"Frozen" is very cool.
With the help of some modern tuneups, "Frozen" finds Disney getting back to what Disney does best: spinning its own version of a fairy tale with quality musical numbers, a great balance of laugh-out-loud humor and heartfelt emotion, fantastic adventure, animals and sidekicks with big personalities, and plenty of magic involving princesses and the power of love.
Add some thoroughly modern girl power and terrific special effects that actually utilize 3-D in more than just name, and "Frozen" ends up being one of the best animated films Disney has released -- without Pixar's help -- in a long time.
Elsa is the Snow Queen (a character from Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the same name, voiced by Idina Menzel), whose emotions and vast, uncontrollable powers accidentally plunge her Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle into permanent winter and get her sent into exile. Her loyal sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), races to find her, with the aid of rugged-yet-sensitive Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer sidekick, Sven, and scene-stealing Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman the sisters made as children who has come to life, thanks to Elsa.
They're desperate to save their kingdom but don't know how the politics are playing out back home, where Anna's new flame, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana), is trying to hold down the fort while the power-hungry Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) plots against Elsa and her family.
Meanwhile, Elsa is finding herself and developing her independence atop a mountain ice fortress, where her growing powers make those of "The X-Men" seem like an amateur magician's parlor tricks. The obvious questions -- other than who will fall in love with whom by movie's end -- is whether she will learn to control her abilities before her kingdom is destroyed, and on which side of the good/evil spectrum she will end up.
It makes sense that a movie in which strong women are running the show would be co-directed by a woman. Jennifer Lee, who shares the duties with Chris Buck, reportedly is the first woman to direct a Disney animated feature. However, "Frozen" goes beyond merely showing kids that girls can be just as authoritative as boys.
Elsa and Anna are depicted as devoted from the start when, as little girls, big sister Elsa accidentally hurts Anna while the pair are playing with Elsa's powers. Anna recovers, but Elsa ends up becoming afraid of her abilities. Anna ends up not remembering the accident and doesn't understand why her sister no longer plays with her. Her confusion and Elsa's anguish as she shuts herself away from the world -- and her sister -- is palatable. Just when it seems like they can resume their relationship after years, on Elsa's coronation day, disaster strikes. It's all surprisingly heart-wrenching, even as the story is peppered with hilarious moments. And the winning twist at the end really explores definitions of love and the strong bonds of sisterhood.
But big as the plot concepts are, it's a lot of little things that make "Frozen" so much fun: Kristoff's conversations with Sven, during which he answers for his reindeer pal in a gruff voice; Olaf's musical pining for summer, blissfully unaware what the sun does to snowmen; the trolls -- and you've never seen trolls like these -- and their undying devotion to Kristoff and their determination to marry him off.
It's not a perfect film -- the Broadway-styled tunes by the husband-wife team of Robert Lopez ("Book of Mormon") and Kristen Anderson-Lopez sometimes feel a bit forced, at least until we get to the glorious scene showing Elsa constructing her ice palace and singing about letting go of her fear. There's really no back story as to how Elsa became a human blizzard, nor are there answers to how the sisters managed to stay isolated from each other in the same house, without parents, for years. But this isn't a film for nitpicking. It's just dazzling fun that shows that Disney can still deliver.