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Animated feature ‘Frozen’ should thaw anybody’s heart

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Frozen

    A queen who can’t control magical powers goes into hiding. Be sure to see the short beforehand, “Get a Horse!”

    B+ STARS: Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana.

    DIRECTORS: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee.

    RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes.

    RATING: PG (mild rude humor).

I went to the advance screening of “Frozen” Monday night and saw the best animated movie of the year. It wasn’t “Frozen,” actually – though that’s quite satisfying – but a six-minute short titled “Get a Horse!”

That compact comedy explodes off the two-dimensional screen. It begins with black-and-white 1920s footage of Mickey and Minnie Mouse hitching a ride on a hay wagon. (Walt Disney provides Mickey’s voice.) Peg-Leg Pete comes along in an auto, tries to pass, gets thwarted and goes berserk.

Suddenly the camera pulls back. Characters pop outside the black-and-white frame and take on three-dimensionality and color. The action switches back and forth between “flat” and “full” animation, with cellphones and modern-day machinery complicating the plot at top speed. TV veteran Lauren MacMullan thus joins the ranks of writer-directors who need to do more animation pronto.

“Frozen” doesn’t dazzle in the same way, though its sumptuous visual palette and 3-D snow effects grab the eye. Its plot, written by Jennifer Lee (who directed with Chris Buck), conflates Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” – monarch freezes Nordic kingdom, imperiling lives – and “Wicked,” where a misunderstood sorceress seeks solitude to avoid persecutors and her popular, perky pal tries to smooth things over.

In fact, except for having two princesses who can be turned into dolls and toys, “Frozen” follows the Disney template fairly closely. Elsa (Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba in “Wicked”) and younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) are orphans who become queen and princess of Arundell. But Elsa can’t control her ability to create snow and ice, so she flees to a distant mountain.

Anna has fallen in love at first sight with Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana, currently playing the love-at-first-sight prince in “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” on Broadway). She sets out to convince her sister to return and restore springtime, accompanied by a charismatic ice salesman (Jonathan Groff), a comical snowman (Josh Gad) and a silent but expressive reindeer.

The songs come from the husband-and-wife team that did “Winnie the Pooh” in 2011, Robert Lopez and former Charlottean Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

They, too, keep to Disney’s pattern: First comes a yearning for escape from parental control, then a longing for love, then the announcement of independence (sung by Menzel, and I challenge you not to think of “Defying Gravity”), then the comic sidekick’s jaunty solo. Yet the numbers all work, and the one where Anna and Hans finish each other’s sentences is clever indeed.

The movie doesn’t take risks: Nobody gets killed, as Gaston does in “Beauty and the Beast,” and trolls are cuddly rather than malicious (as they were in Andersen’s story). Even a rampaging snow monster gets a happy ending, when you sit through the final credits.

“Frozen” reassures us that evil can be undone, that frigid hearts can melt and chicanery will be found out. (The story does have one twist quite rare for a Disney film.) This may be yet another variation on the usual coming-of-age/sisterhood themes so familiar in Disney movies, but who does those better?

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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