks herself away. But on the day she is expected to take over ruling the kingdom she has to come out of hiding.

Anna has waited for the day when the palace would be opened to visitors. She doesn't know her passion to see the outside world is in conflict with her sister's fears.

When the fateful day comes, the worst happens and Elsa brings an Ice Age to the kingdom. Elsa banishes herself to the frozen wilderness and it's up to Anna to save her — with the help of Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a likable wood cutter, and Olaf, a fast-talking snowman (Josh Gad).

The story has the kind of central conflict that has been a mainstay of Disney animated films — family is threatened by outside forces. That's magnified by having the sisters as the source of the conflict. It's the kind of story that will resonate with anyone who has been at odds with a sibling.

The sisters' physical and emotional battles are brought to life through computer-generated animation. Generally, the studio does stronger work with the more traditional form of animation, but "Frozen" benefits by the delicate and impressive icy designs that would have been nearly impossible through hand-drawn cels.

As has been the case with so many Disney animated movies, Olaf is the whimsical character that provides the majority of the comedy in what generally is a serious story. He provides the kind of silliness that will hold the attention of the smallest moviegoer and entertain older ones.

All of this is good, but it's the performances by Menzel and Bell that make the movie work so well. "Wicked" fans know Menzel has an incredible voice. But Bell's musical skills aren't as well known and this film will change that.

Not only do they make the animated characters seem believable, they have the singing voices to do justice to the strong lineup of songs, including "For the First Time In Forever," "Love Is an Open Door" and, especially, "Let It Go." It's the strongest soundtrack since the 1996 release of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

All of this goes together to make "Frozen" hot, hot, hot.

As an added bonus, the Mickey Mouse short film that plays with "Frozen" uses 3-D to brilliantly link past and present animation.

Movie review

"Frozen," rated PG for mild rude humor. Stars voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Running time: 85 minutes. Grade: A-

Theaters and times

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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