I am, it appears, the last person on Earth to see Frozen.
I avoided it at the start because it just seemed like another cloying Disney princess movie. And also because, despite Pixar's disappointing product post-Toy Story 3, I remain stubbornly and stupidly skeptical about any CG animated films that don't come out of the Pixar factory. (This needs to change, either on my part or on Pixar's part.)
Why did I finally see this movie, then? Because it became a huge phenomenon – a bigger box office success than anyone imagined. And because the story takes place in Northern Norway, where my father was born and raised. And because my dear friend Derek Friesenborg was an animator on the project.
In the end, of course, it is a cloying Disney princess movie. But it's a well-done one.
Disney cornered the market on "headstrong princesses" back in 1989, when The Little Mermaid put the Mouse House's animation division back on the map. Were Frozen a traditional cel animated feature, it would fit right in with the rest of Disney's 1990s Broadway-inspired output. Here the studio ups the ante by giving us two princesses: Elsa, a forlorn girl with the power to create snow and ice with the wave of her hand, and Anna, her non-magical younger sister, whose plucky character is squarely in the Ariel/Belle mold. A not particularly convincing prologue explains why Elsa has to keep her powers hidden from their Scandinavian kingdom, and even from her own sister. Of course, that ruse can't last forever.
The animation in Frozen is flawless. We've finally reached the point where human CG characters can be perfectly realized. (I recently re-watched The Incredibles, and as great as that movie is, you can tell that, in terms of animating "ordinary" people, they still had a long way to go back in 2004.) And I appreciate the film not giving Elsa, at least, a romantic interest.
But otherwise? The music is a little too "contemporary Broadway" for my tastes. It's not bad, but the style of the warbling (Kristen Bell as Anna; Broadway superstar Idina Menzel as Elsa) is not for me, and the lyrics' wit isn't quite as sharp as the late Howard Ashman's Disney tunes. And while the story is tight, with a great twist that surprised even me, I still found the initial setup a bit dubious. (The story is so freely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen that you can't even really call it an adaptation.)
But hey. As a Norwegian-American, I was still moved by Frozen's commitment to its milieu. The costumes are authentic. You've got reindeer, trolls, even lutefisk. (I still don't know why only one minor character has a goofy Norwegian accent, while everyone else talks like an American, but never mind.) There are hints of local music in the soundtrack – even a Sami joik (the Sami are the native people of Lapland, and a joik is a sort of tribal song-chant). Hell, I even have aunts in Norway named Anna and Else (note the proper Norwegian spelling). How could I possibly hate this film, even if I wasn't as bowled over as millions of others?