Frozen bears little resemblance to its supposed inspiration, Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. It sprang from the grand Disney tradition of animated, Broadway-style musicals. But unlike 2009's tired retread of The Princess and the Frog, it could very well be the start of a new era of fairy-tale films.
Frozen is about not one but two princesses. Disney also doubles up on the nascent feminism we saw in Brave, the kind that accepts that girls might want more out of life than marriage. The princesses are sisters -- Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and the younger Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) -- and this is mostly the story of their troubled relationship, not a fight over a hunky prince.
When Elsa and Anna are kids, Elsa's ability to make things cold -- "arctikinesis" -- knocks out Anna, threatening her life. Soon Anna's memory of Elsa's ability is taken away, and the king and queen of Arendelle decide Elsa should be locked away, lest she hurt someone else. Terrified of harming anyone, Elsa agrees. Fast-forward to the present, when Elsa is about to be crowned queen. Anna has spent years not knowing why her sister has shut her out, and Elsa is desperately worried her subjects will see her as a monster.
The villains here include unintended consequences and pressure to conform. When Elsa finally stops denying her arctikinesis, she celebrates by creating an ice castle and belting out the glorious anthem "Let It Go." She tosses away "the good girl" she "always [had] to be" and stops believing that "conceal, don't feel" is a healthy way to live.
I felt chills listening to this. Disney finally gets it. Hearing that you're not allowed to be yourself is stifling. And bottling up your identity can be dangerous.
While shedding her inhibitions, Elsa accidentally covers Arendelle in ice and snow. In summertime. She's having so much fun that she doesn't realize it. Anna is determined to find Elsa and convince her to fix everything, even though she doesn't know if her sister's actions were deliberate. She is pretty sure the snow will melt but unsure if their relationship will get warmer.
Of course, there are male characters in Frozen, too. There's handsome Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana), whom Anna falls hard for. There's also talking snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), a byproduct of Elsa's magic. As comic sidekicks go, he's one of the best Disney has invented.
The animation is gorgeous. The songs are soaring. There is real Disney magic here, and it subverts many of the harmful messages the Disney magic of old spread. It's progress, and it goes down easy.