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posted: 11/26/2013 6:00 AM

'Frozen' covers familiar Disney terrain with added surprises

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  • Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) chat with Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) in Walt Disney's animated tribute to sisterhood, "Frozen."

      Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) chat with Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) in Walt Disney's animated tribute to sisterhood, "Frozen."

  • Video: FROZENtrailer


The 3-D musical "Frozen" may not rank as a great Walt Disney animated classic, but it still packs breathtaking scenes, welcome moments of visual and verbal hilarity, plus the most endearing cinematic tribute to sisterhood since "A League of Their Own."

The quirky thing about "Frozen" -- not to be confused with the 2010 stranded ski lift horror film -- stems from the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the former being the creative force behind the Tony-winning musicals "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon," two sexually frank, adults-only works that would never, ever, bear the Disney logo.

In "Frozen," the Lopez team whips up some punchy, humdinger songs for two sister princesses, whose frosty relationship serves as the catalyst for this energized return to familiar Disney terrain -- with a few surprises in store.

Since childhood, Princess Elsa (Broadway's "Wicked" star Idina Menzel) has possessed the X-Men-like power to freeze her surroundings by mere touch, rendering her unapproachable by others, not just suitors, but her vibrant younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who adores her.

When Elsa's destructive powers become public during a terrible accident, Elsa realizes she must leave the kingdom to keep others safe.

She magically constructs a magnificent ice castle resembling Superman's Fortress of Solitude (after a fixer-upper session by the Property Brothers) while belting out the lyrics to "Let It Go," a song so pumped with promise and power that it could signal the intermission in a Broadway musical. (Hmmm.)

"Frozen" may resemble your grandparents' Disney musical, but its twists and dives place it on less-traveled roads, as when Anna opts to search out and help her sister rather than be distracted the dashingly handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana).

Along the way, Anna encounters Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a mountainman with a loyal reindeer, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a comic relief snowman who's as alive as he can be, even though he literally falls apart under stress.

"Frozen," codirected by Chris Buck and cowriter Jennifer Lee, possesses an engaging mix of Disney conventions -- another resurrection scene? and we didn't have to clap? -- with some fresh tweaks.

But what's with those soppy doe-eyed princess faces? Are Japanese manga characters sneaking into classical Disney animation? And don't the filmmakers realize that Anna's current teen lingo-speak such as "I'm freaked out!" threatens to date this movie quickly?

Note: Be sure to see Lauren MacMullan's inventive short "Get A Horse!" before the feature. It begins as a vintage, black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoon, then bursts into "Purple Rose of Cairo" mode as 2-D characters break out from the screen into full-color, 3-D shenanigans.

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