Finally Disney delivers on its promise to liberate its heroines. (First-time woman director Jennifer Lee also wrote.) Frozen features two princesses and two hunky males — one royal, the other true-blue-collar — yet when the final plot reckonings take place, the Mouse House allowed a distinction between an act of true love and true love’s kiss to save the icy day. The princely dudes show up, but they don’t necessarily sweep. More than this I will not reveal.
Besides its long-overdue bow to feminist hopes, Frozen strikes an utterly fine balance between expectation and surprise; we’re on safe (if frigid) terrain, but the plot keeps you guessing. Make no mistake: The story, based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen’s incredibly complicated Snow Queen, performs the usual Disney gentrification of folktale horrors, yet the narrative keeps shifting from warm to cold, opening darkly then turning at irregular intervals into a musical kiddie cartoon and magnificent spectacle. All this frantic cycling continues through to a shockingly uncompromised ending. Disney has always worked hard to balance squeaky clean with sexy, and here they continue — in fine schizophrenic form — to blur the line between high culture and low shtick.
Even better, the movie is designed in a crazy quilt fashion that melds beautifully. Frozen opens with an old black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoon with pulsing colorful 3-D intervention, and it’s as gorgeous as it is clever. The film proper plays off this self-consciousness by blending “realism” with stylized cartoony characters; the princess children look like Bratz dolls, and the movie has a funny enchanted snowman named Olaf to distract the kids. Yet everything else is magnificent computer modeling, from the Disneyland castle where the princesses live to the wilderness they cross. Maybe the production numbers outlive their welcome, but the film is a marvel of ideas compressed into a two-hour tour of animated cinema’s possibilities to enchant and yet stay relevant.