Disney’s identity is changing. Its films, as far back as we remember, are surrounded by this cure-all idea of true love’s kiss. A man, like it or not, always needed to come to the rescue. The installment, primarily, of “Brave” (2012) changed that, calling for its hero to mend a family bond to chase a curse that turned her mother, the queen, into a bear. It was something new — not great — and different.
“Frozen” is great; at least as close to it as Disney has come in a long time. Screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee toys with the aged idea of true love’s kiss, tosses it aside and invents something passionately original and unexpected. The film is surprisingly warm and heartfelt, and it’s oozing with lovable, lasting characters.
The film, co-directed by Lee and Chris Buck, shies away from a subversive, independent hero (see: “Brave”) and introduces us to Anna, a hopeful and passionate protagonist. Her sister Elsa, who we suppose is the antagonist, is merely a young woman with a tremendous, magical ability who was shut out by her parents as a child and never learned to trust herself or feel anything for anybody. Each sister is likable in different ways. Anna is a bundle of joy and ball of fun, but we’re sympathetic toward Elsa because we know she means well, we want her to share her gift and, most importantly, we want her and Anna to be sisters again — something their parents took from their daughters when they locked Elsa up, afraid of what she was capable of.
In its two main characters, Lee created a pair of independently spirited and cooperatively inspired female leads. Anna and Elsa are so warm-hearted. They’re special characters and yet Lee surrounds them with memorable supporting ones, including Kristoff, a entrepreneurial ice salesman whose only friend is a clumsy moose. Then, there’s Olaf.
Olaf is a naive, little snowman Elsa unknowingly created and brought to life, beaming with youthfulness. He splendidly confused about who he is, wishing summer would return not knowing what it would do to him. Kristoff hilariously admits, “Somebody has to tell him!” He’s voiced by Josh Gad, who has a voice made for animated films, specifically this one because his voice perfectly matches the character. Olaf is so similar to Sid (“Ice Age”). He’s smart, but you still expect him to mess everything up. Sid tries protecting his friends from a dinosaur in “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” Chalk it up: Olaf tries protected Anna and Kristoff from a gigantic snow monster, inevitably finding a similar end.
Kristen Bell, who voices Anna, is extra special. Her voice sounded great in all of the previews for this film, but putting it all together makes it fantastic. “Frozen” is her animated debut and she knocks it out of the park. She, too, has a great voice for animation, like Gad, and ought to do much more of it; granted, she has set the bar high for herself as the infinitely huggable Anna, princess of Arendelle.
The characters are great, but the story might be better. It’s tricky, deceiving yet fulfilling. Lee, as I reference earlier, dangles the idea of true love’s kiss being the cure for Anna’s frozen heart, accidentally struck and chilled by Elsa’s powers. Lee nearly closes on the idea; instead, Anna commits a selfless act of affection for her sister, who she never gives up on and always loves unconditionally even though she felt as rejected by her as Elsa did by her parents as a child.
Anna is naturally a selfless person. Elsa is misunderstood, not by fault of her own. The ending — and you have to see it — is poignant, transcendent and original. It’s the ultimate final act that makes “Frozen” a new-age Disney classic. It’s really good. It is.