In adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen for the big screen, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the screenplay) took liberties with the source material. A lot of liberties. Gone are the evil trolls, small children, and evil mirrors. In their place are a cheeky snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), a bunch of good-natured trolls, and lots and lots of singing.
The story has also been boiled down to something closer to a typical Disney princess vehicle. Elsa (Idina Menzel), the eldest daughter of the king of Arendelle is forced to keep her magical powers to create snow and ice a secret from the world after accidentally hurting her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell). But after the death of her parents and the announcement that Anna is going to marry a prince she just met, Elsa reveals them to the world in a fit of anger, pitching the entire region into eternal winter before running off into the mountains. Anna follows in hopes of bringing about a thaw, aided by a young, handsome ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his adorable reindeer Sven.
The trouble is that Frozen wants to have it both ways. They want a fiercely independent young woman at the head of this story, but one that is still searching desperately for a mate. They want an evil queen, but not a malevolent one; like Garbo in Grand Hotel, she just wants to be alone. They want something of hip, modern story, but all wrapped up in traditionalism.
What keeps the story from cracking under the pressure of balancing those ideals is the work of the voice cast. Kristen Bell is a perfect fit for Anna, managing to capture both the fierceness and delicacy of her character (and showing off an impressive singing voice to boot), and, as her sister, Broadway veteran Idina Menzel exhibits some palpable emotion as she struggles to control her powers. But the film nearly gets stolen by Josh Gad playing Olaf with a tenderness and naiveté that befits an anthropomorphic snowman.
And if the plot still lets you down, just sit back and drink in the gorgeous world that the animators created. The ice castle that Elsa creates to hide out in is an absolute wonder of glistening reflections and tiny details. And the surrounding landscape — in both its snow-covered form and its sunnier moments — is rendered with care and the kind of attention that other computer animated films skim over.