The most amusing ingredient of Disney's formula on ice in Frozen doesn't belong there. He's the adorably dumb sidekick named Olaf – the Tow Mater of the piece, if you will – voiced with exuberant stupidity by Josh Gad.
Olaf is a snowman, suiting the frigid setting, with a naive hankering to live in tropical climes, prompting this musical's liveliest song. His magically detachable body parts – and a cherished new carrot nose – make Olaf a continuous sight gag after his arrival halfway through. He's fun and energetic, which doesn't fit much of what came before.
Frozen is a throwback to serious Disney musicals like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Princess and the Frog. Olaf is flatulence at a formal dinner party, too boisterous for the table set before him.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee present a wintry spectacle with 3-D tricks a cut above most 'toons. Frozen impresses by conveying coldness in all its frostbitten beauty, from northern lights and blizzards, to ice magnifying, refracting and reflecting light. The movie is a lovely example for animation enthusiasts to study.
The drama of Lee's screenplay is equally chilled, focused on two princesses apparently not meriting that official Disney merchandising status. Elsa is the eldest, cursed/blessed with the ability to conjure cold in any form. These icy powers are fun and games until younger Anna gets hurt by an arctic bullet. Their royal parents ground the girls for years, isolated even from each other, until Elsa's coronation day.
That event doesn't go well for Elsa (now voiced by Idina Menzel), who plunges the kingdom into deep freeze then high tails it into the wilderness. Anna (Kristen Bell) must convince Elsa to return and thaw out the kingdom. Aided by the smitten mountaineer Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and later Olaf, Anna's quest to connect with her sister is the underwhelming gist of the movie.
There's a distinct lack of conflict, since Elsa isn't a bad person, only misunderstood and neurotic about her cryo-kinetic condition. Even when unleashing an abominable snow-bouncer, there's no peril from her taken seriously. Lee introduces a pompous royal (Alan Tudyk) with ulterior motives who never materializes as much of a threat.
Songs composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez employ the yearnings and assertions of quasi-Broadway show tunes. The theatrical camaraderie of Bell and Menzel's duet For the First Time in Forever, and later Elsa's breakdown song Let It Go, nakedly mimic the supernatural sibling chemistry of Wicked. Neither is as playful as Olaf's showstopping daydream In Summer, and Gad's giddy performance.
Making even better use of 3-D technology – earning the "plus" in this B+ review – is a short masterpiece preceding Frozen, an ingeniously retro Mickey Mouse cartoon titled Get a Horse. For six indescribable minutes, Disney's original spark of animation genius melds with modern capabilities, with Uncle Walt himself voicing Mickey. It's the only thing your ticket's buying that'll be revered 20 years from now.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.