Rating: 3 Stars (on a scale of zero to four stars)
"Frozen" combines cute characters, soaring songs and clever comedy to create a Disney animated winner that tries too hard on some accounts, but that won't stop it from charming audiences.
The Disney-princess machine is working overtime with not one but two princesses in this fable about the power of girls, global cooling, sorcery and Broadway-caliber ballads.
The story is based loosely on "The Snow Queen," a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, whose collection Disney has mined many times, including "The Little Mermaid," "Thumbelina" and many more.
It features a pair of sisters, the daughters of a far-away land's king and queen. The youngest, Anna, is the picture of playful-child perfection who grows into a lovely teen as voiced by Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars").
The oldest, Elsa (Idina Menzel, the Tony Award-winner from "Wicked"), is just as sweet, but she was born with special powers -- she can freeze everything around her with the wave of a hand.
A curse or a gift? That is to be determined.
The unfortunate timing of most fables holds true here, as coronation day arrives for the long-locked-away Princess Elsa to be named as queen. A beautiful summer day turns into eternal winter when her abilities are exposed, leading her to flee the kingdom.
As usual with these themes, we can't celebrate people for their differences until after we've labeled them a freak or a monster and driven them from their home.
"Frozen" is frequently enchanting with early scenes that set up our conflict, with an old-school sensibility in the storytelling balanced by Bell contributing modern comedy quirks that only occasionally slip too far into manic Disney Channel sitcom territory.
The same over-the-top quality can also be attributed to the fantastic songs of Robert Lopez (the Tony-winner for "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon") and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
These tunes about first romance and acceptance and winter wonders are smartly-phrased, bombastic showstoppers and some of the strongest songs in any film this year. Expect Oscar nominations.
They are also so powerful that they stop all of the action in its snowy tracks, and I couldn't help but think these were crafted for an inevitable future Broadway production more than advancing the animated tale.
Fortunately the action in "Frozen" is also slickly produced, as Anna journeys to the ice palace her sister has created with the help of mountain-dude Kristoff ("Glee's" Jonathan Groff) and his trusty reindeer, Sven.
Cliff-hanging adventures and dangerous encounters with a powers-unleashed Elsa ensure that boys should take to this tale in much the same way they did with the princess-powered "Tangled."
Another attraction is the comedy stylings of Josh Gad as a kooky, sorcery-created snowman who can't keep his head connected to his body ("Somebody grab my butt" is uttered more than once) and will have the kids in stitches. Maybe the adults, too.
His snowman's not-clued-in song "In Summer," about the joys of heat he dreams about, is almost worth the price of admission alone, as Gad teams with Lopez for a Disney song the equal of anything from their "Book of Mormon" days.
"Frozen" does so many things well that it's easy to overlook the attempts to create a memorable villain and failing, or the troll creatures that remind too much of Smurfs, or the fact that the final resolution does a real disservice to the princesses' parents. (Nobody thought of this? Weird.)
There's more than a snowball's chance that some will label "Frozen" an instant classic. It's not, but in a year lacking in quality animated films, it's maybe the best of 2013.
Movie Rating (on 4 star scale)
All is Lost 4 Stars
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 3.5 Stars
Dallas Buyers Club 3.5 Stars
Gravity 3.5 Stars
Prisoners 3.5 Stars
Frozen 3 Stars
Philomena 3 Stars
Black Nativity 3 Stars
12 Years a Slave 3 Stars
Enough Said 3 Stars
Rush 3 Stars
Ender's Game 3 Stars
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 3 Stars
About Time 2.5 Stars
Captain Phillips 2.5 Stars
The Counselor 2.5 Stars
Carrie 2.5 Stars
The Book Thief 2 Stars
Thor: The Dark World 2 Stars
The Christmas Candle 2 Stars
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters 1.5 Stars
Free Birds 1.5 Stars
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