As "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" continues burning up box-office records with Jennifer Lawrence's wondrous role model of strength, courage and heart for young women, Walt Disney Studio's animated new "Frozen" offers something similar for their younger sisters.
Reminiscent of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" - the first animated film to be nominated for a best-picture Oscar - this musical adventure loosely adapted from Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen" packs an emotional wallop in between its gorgeous visuals.
NPR movie critic Bob Mondelo recently listed all the past Disney hits and set pieces "Frozen'" borrows from, right up to the not-yet-produced Broadway musical lurking in its score. His review was a reminder that today's Hollywood is more about branding, products and marketing strategies than it is about telling stories.
"Frozen" tells its story anyway.
It's about two princess sisters, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). They're both good girls, but the older one is the victim of a curse that turns everything she touches into ice. Don't you hate it when that happens?
This makes life awfully difficult for residents of their kingdom of Arendelle, eventually requiring younger sister Anna to set off on a rescue mission calling upon the services of a loveable ice-cutting lunkhead named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff); his trusty reindeer Han (Santino Fontana), who's more like a brother; and a motor-mouth snowman Olaf (Josh Gad).
Years ago - decades, actually - I had the privilege of touring Disney's animation campus. The occasion was a press junket for a movie called "Oliver & Company." The year was 1988. Roy Disney had just saved the Disney empire from being sold off for spare parts. But animation was still a big gamble.
In those days, following the death of the visionary genius who had launched it all, everyone was still paralyzed by the question, "What would Walt Disney do?"
Our guides for the tour were Roy Disney and then-animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg. They were nervous. When I raised the point that classic fairy tales always had a dark side, Katzenberg silenced me by saying, "Don't pull that literary criticism crap."
Disney's corporate stodginess was out of touch with changing times in the '80s, and there were questions whether the studio would survive. Katzenberg showed the press tour a few minutes of a rough-cut, black-and-white work print of the new project they were working on.
It was called "The Little Mermaid."
The rest, as they say, is history. Tom Hanks will play the part of Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks," a feel-good dramedy due out in time for Christmas. An ingeniously reimagined classic Disney cartoon, "Get a Horse," precedes the showing of "Frozen," with the 'toons jumping on and off the screen. People reading the credits will discover Uncle Walt himself providing the voice of the original Mickey Mouse.
In his day, movies were made that way. Hands-on. Inspiration born of desperation.
But although he was destined to be recognized as perhaps the most imaginative mind of the 20th century, Walt even couldn't have conceived the scope or ramifications of the Disneyfication of global culture.
The theme parks. The cruise lines. The Happy Meals. The movies and media networks. Broadway. The logo wear in every size.
I might be more upset about all this if "Frozen" weren't such a rich emotional experience, not only for princess-obsessed little girls, but their brothers and parents, too. Directed and written by Chris Bell and Jennifer Lee, "Frozen's" cast spans layers of life forms, from a poignant reindeer through an indestructible snowman to the oh-so-human sisters in the lead roles. Bell is delectable whether singing or not, blending naivete and clever anachronisms into a beguiling heroine that you keep forgetting is just a cartoon.Today's Disney folks have figured out what Walt would do. He'd be delighted.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.