Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Tue November 26, 2013

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

Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 10:04 am

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 frost-bitten 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 reconsidered 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 Jr. A steal? A tribute? Whatever: It's great fun.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Disney's new animated musical, "Frozen," is loosely based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, "The Snow Queen." But the connection is so loose, you'll hardly the original. Like many animated pictures these days, "Frozen" takes a lot of liberties with its source material, mostly to make jokes.

In a moment, NPR's Elizabeth Blair will discuss the jokes with the jokers themselves. But first, critic Bob Mondello looks at how many other sources "Frozen" borrows from while trying to build a better snowman.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: With eight original songs, "Frozen" is a full-fledged musical. And since nearly all its voices hail from Broadway, it's easy to imagine that the composers had one eye fixed on a future stage incarnation from its opening number...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: "Lion King," right? Then there's a "Beauty and the Beast"-style tour of the town. And when the plot kicks in with two sisters - one sweet, the other with a dark side - I'll bet I'm not the only one thinking "Wicked," especially with the older sister, Elsa, played by Broadway's Idina Menzel, who even has a power ballad when she decides to defy gravity and use her magical powers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

IDINA MENZEL: (As Elsa) (Singing) Let it go. Let it go. And I'll rise like the break of dawn. Let it go.

MONDELLO: What Elsa's letting go is the power to turn the whole world into ice. And the way she unleashes that power had me thinking less about Broadway than about movies, starting with "Carrie," because it's at a palace ball - think the prom - when an angry Elsa first turns into the snow queen, shooting jagged icicles from her fingers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

MENZEL: (As Elsa) I said enough.

MONDELLO: Then she runs out into the street and the whole harbor turns to ice, just like New York's harbor did in "Day After Tomorrow."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) It's completely frozen.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) Cold, cold, cold, cold, cold, cold.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: After which, she zips off to an ice castle that might as well be Superman's retreat or maybe a frost-bitten 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 hunk who will discover he always had a heart...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

SANTINO FONTANA: (As Hans) (Singing) I mean, it's crazy...

KRISTEN BELL: (As Anna) What?

FONTANA: (As Hans) (Singing) We finish each other's...

BELL: (As Anna) Sandwiches.

FONTANA: (As Hans) That's what I was going to say.

MONDELLO: ...a snowman who needs a brain.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

JOSH GAD: (As Olaf) Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle. But put me in summer and I'll be a...

MONDELLO: ...and a carrot-loving rather than cowardly reindeer. Together, they'll dance with minion-like trolls...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) He's just a bit of a fixer upper.

MONDELLO: ...race through a vampire-free but still dangerous forest at twilight...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")

BELL: (As Anna) What are they?

FONTANA: (As Hans) Wolves.

BELL: (As Anna) Wolves?

FONTANA: (As Hans) Whoa.

MONDELLO: ...and fight with an angry snow hulk. None of which has anything to do with the Hans Christian Andersen "Snow Queen," but you know what, it's still pretty chill. I mean, why wouldn't it be? Tried and true material, with Disney princesses carefully reconsidered for 2013, possibly because after 52 Mouse House animated features, this is the first to be co-directed by a woman. Fifty-third time's the charm, right?

Oh, and speaking of the Mouse House, "Frozen" is being released with a terrific Mickey Mouse short called "Get A Horse" that 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 that Buster Keaton would recognize from his movie "Sherlock, Jr." Is that a steal? A tribute? Whatever. It's great fun. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.