Oh, those Disney princesses. Girls, my own five-year-old included, adore them. Women and parents have had issues since Snow White bit into that cursed apple in 1937. And even directors of princess movies have gone to war with Disney over marketing and representation. Introduced in Frozen, Anna, the 12th Disney princess, is the princess of the nightmares of everyone without a trove of dolls, books, bedspreads, and other royal paraphernalia–scatter-brained, klutzy, and eager to marry the first boy she meets. As voiced by Kristen Bell, the once and forever star of Veronica Mars, Anna’s also thoroughly winsome…and adds a knowing dose of satire to the formula.
Disney has heard your concerns, and, in Frozen, tweaks them. Relax–thrust into a high-stakes adventure, Anna will grow up before your eyes, and, like recent princesses including Tiana (of the underrated The Princess and the Frog), Rapunzel (Tangled), and Merida (Brave), find wisdom, higher values, and greater purpose for you to take away from the multiplex. Before that, however, the movie has a great deal of un-PC fun depicting her ding-a-ling “princessy” lifestyle, albeit one lived largely in the shadows. Looking to collaborate once upon a time, Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn couldn’t quite dispel the prevailing darkness of Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Snow Queen. Broadway fizz cracks the ice in Frozen.
Frozen isn’t just a Disney romp; it’s also the kind of zingy, high-spirited, heart-tugging Broadway show that Broadway has gotten away from. There’s an amusing Alan Chapman song, “Everybody Wants to be Sondheim,” that cuts to the heart of the matter–few want to write the patter numbers or charm songs or pull-out-the-stops ballads anymore. But not Robert Lopez, who won a Tony for Avenue Q and two Tonys plus a Grammy for The Book of Mormon, unconventional books wedded to profanely crowd-pleasing scores. He and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, wrote a fine score for the 2011 Disney release Winnie the Pooh and surpass that here with eight bright tunes, sung by Broadway talent. Co-directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (the co-writer of Wreck-It Ralph and the first woman to helm a Disney animated feature) were smart to look to the stage for the backbone of this movie, which shares a sisterhood theme with the Broadway smash Wicked.
Frozen is actually the story of two princesses, ditsy Anna and her more serious-minded sister, Elsa (Tony-winner Idina Menzel, who, not so coincidentally I suspect, was Wicked‘s original stage Elphaba), the queen-to-be of the Scandinavia-ish Arendelle. But Elsa has the ability to conjure snow and ice with her touch, a troublesome gift she’s suppressed since a childhood trauma with Anna that’s kept them apart since then, occupying opposite sides of their palace. The death of their parents and Elsa’s coronation bring them together, but the reunion is short-lived; Elsa, horrified at Anna’s whirlwind plan to marry a too-nice prince, Hans (Santino Fontana, Billy Elliot and the current Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Broadway), puts summery Arendelle into a deep freeze, then vanishes to the mountains. If you’re wondering where the heck the musical comedy is in all this, it comes when Anna determines to find Elsa so she can reverse the spell, with the help of a suddenly redundant ice merchant, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, a Tony nominee for Spring Awakening, familiar from TV’s Glee), his reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman, Olaf (Book of Mormon Tony nominee Josh Gad).
The familiar Disney elements, all in place, don’t disappoint. Bell, who I first saw in a lousy Tom Sawyer musical on Broadway, should return to the main stem posthaste, and Gad, a pox on movies (Love & Other Drugs) and TV shows (1600 Penn), is more his exuberant stage self here, though the movie leans too heavily on Olaf for laughs. The men, handy with a song and a one-liner, are fine, too. The movie is strongest, however, when focused on the two sisters. Aided by a display of spectacular CGI ice and snow that frosts the screen in 3D, Menzel sends “Let it Go,” Elsa’s big number in her lair, into the same stratosphere where her rendition of Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” resides. You feel her loneliness and her resolve, just as sheltered Anna begins to put childish things behind her and tries to make amends. The last part of the story is truly beautiful–that wasn’t ice falling from my eyes as Frozen neared its close.
What did my daughter, the final arbiter of princess-related matters in our kingdom, think? She wasn’t crazy about the scary frost giant that guards Elsa’s aerie, nor was I; fantasy padding for boys, who’ll get a kick out of it anyway. And I don’t think she liked the 3D axe that swung down upon us as the movie opened, either. Otherwise, just fine; since we’ve seen it she’s been “freezing” her little brother with her fingertips, which gives me a break. It may not be Tangled, her current favorite–but once we’ve watched Frozen 500 times on DVD and Blu-ray, and I think we will, she may warm to it.[youtube width=”602″ height=”350″ video_id=”TbQm5doF_Uc”]