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‘Frozen’: Killer songs, gorgeous animation in Disney’s new fairy tale

‘FROZEN’ ★★★1⁄2

With the voices of:

Anna Kristen Bell

Elsa Idina Menzel

Kristoff Jonathan Groff

Olaf Josh Gad

Walt Disney Animation Studios presents a film directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and written by Lee. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated PG (for action and mild rude humor). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:47PM

Disney’s “Frozen” works beautifully as a timeless fairy tale with a modern twist. As Walt himself might have put it: Here is a movie sure to captivate children, delight adults, and melt the hearts of audiences of all ages.

It’s also the first animated movie I’ve seen that is so obviously perfect for a Broadway adaptation. Nearly every musical number had me thinking about how it would be re-created on the stage: the solos in Act I that are reprised in Act II with the same melody but a different context; the tear-inducing duet illustrating a potentially tragic conflict that could be resolved if only these two characters would really and truly LISTEN to each other; the audience-pleasing, big-production, comedic-relief number. It’s all here. And then some.

Not that this is a bad thing. Nearly every song in “Frozen” is so catchy and is delivered with such theatrical gusto by the splendid cast, I wouldn’t be surprised if even movie audiences break into applause a time or two at the conclusion of a few numbers.

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” which Disney had been trying to adapt for decades, is the inspiration for this gorgeously animated 3-D adventure. (Andersen also penned “The Little Mermaid,” which I heard was turned into a Disney film.) In the case of “Frozen,” the departures from the original story are many and significant.

“Frozen” is a surefire Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature, if not the favorite, and deservedly so.

Elsa (voiced by Broadway veteran Idina Menzel of “Rent” and “Wicked” fame) is the newly crowned queen of Arendelle, and Anna (Kristen Bell) is her adoring younger sister. Constant companions when they were young, the sisters have been on opposite sides of Elsa’s locked door for the better part of 10 years.

Here’s the thing. Elsa’s the ultimate ice queen, born with a sub-freezing Midas touch she’s never learned to harness. As we see in scenes set about a decade prior to the coronation, when Elsa was 9 and Anna was 5, Elsa was capable of creating magical winter wonderlands merely by wishing it so.

But if fear or doubt crept in, those same powers would turn ugly and dangerous, resulting in an accident that nearly killed Anna. Fortunately, there were some nearby trolls who could cure Anna — but she would wake up with no memory or knowledge of her sister’s special gift, which was starting to feel more and more like a curse.

Time passes. Anna keeps trying to get Elsa to leave her room, but Elsa never budges.

When Elsa reaches the age when she can become queen, she has a change of heart, much to Anna’s delight. Unlock the doors! Open the windows! Welcome the leaders of kingdoms near and far!

(Where are mom and dad? SPOILER ALERT: This is a Disney movie. I’ll leave it at that.)

The celebration doesn’t last the day. After things go terribly wrong at the coronation, Elsa retreats to the mountains and an ice castle of her own making, leaving behind a kingdom trapped in ice in the middle of summer. The good people of Arendelle and the leaders of other kingdoms are sure Elsa is a sorceress of the worst kind, a monster who should be killed. But Anna still believes in her sister, so she ventures into the cold and cruel world outside the gates of Arendelle in search of Elsa.

Jonathan Groff voices the clunky but goodhearted Kristoff, who befriends Anna and joins in her quest. Josh Gad’s Olaf is the obligatory comic relief — a jabbering snowman created by Elsa many years ago. Thanks to Gad, Olaf’s a scene-stealer.

Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee do a terrific job of creating a fairy-tale atmosphere, balancing tragedy and comedy, and knowing exactly when to make room for another number. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are a perfect match for the story. Bell, Menzel, Groff and Gad are superb at the underrated art of voice acting. This is one great-looking movie.

So why three and a half stars instead of four? SPOILER ALERT time.

Even after a near-fatal accident and a family tragedy that occur back to back when the sisters are quite young, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for Elsa to stay locked in her room for nearly 10 years, never explaining to Anna why they must remain apart. Also, it’s a little tough to embrace a redemption storyline for one particular character after we’ve seen that individual go so dark.

But “Frozen” overcomes those few stumbling ice blocks. If you have kids of a certain age, there’s a good chance you’re going to be seeing “Frozen” at some point over the Thanksgiving holiday. Here’s the great news: I think they’ll love it, and you will too.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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