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Smart, exciting, funny, sweet, tuneful, and gorgeously animated, the Oscar-winning “Frozen” adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale into a story of two sisters kept apart by a scary secret.  Scary wolves, an enormous snow monster, a perilous journey, a warm (yes)-hearted snowman, a loyal reindeer, a sleigh ride, a sensational ice castle, and a little romance keep things moving briskly, but it is the relationship of the sisters that makes this movie something special.  There’s a surprisingly strong emotional connection.

The king and queen of Arendelle love their two daughters, Elsa and Anna, and the girls are best friends.  Anna loves to ask her big sister to “do the magic,” because Ilsa was born with the special power to create snow and ice.  But an accident almost becomes a tragedy, and the trolls who heal Anna remove her memory of her sister’s gift.

Their parents lock the gates around the castle and keep the girls apart.  They tell Elsa to “conceal it, don’t feel it.”  They want to protect her from those who might be afraid of her ability and protect those she might hurt as she grows up and her gift becomes more powerful.  She wears gloves all the time and stays in her room.  Anna wanders the castle alone, singing to the paintings, with no one to talk to.  Although she no longer remembers the details of their former closeness and the time they spent together, she is devastated that her sister will not see her.

Their parents are lost at sea, and three years later Elsa (Broadway star Idina Menzel) is about to be crowned queen.  Anna (Kristen Bell of “Veronica Mars”) is overjoyed to be seeing her sister and excited about meeting the people who will come through the gates that are opened at last.  She is charmingly awkward, having had no opportunity to learn any social skills, but that does not seem to matter to the very handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), who proposes just a few hours after they meet.  Anna is overjoyed.

But Elsa forbids the marriage and when Anna objects, her frustration and  fury explodes, turning the balmy summer into a frozen winter.  Elsa runs away, locking herself into a dazzling palace made of ice in the mountains.  Anna follows, sure that she can make things right if she can just talk to Elsa about what is going on.  And that is where the adventure begins.  She meets a rough-hewn ice harvester named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff of “Glee”) and his reindeer Sven and a sunny-spirited, warm-hearted, and familiar-looking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad of “Thank You for Sharing”).  And when they get to the ice palace, things do not turn out the way she expects.

Human animated characters tend to be bland-looking, but the voice talents have enormous spirit that gives them a lot of life.  Broadway stars Menzel, Groff (“Spring Awakening”), Bell (“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”), and Gad (“The Book of Mormon”) make the most of a tuneful score featuring the Oscar-winning “Let It Go.”  The songs are beautifully acted as well as sung.  Highlights include an adorable ode to summer from Olaf, who is not quite clear on the physical properties of snow as temperatures rise, Kristoff’s “duetted” ode to reindeer with Sven (he sings both parts), and Menzel’s powerful “Let it Go.”  Bell’s sweet voice is lovely as she sings to the paintings in the castle about her longing for people and then exalts in her love for Prince Hans.  There is also a charming ensemble with trolls singing about how we’re all in our own way “fixer-uppers.”

The animation is everything we hope for from Disney, one “how did they do that?” after another, with ice and snow so real and so touchable you may find yourself zipping up your parka in the theater.   But the effects and action are all in service of the story, with a contemporary twist that is as welcome as summer’s return.

NOTE: Be sure to get to the theater in time as one of the highlights is the pre-feature short, starring a vintage Mickey Mouse voiced by Walt Disney himself.  It is a masterpiece of wit and technology that must be seen a couple of times to fully appreciate.  And be sure to stay through the end of the credits for an extra scene re-visiting one of the film’s most powerful characters.

Parents should know that this film include characters in peril, some injuries and action-style scares, monster, the sad deaths of a mother and father, some potty humor, and kissing.

Family discussion:  What’s a fixer-upper?  Why did Elsa’s parents tell her not to feel?  Why was she afraid of her power?  Why didn’t her parents want anyone to know the truth, and how did that make Elsa and Anna feel?  Who do you think is a love expert?

If you like this, try: “Tangled,” “Brave,” and “The Princess and the Frog”

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