“Frozen” has all the allure of a snow globe. It whips up a grand, wintry beauty, but it does little else. And there are dozens of other Disney globes just like it.
The animated fantasy adventure begins with an arresting image. From a viewpoint beneath a frozen river, an object bursts into the foreground. Soon, saws cut through the ice. It’s the first of many photo-realistic visuals delivered by the armada of talented “Frozen” animators.
Above the waterline we meet young ice merchant Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer, Sven. They live in the fjord kingdom of Arendelle, which — fast-forwarding past the prologue — is ruled by Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel of Broadway’s “Wicked”). Elsa has the unexplained ability to conjure snow and ice, which has turned her into a recluse. The power uncontrollably affects everything she touches. (Picture if Rogue and Iceman from the X-Men had a baby.)
Now Elsa shuns plucky younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) for fear of accidentally harming her. Eventually, Elsa’s powers threaten the kingdom, so she heads for the mountains to retreat into her own ice palace. (Picture Superman in his Fortress of Solitude.) But her residual magic has inadvertently left Arendelle in perpetual winter.
With few options, Princess Anna teams with Kristoff to collect her twisted sister before rival forces can find her. They pick up one of Elsa’s creations along the way, a snowman named Olaf (a hilarious Josh Gad) who dreams of summer, even though he’s charmingly ignorant about what will happen to him around heat.
Oh, and “Frozen” is a musical.
If that last description seems an afterthought, blame the tunes. Composers Robert Lopez (from “The Book of Mormon”) and wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez pilfer low-hanging-fruit chord progressions that are so formulaic they seem like parody songs from “Enchanted.” The anthemic showstopper “Let It Go” sounds as if it were written by the same committee of programmers it took to animate the scene. Humorous excursions such as Olaf’s bouncy “In Summer” fare better.
The frequent musical interludes only stall the adventure, which finally gains momentum once the sisters exit the palace. Snow monsters, wolves and trolls liven up the quest, although the latter — which appear like Smurfs fashioned from rocks and moss — are included more for comic relief. A late-act plot twist finally introduces a tangible villain that helps the story finish stronger than it started.
The movie is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” and went through all kinds of development hell before emerging in this format. It’s clear the success of “Tangled” had an enormous influence, and not just in the strategy to go with a less feminine title. (Hope parents don’t get “Frozen” confused with the 2010 horror movie of the same name — although both feature heroes chased by wolves.)
The similarities with “Tangled” are irritatingly numerous, from a sequestered royal with mystical powers to the Kristoff/Sven relationship that echoes Flynn/Max the horse.
“Frozen” also sticks by the same themes of female empowerment and family bonds. And there’s the good-hearted rogue and the helpful sidekick archetypes. Fortunately, co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee exhibit such a command of the icy visual elements that they distract viewers from the character, plot and music missteps. This is one dazzlingly gorgeous production.
They shake that snow globe with a sure hand.
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. 3-D OR NOT 3-D?
Disney’s latest animated effort is built for 3-D. In addition to its stunning landscapes, the film’s plot incorporates plenty of weather elements to tantalize viewers, from snowflakes that look like they can be grasped to ice shards poking out of the screen.