The kingdom of Arendelle is trapped in eternal winter. The queen has vanished and the citizens are terrified. Nobody is even thinking of young Princess Anna, who has barely ever been outside the castle gates. So what does she do?
"Bring me my horse," she commands -- and off she gallops to solve the problem.
It's a brief moment in "Frozen," but it speaks volumes about this spirited, sparkling musical adventure from Disney Animation. Disney has released several recent features whose heroines get to leave their cloisters and seek adventure, but "Frozen" is the first to achieve genuine girl power. Anna (the sprightly voice of Kristen Bell) may be gaga for pretty dresses and fancy balls, but she's also strong and self-assured from the get-go. That's a rarity, even in modern fairy tales. Usually an animated female needs 90 minutes, and a male helpmate, to "learn" such qualities.
There are other appealing wrinkles in "Frozen," a Hans Christian Andersen tale with just the right amount of updating (Anna's favorite word is "totally"). The wintry magic comes from her older sister, Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel, of Broadway's "Wicked"), whose superpowers seem subtly connected to sexuality. The more she unleashes them, the more womanly she becomes. (Eventually, she resembles something like Cher.) While Anna searches for Elsa, she meets Olaf, a snowman with the voice of a very sweet Josh Gad, and a scruffy loner named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who reluctantly joins her cause. We sense romance here -- but isn't Anna already engaged to the sweet, fun-loving Prince Hans (Santino Fontana)? Ah, the plot thickens.
The musical numbers can feel a bit too Broadway-bound (the composers are Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who worked on "Finding Nemo: The Musical"), but they're a refreshing change from the current pop hits and aged disco nuggets that decorate most animated movies. What really makes "Frozen" work is the smart, fresh script by Jennifer Lee ("Wreck-It Ralph"), who directed with Chris Buck ("Tarzan"). Anna gets to truly shape her own destiny, which is the movie's most welcome update of all.
PLOT When her kingdom is trapped in eternal winter, a young princess ventures out to bring back summer.
CAST Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff
BOTTOM LINE Disney gets nearly everything right in this animated charmer: wit, warmth, a lovely voice cast and a real message of girl power.