Like The Little Mermaid, the animated film Frozen mines Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales for material, discards the most brutish bits, and applies a heavy Disney top gloss. Frozen doesn’t benefit from comparison to The Little Mermaid. Its songs – by music-and-lyrics team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – rank a distant second when it comes to wit and catchy melodies, and its bench of interesting characters is lamentably shallow. But in the plus column, Frozen can count in its favor visual grandeur, two energetic young women as co-leads, and a couple of plot twists that place the film a cut above your average princess fare.
Drawing inspiration from Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” screenwriter Jennifer Lee (who also co-directs with Chris Buck) hooks an empowerment story around two fire-and-ice siblings. Eldest Elsa (voiced by Broadway vet Menzel) can control snow, a gift she comes to think of as a curse, while Anna (Bell) is a blithe chatterbox, unaware of her sister’s magical powers until Elsa accidentally plunges their tiny Nordic kingdom into endless winter. When Elsa self-banishes to a hermetic life on top of a mountain, li’l sis chases after her, picking up in the process an anti-social ice merchant (voiced by Glee’s Groff, who deserved his own barn-burning song) and a sweet, dim, sentient snowman who is playfully, perfectly vocalized by Gad. The snowman gets the film’s cleverest and best choreographed number, “In Summer,” a daft, winning ditty that, coming at mid-film, marks Frozen’s high point. Still, the spirit of the song – pure of heart, noble in intention – carries throughout the film.