Talking snowman, show tunes give ‘Frozen’ charm

There’s a lot of princess stuff in the early going, but once a talking snowman comes into the picture, Disney’s “Frozen” rolls into gear. The movie’s been good up ‘til then, with its fairy-tale setting and Broadway-style songs.

But then the daffy snowman begins cracking wise and losing track of his carrot nose, plus he’s got a hilarious song about summer (he’s heard of it, but isn’t quite clear on the whole temperature/consistency of water thing). And suddenly all is well in the Disney kingdom.

“Frozen” isn’t as polished an animated gem as “Tangled,” but it’s plenty good. Very loosely inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, the film takes place in a northerly clime where young queen Elsa (voiced by Broadway belter Idina Menzel) cannot control her power to turn everything around her to ice.

When Elsa escapes the palace, her plucky younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) goes in pursuit across the suddenly wintry landscape, accompanied by helpful ice-harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his trusty reindeer. And the snowman (Josh Gad), thank goodness.

The idea of Elsa’s uncontrollable power is a little odd, but her big number leaves no doubt about the metaphor at play: She’s just a young woman who hasn’t been allowed to express herself yet. The movie also plays a pointed variation on something Disney’s been criticized for over the decades: the idea that a prince will ride in and solve everything. This time, the sisters are doing it for themselves.

We’ve also got a funny scene where Kristoff speaks in the voice of his reindeer—a nice little tweak of the Disney tradition of talking animals. (A talking snowman, on the other hand, is totally fine, trust me.)

In recent years, Disney has gone to its cartoon hits for live stage musical adaptations such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” Those decisions were made retroactively, but “Frozen” might be the first example of a Disney movie made with Broadway already in mind.

All that ice will be tricky to create on stage, as will the giant menacing snow creature. But the songs by Kristen Andersen-Lopez and Robert Lopez (he did tunes for “Book of Mormon”) already rattle the rafters, especially as sung by stage pros Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. Those voices could crack ice—and yes, in this case, it’s a compliment.

“Frozen” (3½ stars)

A Disney animated movie that looks at a runaway young queen with the power to turn everything to ice, and the plucky younger sister who runs after her. It’s a fun outing, with Broadway-ready songs and a wonderful talking snowman.

Rating: PG, for subject matter

Opening: Today

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