Solid 'Frozen' Puts A Fresh Sheen On An Old Story

NPR | Dec. 2, 2013 7:04 a.m.

Contributed By:

Bob Mondello

The new animated musical Frozen is based — sort of, hypothetically, in theory, or at least according to the Disney studio — on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen.

Not in ways anyone would notice, however, and not in ways that will in any way distract moviegoers from thinking about the other works that seem to have influenced its creators; unlike in many animated movies, the borrowings aren’t so much in-jokey as structural. Homages, of a sort, and fun to spot.

With most of its voices hailing from Broadway, it’s a good bet the composers have one eye fixed on a future stage incarnation; makes sense, then, that there’d be references to a couple of Disney’s Broadway hits. The opening number sounds a lot like The Lion King; then there’s a Beauty and the Beast-style tour of the town.

And once the plot kicks in — featuring two sisters, one sweet, the other with a dark side — I won’t be the only one thinking Wicked. The older sister, Elsa, (played by Broadway’s Idina Menzel) even has a power ballad, “Let It Go,” in which she decides to, ahem, defy gravity and use the magical powers she’s been keeping under wraps.

The way she unleashes those powers, though, had me thinking less about Broadway than about movies — starting with Carrie, because it’s at a palace ball (read: royals prom) when an angry Elsa first turns into the Snow Queen, shooting jagged icicles from her fingers. Then she runs out into the street and the whole harbor turns to ice, just like New York’s did in The Day After Tomorrow.

After which she zips off to an ice castle that might as well be Superman’s retreat. Or maybe a frostbitten Oz — which is appropriate, because to find her, her sister sets off to see the snow queen, picking up three sidekicks on the way: a snowman who needs a brain, a hunk who’ll discover he always had a heart and a carrot-loving but not cowardly reindeer.

Together, they’ll dance with minion-like trolls, race through a vampire-free but still dangerous forest at Twilight and fight with an angry snow-Hulk. None of which has anything to do with Andersen’s Snow Queen,but you know what? It’s still pretty chill.

And why wouldn’t it be? Tried-and-true material, plus Disney princesses carefully re-considered for 2013 — possibly because though there have been 52 Mouse House ‘toon features, this is the first to be co-directed by a woman. (Fifty-third time’s the charm, right?)

Speaking of the Mouse House: Frozen is being released with a terrific Mickey Mouse short called Get a Horse, which looks at first like a black-and-white cartoon from the 1930s, then bursts into color and 3-D in a bit of screen-shattering cleverness Buster Keaton would recognize from his movie Sherlock Junior. A steal? A tribute? Whatever: It’s great fun.

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