Disney’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Snow Queen” rests the movie on sisterly love and female empowerment. Its themes are admirable, and its wintery visual schemes are lovely to behold, but does it dazzle?
Billing itself as a musical, the film features several nicely conceived numbers. The front half of the story brims with emotion and yearning — largely expressed through music. The second half, focused on the action, uses fewer songs and mainly as comic relief.
The film’s inconsistent tone prevents the viewer from fully settling in. We embrace the sadness of loving sisters separated by unhappy circumstances, but the story moves beyond this concept to build its focus on the complications arising from a tepid love triangle.
As children, young Anna (Kristen Bell) and her older sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) play happily in their cavernous castle until Elsa’s magical ability to make snow, ice and generally freeze anything nearly kills Anna. Magical trolls save little Anna’s life, but rob her of the knowledge that her sister possesses a dangerous magical power.
In order to protect both their daughters and their royal reputations, the king and queen of the fictional land of Arendelle lock the palace gates, reduce their staff and confine Elsa to her room. There they hope she will learn “to conceal rather than feel” because fear or anger cause Elsa to lose control of her power.
Fast forward 10 years to a tragic accident that kills the king and queen, necessitating Elsa’s coronation. At the gala palace event, naive and overprotected Anna falls for the attentive handsome prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Her desire to marry Hans, despite knowing him for barely an hour, angers Elsa and prompts her to accidentally release her magic, plunging Arendelle into a terrible, perpetual winter.
Elsa runs away to the top of the North Mountain, where she uses her freezing magic to create a crystalline ice castle. Anna gives chase, persuaded she can help her sister undo the frozen spell.
Along the way Anna befriends woodsman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), somewhat of a “Dudley Do-Right,” whose companion is an unusually smart reindeer named Sven. The trio soon meet and join forces with sentient snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) who fantasizes about sunbathing on a tropical beach, unaware that heat melts frozen things.
As the drama unfolds between these four companions, including their perilous confrontation with Elsa, Anna is injured and her life hangs in the balance. This hampers the action because Anna, who is slowly dying, can only be saved by an act of true love that is a long time coming.
Plotting around both contingencies is clearly a challenge for the screenwriter-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. Because Anna is frequently on the precipice of death, the action requires that she muster the strength to either fight, run or otherwise manage her fate — turning her near-death scenes into some of the strangest I’ve seen onscreen.
However, the story constructs fully conceived characters and is well paced enough to include a couple of surprise twists. The film’s visuals are often breathtaking, while Olaf and Sven’s comic stylings are amusing. Though “Frozen” is not a masterpiece and may not dazzle, it is sufficiently enjoyable to merit placement on the family’s Christmas movie schedule.