Frozen (Disney)

(SFX Magazine, Future Publishing)

If you saw the Frozen trailers and thought, “Meh, a Disney princess film,” then think again. Frozen is flawed but it’s Disney’s boldest cartoon in ages, sometimes more Stephen King than Snow White.

Although it takes a few ideas from Han Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Frozen is basically an original story. At heart, it’s about two royal sisters, Anna and Elsa, in a fairy-tale Norway. Anna is your Disney type; feisty, merry and looking forward to first love. But her older sister Elsa has a terrible secret. She can magically summon snow and ice, but barely contain her powers (she almost killed Anna when they were little). Her parents have sealed Elsa away physically and spiritually, closing off her powers and heart. Yes, this is Disney, not X-Men or Firestarter.

On her coronation day, Elsa reluctantly opens up her castle to the outside world. Anna runs into a handsome youth and falls in love. This causes a fiery row with Elsa, who loses her grip on her magic and wraps the kingdom in winter, then stomps into the mountains to build a magnificent Fortress of Solitude (well, almost). Anna chases after her, recruiting a grumpier youth and his puppyish reindeer along the way.

This is heavyweight Disney, truly dark in its backstory. Of course, the film lightens up for the main adventure, which is great fun, with all the necessary jokes, cliffhangers and comic relief (an adorably cheery snowman). Anna may be the heroine, but many young viewers will root for Elsa. Fantasy films have outsiders by the dozen, but few with a story as powerful. Elsa gets the best song, “Let it Go,” taking her and Disney into new territory. Rarely has a studio shredded its rulebook with such gusto.

Sadly, the other songs aren’t very tuneful; a crucial face-off between the sisters is weakened because their song’s not up to it. (Thank heavens the songs are supported by witty cartoon staging, which makes them palatable.) A big twist is startling but disappointing, taking the story into Disney formula. The adventure is always lively, yet sometimes lacks propulsion. Far better than Pixar’s Brave, Frozen isn’t quite as satisfying as Disney’s Tangled, but it may be more important; it pulls the Disney princess into the twenty-first century.