This years festive offering from that small animation studio called Disney comes in the form of Frozen, a classic feeling fairytale with a modern twist. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’, the film tells the story of the distant relationship between two royal sisters that is created when a tragic accident occurs at the hands of the eldest Elsa and her uncontrollable magical gift for creating snow and ice. Elsa becomes withdrawn from her once very warm family and turns in to a literal and metaphorical ice queen, leaving younger sister Anna to embark on a journey to confront her sibling and restore the land of Arendelle back to Summer.
In some ways I feel that Frozen was made just for me. I’m a musical theatre fanatic and from the first few seconds onwards the film has a distinct Broadway feel to it, being Disney’s first full musical since 2010’s Tangled. In terms of animation the two features are undeniably similar, but in tone and theme I find that the closest work I can think to compare Frozen to is stage phenomenon Wicked. This is extremely good news if you, like me, have seen Wicked on both a West End and Broadway stage upwards of eight times. A close friendship torn apart by magical power, the destructive effect of outsider’s perceptions and the strong bond between female friends are factors instantly recognisable in both Frozen and Wicked, and to top off the connection in an extremely satisfying way, the voice of ice queen Elsa is provided by none other than Idina Menzel, originator of the lead role of Elphaba in the hit stage show. It is no surprise, then, that musical numbers play an important role in the film. Of the it’s six or seven set piece songs, perhaps only three are real winners including ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman?’, ‘For The First Time In Forever’ and ‘Let It Go’. Unfortunately these three numbers follow one another in the first twenty five minutes of the film, leaving the rest of the running time not quite being able to live up to the expectations set by the opening third. This is not to say that the final two thirds are bad, this is Disney we’re talking about, it simply means that the film falls from being an eight out of ten to a seven.
As mentioned before, Idina Menzel expertly displays her vocal talents as Elsa, being left with not much more to do than sing and at times embody a lonely and misunderstood characterisation. With a harder and more central task is Kristen Bell as younger sister Anna. With more screen time and a wider range of emotion to cover, Bell is the perfect choice for a sometimes sassy, sometimes silly, sometimes sincere younger sibling. The character channels both Brave’s Merida and Tangled’s Rapunzel, a very welcome recent progression from Disney of making female characters strong and independent without having to forfeit their femininity like Mulan did in the nineties. As for the supporting cast, Frozen is full of all the crazy and zany sidekicks that one has come to expect from a picture like this, including a loveable moose named Sven and his charming owner Kristoff, voiced by Glee star Jonathan Groff. Stealing the show at every opportunity though is Olaf the snowman voiced by Josh Gad. Although at times it feels as though Olaf belongs in an entirely more raucous and wholly silly movie, Gad’s obvious improvisation does bring a jolt of childish hilarity to what is at certain points quite a dark and potentially upsetting story for younger viewers.
Overall, my advice to you would be to not let the shiny animation and cliched Disney sidekicks put you off seeing a film that is actually very charming without being saccharine. Anybody who has seen Wicked will understand the way in which a fairly serious and at times sinister story can be told in a hypnotic and enchanting way, and whilst Frozen is nowhere near the stage musical in terms of quality of song or depth of content, it is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes. Disney have really stepped up their game over the last few years with The Princess And the Frog, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and now this, they are no longer producing filler films to tide us over until the next Pixar release. The dark days of Chicken Little and Bolt are well and truly behind us.