Disney's latest animated tale, "Frozen," ironically enough, is likely to give viewers of all ages a warm feeling inside largely because that's the only ironic thing about it.
Unlike the last movie to come out of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, the hip-to-be-pixelated "Wreck-It Ralph," the computer-animated "Frozen" carries on some of Disney's oldest traditions. It's a classic fairy tale, with princesses and castles, heroes and villains, an enchanted object, beautiful animation and characters who break out into song.
In the kingdom of Arendelle, the daughters of the king and queen, Anna and Elsa, play in the castle. Anna urges Elsa to use her powers to make ice and snow so they can sled and slide and make a snowman. But when the play gets a bit rough and Anna gets knocked unconscious, the king and queen make a life-altering decision: They will keep the sisters separated and thanks to some magical rock creatures wipe away Anna's memory of Elsa's powers.
Years later, upon the death of the king and queen, Elsa (voiced by "Wicked" star Idina Menzel) is set to be crowned Arendelle's new queen but she's fearful of unleashing her powers and having her subjects turn against her. Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) is eager for company and urges Elsa to open the castle to visitors. Sure enough, at the very first gala event, Anna falls in love with the charming prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana). But Elsa, wary of new people in the castle, refuses to give Anna her blessing to marry and, in a moment of anger, unleashes her frozen fury.
Elsa exiles herself to the mountains, feeling free to use her powers to create her own icy kingdom. Alas, she also plunges Arendelle in perpetual winter. Anna vows to find Elsa and persuade her to return Arendelle's summer weather. She receives reluctant help from Kristoff (voiced by "Glee's" Jonathan Groff), an ice vendor, and Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), the snowman the sisters built when they were kids and who, thanks to Elsa's powers, is suddenly alive and talking.
Oh, and singing. "Frozen" benefits from a gorgeous song score written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who collaborated on Disney's 2011 "Winnie the Pooh" revival. (Robert Lopez's credits also include the puppet musical "Avenue Q" and working with the "South Park" guys on "The Book of Mormon.") Their songs range from the plaintive "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" to Olaf's funny solo "In Summer" and Elsa's moving declaration of independence, "Let It Go" and trust me, come the Oscar ceremony, you'll want to hear Menzel's heart-stopping version over the radio-ready Demi Lovato cover.
Directors Chris Buck ("Tarzan," "Surf's Up") and Jennifer Lee (who wrote the screenplay, adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen") match the Lopezes' work with a well-paced story and some of the most gorgeous animation Disney has produced in ages. The ice castles and snow monsters created by a wave of Elsa's hands are particularly detailed and beautifully rendered.
The voice cast is impressive, a lineup of Broadway stars such as Menzel, Groff, Fontana and Gad. The happy surprise is Bell, best known for her TV roles ("Veronica Mars" and "House of Lies" among them), who reveals a strong singing voice.
But for all of the nods "Frozen" makes to Disney tradition, the story is a refreshing break from the past. There's no evil queen here, just a misunderstood and frightened princess saved not by a charming prince but by her sister's love and determination. That change, in the Disney kingdom, may be the most magical thing of all.
This computer-animated tale of two princesses delivers music and magic in the finest Disney tradition.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Wednesday, Nov. 27.
Rating • PG for some action and mild rude humor.
Running time • 108 minutes.