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'Frozen': Defying meteorology ★★★

Big, bright, often beautiful and essentially an action movie, as are most animated features these days, "Frozen" comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios. While Disney credits the 1845 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen" as primary inspiration, the movie owes a lot more to the Broadway blockbuster "Wicked."

Example: In "Frozen," when its misunderstood young sorceress (voiced by Idina Menzel, who won a Tony for originating the green one in "Wicked") unleashes her magical powers and starts designing her permafrost castle in exile, she wallops a tune called "Let It Go," which is very, very, very much in the spirit of "Defying Gravity," the "Wicked" Act 1 closer. The eight songs in "Frozen," very good in the main, were written by the team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The latter — co-writer of "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon" — has described "Let It Go" as the "the biggest, beltiest diva number" imaginable. It's almost a parody of itself. When it comes to such numbers I tend to respond the way Mr. Darling does in "Peter Pan": A little less noise there, please. But if you like that sort of thing, "Frozen" has that sort of thing.

And the film basically works. It's entertaining, and following an old Disney tradition "Frozen" works some old-school magic in its nonhuman characters.

There's Sven the reindeer, stalwart best friend of the hunky Nordic love interest Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who harvests ice for a living. But especially there's Olaf the joyfully needy snowman, with a charming overbite and three or four twigs for hair. He dreams of sunny summer vacations courtesy of the fetching ditty "In Summer," in which Olaf yearns for scenarios that would spell his demise. Olaf is voiced by Josh Gad, who worked with Lopez in the original iteration of "The Book of Mormon." You can hear the smile in Gad's vocal delivery; his comic timing's very sly, a little behind the expected beat, and there's a sweetness to his delivery. What Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella did for Disney's film "The Lion King," Gad does for "Frozen."

The movie takes the bare bones of the original fairy tale and builds its own contraption. It's a tale of two sisters. Elsa, voiced by Menzel, has been blessed/cursed with the emotion-triggered ability to whip up ice and snow in threatening amounts. Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, is nearly killed by her sister's magic as a young girl, so their parents devote what's left of their lives to protecting one girl from the other.

Years pass, as they do, and Elsa is to be crowned queen of Arendelle. At the coronation sister Anna, insta-smitten with a dreamy suitor from a neighboring kingdom, asks Elsa to bless the union. No soap, says Elsa, whose outburst turns her ice-magic into "The Day After Tomorrow." The coastal kingdom is plunged into a deep freeze. Elsa squirrels away up north, alone, to sing power ballads. Anna eventually becomes the problem solver and fix-it sibling.

Co-director and screenwriter Jennifer Lee's script goes in for a fair amount of complication and political intrigue, though like so many animated features, whatever the studio, the story cannot wait to get back to the thundering imperilment. Still, Anna's a gratifying heroine, a shrewd mixture of assertiveness and relatability. The project was tasked with two directors, first-billed Chris Buck and second-billed Lee. The sheer scope of the story, encompassing ice monsters and Broadway power anthems, probably required as much. As Anna gets closer and closer to discovering the reason why her sister abandoned her emotionally years earlier, "Frozen" cracks the exterior of its radically revised Snow Queen (Elsa, that is; nothing like Andersen's original). The happy ending feels genuine and heartfelt.

And Gad's Olaf, in the nicest way, kills.

mjphillips@tribune.com

MPAA rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)

Running time: 1:40

Opens: Wednesday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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