Magazine article Variety

There's No Biz like Snowbiz

Magazine article Variety

There's No Biz like Snowbiz

Article excerpt

There's No Biz Like Snowbiz

Move over, Frosty. A quixotic snowman who longs to experience summer steals the show in "Frozen," Disney's 53rd inhouse animated feature, and one of its most classical, with a Hans Christian Andersen pedigree, a full-fledged showtune score and little of the ironic humor that has become the lingua franca of most contemporary toons. But this always enjoyable tale of mysterious magic, imperiled princesses and square-jawed men of action proves longer on striking visuals than on truly engaging or memorable characters. Having the family crowd pretty much to itself this holiday season, "Frozen" should generate considerable box office heat, if not quite the same level of critical and audience affection that attended the superior "Tangled" and "Wreck-It Ralph."

The result of a decade-long effort by the studio to fashion an animated feature from Andersen's classic "The Snow Queen," "Frozen" ultimately bears only the most superficial resemblance to its source, the haunting story of a young girl's efforts to free her true love from the mind-altering effects of a cursed mirror and the icy lair of the eponymous snow spirit. Instead, writer-directors Chris Buck (a veteran Disney animator with credits dating back to "The Fox and the Hound") and Jennifer Lee (who co-scripted "Wreck-It Ralph") give filmgoers a more conventional tale, of two sisters, younger Anna (Kristen Bell) and elder Elsa (Idina Menzel), heirs to the enchanted Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle.

As seen in the movie's opening moments, the girls are the closest of childhood friends, their playtime enhanced by Elsa's unexplained ability to conjure a wonderland of ice and snow at the literal wave of her fingertips. But like Midas' golden touch, Elsa's powers soon seem more curse than blessing. When an errant icicle nearly proves fatal to Anna, the King and Queen seal the castle gates, while Elsa further cuts herself off from that circumscribed world, coming of age in solitude even after a shipwreck leaves her and Anna orphans.

Only as Elsa's coronation day draws near does she emerge from her seclusion, still uncertain as to whether or not she can control her "gift" (which, like the telekinetic rage of Stephen King's Carrie, seems to be triggered by intense surges of emotion). Meanwhile, Anna has had all memory of her childhood trauma wiped, "Men in Black"-style, by some friendly neighborhood trolls, leaving her all the more miffed by big sis' literal and figurative cold shoulder.

These early passages play out pleasantly enough, enhanced by nice detail work showing the bustle of daily Arendelle life and an amusing turn by Alan Tudyk as the nosy, diminutive Duke of neighboring Weselton.

But the narrative of "Frozen" only really kicks into gear with the palace ball following the coronation, where everything seems to be going hunky-dory until Anna makes the mistake of asking her sister's permission to marry the dashing Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana) - whom, admittedly, she just met earlier that very same day. To say that Elsa's reaction puts a chill in the air would be to make an arctic understatement.

With her secret laid bare for all to see, a devastated Elsa flees into the surrounding mountains, enveloping all of summertime Arendelle in a thick permafrost as she does. Anna gives chase, but proves ill equipped for the rugged and frigid terrain, eventually stumbling upon a small trading post that has wasted no time in jacking up prices on off-season winter provisions. It's there that she crosses paths with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an ice seller somewhat lacking in social graces (his best, and possibly only, friend is his trusty, sleigh-pulling reindeer, Sven). …

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