It looked like Disney Animation was dead in the water for a while there. Sure, Pixar has had the company’s back for almost two decades now. In terms of movies that were solely produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, though, it was a bit of a downhill spiral from “Pocahontas” in 1995 to “Chicken Little” in 2005. While there were some under appreciated gems in the mix like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” nothing took audiences by storm like “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King” did.
In recent years, Disney Animation has been showing a welcome return to form with one great movie after another, from “The Princess and the Frog” to “Tangled” to “Wreck-It Ralph.” Now with its latest animated feature, “Frozen,” it truly feels like Disney is in full-on renaissance mode. The film continues Disney’s legacy of animated fairy tales while adding inspired, modern twists. As far as Disney fairy tales go, “Frozen” gets it right in just about every department. The music, the characters, the story, the pacing, the suspense, the romance, the themes, the humor and, of course, the animation, it’s all done to near perfection.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the film is naturally set in a far away kingdom where not one, but two, princesses reside. Kristen Bell shines as the awkward, plucky, endlessly appealing Anna, the younger of the two princesses. She wants nothing more than to reconnect with her big sister Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, who spends all day locked away in her room. What Anna doesn’t know is that Elsa possesses the magical ability to create snow and ice, which she has been trying to conceal her whole life. Elsa’s frozen fist only gets harder to suppress as the years go by. Shortly after her coronation, she loses control of her powers in front of everyone and retreats to the mountains in shame. Elsa doesn’t realize, however, that she’s accidentally left her kingdom in a perpetual state of winter.
Anna sets out on a daring quest to find her sister and, along the way, crosses paths with a strapping mountain man named Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff. Even if this is your first Disney movie, it should be obvious that a romance is going to spark between these two. The filmmakers take a few smart, unexpected chances with this love story, though. Without giving too much away, this is the first animated Disney movie where the characters acknowledge how insane it is for people to fall in love and get engaged in one day. Disney also poked fun of this in the live-action “Enchanted,” although that was really more of a satire of fairy tales. “Frozen,” on the other hand, is a flat-out fairy tale and sees it through to the end.
The romance is also helped by the fact that the leads are so likable and share a genuinely lovely chemistry. But the real love story here is between Anna and Elsa, who are both utterly sincere and deserve to find happiness. It’s nice to see a family movie that not only puts an emphasis on sibling relationships, but also tackles the subject intelligently. At times the bond between the sisters feels like something out of “Wicked,” which also starred Idina Menzel as a good witch everyone mistook for a bad witch.
The supporting players are a ton of fun as well with a mute reindeer named Sven, a tribe of roly-poly trolls made from stone, and a slimy duke voiced by Alan Tudyk of King Candy fame. The scene-stealer is a nerdy snowman named Olaf, voiced by Groff, whose head is constantly getting separated from his upper and lowers torsos. He teams up with Anna and Kristoff to find Elsa in hopes of bringing back summer. Olaf is completely oblivious to fact that heat is a snowman’s kryptonite, however.
Much of the film’s success can be attributed to the song writing team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who previously wrote the songs for “Avenue Q,” “The Book of Mormon,” and the under appreciated “Winnie the Pooh.” Every song in “Frozen” is a treasure, most notably the delightful “For the First Time in Forever” and Elsa’s show stopping solo of “Let it Go.” Even more importantly, each song serves its purpose and beautifully propels the well-constructed plot forward. Even in a camp that includes “Les Misérables,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Dreamgirls,” “Frozen” stands out as the best movie musical of the past decade. Heck, maybe even the past two decades.
Let’s not forget directors Chris Buck, who co-directed “Tarzan,” and Jennifer Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Wreck-It Ralph.” They’ve lovingly crafted a classic, taking full advantage of the animation medium to create a grand, icy world that feels almost inhabitable. The scope of the film is so majestic it’s like watching “The Sound of Music.” Lee’s screenplay never hits a wrong note, hooking the audience in from the gripping exposition, to an exciting climax, to a clever ending. Honestly, it’s hard to even find minor details to nitpick with their wonderful musical adventure.
Disney has yet to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, excluding all of Pixar’s wins. While Pixar also came out with the enjoyable “Monsters University” this year, there’s no doubt in this critic’s mind that the Best Animated Feature prize belongs to “Frozen.” But why stop there? This isn’t just a terrific animated film, but a terrific film overall. “Frozen” should be considered one of the year’s best pictures alongside “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity.” Lets just hope Disney knows what they have on their hands and give the film a proper For Your Consideration campaign. It’s simply a winner.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.