It is a rare thing indeed to walk away from any movie feeling utterly besotted and charmed, but Frozen manages this act of animated seduction with aplomb, using a winning combination of an engaging storyline with consequences, heartfelt and funny characters, and songs that fairly demand the movie be turned into a stage musical henceforth and forthwith, to recreate the sort of everything is right with the world feeling you used to get walking out of classic Disney movies.
It is the sort of territory that Disney had ceded to Pixar some time ago, content to churn out movies that looked the part and ticked all the classic movies (The Princess and the Frog, Tangled), but somehow lacked that magical kick-up-your-heels spark that Frozen, ironically a movie about a kingdom plunged into an eternal winter in an instant, has in giant bonfire-lighting amounts.
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 tale The Snow Queen, it is at heart a movie about sisterhood, of loving someone no matter what, a theme that may seem a quicksand pit of schmaltz waiting to happen but which instead forms a steel-strong spine through the movie, reaffirming that love is far more powerful than even elemental forces like snow and ice.
And there is a great deal of snow and ice in Frozen, which explores what happens when Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) is installed on the throne after a lifetime of exclusion designed to hide from both her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and the kingdom of Arendelle at large, that she is cursed/gifted with the ability to summon winter on a whim.
From her hands flow majestic towers of beautifully-realised glowing blue ice, flawless stairs of frozen water, and piles of snow so deep and bouncy that it’s possible to fall from a great height without a scratch on you, surely a gift that if properly used would be a thing of wonder and awe.
But Elsais convinced at a young age that it is a liability, a source of great shame, isolating physically and emotionally, most tragically from her endlessly upbeat sister Anna who despite an estrangement she does not understand, sets off without hesitation to retrieve Elsa when her powers, always amplified by emotional distress, become too noticeable to ignore on her coronation day, creating the type of furore that causes the newly-crowned monarch to retreat to the now icy mountains.
Unaware she has plunged all of Arendelle into a chilly instant winter, Elsa vows to stay marooned forever in her castle of gleaming blue and white ice crystals, which are brought to life by animation so vivid it is breathtaking.
Anna, of course, though newly in love with a man she has just met, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana; who may possibly just be too good to be true) is having none of that isolationist talk, determined to rescue her sister from herself, reverse the snowy cold that has entrapped Arendelle and bring all the happily-ever-afters she has always dreamed of, to come to pass.
But naturally enough nothing is ever that simple, not even in a Disney animated movie, and it takes the combined efforts of Anna, an ice cutter called Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) whose chosen profession is understandably in peril in the current climatic conditions, his reindeer Sven, and one of Elsa’s accidental creations, a goofy snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad) who is gifted some of the best lines in the movie to bring about the much hoped for happy ending.
Along the way there are oneliners a-plenty – most courtesy of Olaf who remarks on Kristoff’s pellmell dash to rescue Anna at one point with “Here comes your valiant pungent reindeer king”, a humourous reference to her would-be rescuer’s lack of reasonable hygiene habits after a lifetime of being raised by trolls – gloriously perfect songs by Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez which augment and advance the plot and characterisation rather than interrupt or detract from it, and animation so colourful, rich and beautiful you almost feel like you could tumble into it.
And it is one of the first Disney movies in a long time that actually feels like it is a whole movie, deftly mixing humour, real consequential plot lines, emotionally stark moments and three dimensional characters into a film that will likely emerge as one of Disney’s great classics for the modern age.
Above all, it is a sheer joy to watch, only slightly weighed down by a couple of overly long sequences (most notably on the snowy North Mountain), a reminder of what can happen when Disney remembers what made its animated movies so delightful in the first place.