Lest you forget amid all the noise made by Marvel Studios and Star Wars rumors, Walt Disney Pictures still does big business in princesses, and they’re aiming to prove it with their mammoth new holiday season release Frozen. Very, very loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, it’s the story of a vaguely Nordic kingdom and the two orphaned sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), charged with running it. The spunky heroine and lonely castle hearken back to recent hit Tangled; the sisterly conflict feels like The Little Mermaid; the knowing fairy tales riffs are pure Enchanted. This is rigorous Disney hit-making at its finest, but with enough charm to get away with it.
Even before Elsa’s powers of shooting ice and snow from her fingertips run rampant, the animation guided by directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee is stunning– Elsa and Anna’s parents perish in a single shot of a howling storm at sea, and the stony cliffs surrounding the village of Arrendel are dramatic even before coated in ice. Elsa revels in her powers as a little girl, but after a close call with Anna and a poorly aimed bolt of ice, she’s convinced to hide her strengths and retreat from their tight sisterly bond. The death of the king and queen means Elsa must take over, but the stress of her coronation (and Anna’s dumb-cluck decision to get engaged to a hunky prince she just met) makes her lose control. Elsa storms up into the mountains, leaving ice castles and blizzards in her wake and belting the power ballad “Let It Go.” Especially as sung by Menzel it’s a shameless riff on Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity”; that hasn’t kept it from sticking in my head for weeks now, and good luck shaking it out of yours.