Movie musical magic
Vibrant and visually stunning, Disney’s “Frozen” is a stage-ready musical loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It’s tempting to call the film a “comeback” of the Disney movie musical, but considering the quality of films like 2009’s underrated “The Princess and the Frog,” or 2010’s delightful “Tangled” (or even last year’s “Brave,” though technically not a musical, it had a terrific Celtic influenced score), “Frozen” indeed represents a pinnacle since the House of Mouse’s musical heyday of the 80s and 90s.
Besides, who else is making such terrific movie musicals these days? Truth is, the animated movie musical might be one of the most difficult genres to pull off, but “Frozen” balances the old school princess formula with some more forward-thinking female empowerment storylines. Adding to the enjoyment are the on-the-button show stopping tunes. The songs are penned, surprisingly, by Robert Lopez – normally associated with R-rated material of Broadway shows “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon,” and wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
How good are the songs? Well, critics are arguing over which of the songs is most memorable, including “Let It Go,” (belted by stage star Idina Menzel), “For the First Time in Forever” (Menzel sings with Kristen Bell, showing unexpected chops), a darling group number “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” or the hilarious “In Summer” (voiced by Josh Gad).
The story involves two sisters, Elsa (Menzel), whose icy powers get her banished from her rightful throne, and her loving, ever-optimistic younger sibling Anna (Bell), who wants to bring her home. Anna enlists the help of handsome mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his loyal reindeer Sven, and the comically detachable snowman “Olaf” (Gad) to scale the Everest-like heights of Elsa’s self-imposed exile—a gorgeously created ice palace.
The Scandinavian backdrop comes alive in the rich, wintery tones of an intricately designed blue palette. “Frozen” is directed and written by Disney veteran Chris Buck (“Surf’s Up,” “Tarzan,”), as well as Jennifer Lee (“Wreck –it Ralph”) and Shane Morris. The pacing is upbeat and sprightly; the plot has a twist from the traditional girl-falls-for-handsome-rescuing Prince.
And just when things slow down, a catchy number comes along to brighten up things. Time will tell whether “Frozen” will have the enduring popularity of previous musicals like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King,” or “Beauty and the Beast.” But thank heavens someone is making films like this that warm the heart and take the chill out of a holiday season where a terrific family film is indeed a rare gift.