Were you aware that you missed the old-fashioned, Disney-produced, princess-based musical, the kind with a story about love, filled with catchy, heart-swollen songs that convey important plot and emotional information? Well, you were.
Pixar, usually on their game, helped you forget what you weren't getting; you didn't even notice they were gone. And years of song-intensive animation, executed all crappishly, probably made you wary of a return to that form. Maybe you thought that wickedly clever stuff like South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut had taken an ax to the standard musical's already slack, bored face. But good news, the past is now present and princesses are singing and adorable sidekicks are providing comic relief and there's a hero, too, but it's not exactly the one you think it'll be and gosh it's good to have it all back in movie theaters.
Very, very (seriously, very) loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen," this adaptation centers around princesses/sisters Anna (the voice of Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). They're best friends and one of them, Elsa, possesses an unusual gift: she can make everything turn to ice and snow. The wrinkle? She can't always control her power. After a series of unfortunate events that turn the siblings into functional strangers, Elsa's strange magic turns debilitating curse, plunging the entire kingdom into a bitterly cold snowscape, one that could destroy the population. She flees and Anna enlists the help of mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and a clueless talking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad, who doesn't overwhelm the film as much as the trailer would suggest) to right all wrongs and bring her sister back home.
The songs are what reel you in right away, whether or not old-school show tunes are your thing. Written by Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (the married team responsible for the music in 2011's underseen Winnie The Pooh), they're packed with hooks and full-bodied emotional power, the kind more or less absent from Disney's animated musicals since Beauty and The Beast. They're bold, almost maddeningly pushy songs, relevant to the story and passing the most important litmus test: they feel necessary, their absence would diminish the movie.
The technical aspects are excellent, too. It's a bright, beautiful, shining gift of a film with 3D that isn't afraid to choose spectacle over depth. Best of all, its deviations from the source material feel right for right now, especially as it relates to its own historical standing alongside a deservedly maligned tradition of princesshood as an end to itself. Without going into too much plot detail, these are princesses who buck traditional narrative outcomes for something deeper and more powerfully heartfelt. It's a movie about fear and grief and the power of familial, sibling love to sort it all out. Weirdly, in movies that are almost always aimed at children, that's a love that rarely gets equal screen time in a romance-obsessed world. It's a welcome, refreshing change and, at least partly thanks to that, should rightly stand with Disney's classics.