Disney has a long and proud history of making wonderful animated musicals. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo through to The Jungle Book, Aladdin and The Lion King, Disney's animated features has lit up the screen with wonderful, memeorable songs to go along with the stunning visuals. In the past decade or so though, the Disney films have lacked a certain ... something. As good as The Princess and the Frog and Tangled were, there was something missing. Something intangible, but you notice when it's not there.
Well, the good news is that Frozen has got the goods, in spades. In fact, it's the most delightful, wonderful and magical Disney film to come along in a very long time. Based on the classic fairy tale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen is the story of two sisters – Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) – who also happen to be princesses. Their parents, the King and Queen, rule over the kingdom of Arendelle, and the little girls enjoy playing together in the castle. But Elsa has a magical power – she can create ice and snow – and one day she accidentally hurts her little sister while they are playing. To make sure that she never hurts anyone again, Elsa shuts herself off from everyone and everything, leaving Anna puzzled as to why her sister won't play with her any more.
Cut to 16 years later. The King and Queen are dead, lost in an accident at sea, and Elsa is coronated as Arendelle's new ruler. But in an argument with Anna, she reveals her power. Elsa flees into the mountains, leaving the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna heads off in search of her sister, leaving Prince Hans of the Southern Isles – a man she met at the coronation party, and to whom she has just become engaged – to take care of the kingdom. As she looks for Elsa, Anna hooks up with ice salesman Kristoff (Groff), his loyal reindeer Sven and the adortable Olaf (Gad), a snowman created by Elsa.
It's a busy plot, but not overly complicated in the slightest. Luckily, every element of the film works perfectly: the animation (stunning), the voice casting (perfect) and the songs (magnicficent). The music in Frozen is so good that you'd swear you were watching a Broadway musical. That's partly down to the brilliant casting of Menzel – who has starred in both Rent and Wicked on Broadway – as Elsa. Yes, she can act, but boy, can she sing. Menzel is the smartest piece of casting that we've seen from Disney since it got Robin Williams for the Genie in Aladdin. The rest of the cast acquit themselves admirably – especially Bell (who knew she could sing?) – but the powerhouse Menzel towers above them all. And if it sounds as though I'm gushing, just wait until you hear her belt out the showstopping (and Oscar-winning) number Let It Go.
Of course, being a Disney "princesses" film, there has to be a bit of romance and a touch of comic relief. And we get twice as much of each for our money this time. On the romance front, Anna falls for Prince Hans (Fontana) early on, but could the antagonistic relationship she develops on the road with Kristoff become something more? And while reindeer Sven is very cute and endearing, he's out-cuted and very much out-funnied by the very cool Olaf. And you'll be crying tears of laughter when Olaf breaks into his little song-and-dance number about looking forward to the delights of summer ...
Ultimately, Elsa is the villain of the story, and Anna the hero. But Elsa is also a victim; she has a power that she never asked for, and has never learned to control. Anna yearns for the sister that has cut her off for so long; frozen her out, if you will. As with its source material, Frozen has both light and dark, along with many shades of grey. It's a story of love, of family, of bravery and redemption. And yes, it's a "cartoon" (albeit one of the most beautiful looking CGI cartoons yet) and it's made primarily for children, but as with the bulk of the output from sister studio Pixar over the years, this truly is a film for all the family. It's got heart, soul and magic – and brilliant songs that will stay with you long after you switch off the TV. And it's a film that's made to be enjoyed over and over again (trust me, it's better the second time you see it). For the first time in a very long time, with Frozen Disney has a true classic on it hands.
EXTRAS ★★ For a film this successful – both critically and commercially – Disney really dropped the ball with the bonus materials; it's a very, very disappointing collection. There's the original theatrical short Get A Horse! (6:00), which was much more fun in 3D; the featurette The Making Of Frozen (3:18), a musical sort-of behind-the-scenes with Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and the Frozen team which is actually nothing more than a song that repeats "How did we make, how did we make, how did we make Frozen?"; the featurette D'Frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen (7:28), which also does not go behind-the-scenes of the making of Frozen, but is just a very brief look at Walt Disney's desire to develop a feature film centered around The Snow Queen; four Deleted Scenes (6:51), introduced by directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, the scenes are presented via storyboards, concept art and voicework: Never Underestimate the Power of Elsa, The Dressing Room, Meet Kristoff #1 and Meet Kristoff #2; four music videos for the End Credit Version of Let It Go (15:42), sung in English by Demi Lovato, in Spanish by Martina Stoessel, in Italian by Stoessel, and in Malaysian by Marsha Milan (none can hold a candle to Idina Menzel's version, of course); and the Original Teaser Trailer (1:32). An audio commentary with the directors and maybe some of the cast (Bell and Menzel, at the very least) plus a proper making-of documentary would have been very welcome.