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Frozen (2013)

Walt Disney's
Feature Animation department has had mixed fortunes since the turn of the century. After years of trying to recapture the magic of their mid-nineties glory years, they released a number of films that tried to do something just a bit different. This era gave us much-overlooked gem The Emperor's New Groove and Lilo and Stitch, but also misfires like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. Remember Home On The Range? No? Exactly. Regardless of quality, these films collectively failed to set the world alight, and ultimately led to the shuttering of Disney's traditional animation department.

More recently though, things have been looking up. Since John Lasseter took over as Chief Creative Officer of the combined Disney/ Pixar the studio seems to have been newly energised, and their movies have been getting incrementally better with each release. Today's Disney seems to be finding success in taking the classic Disney formula and adding a modern twist. And Frozen seems to be the very culmination of this approach.

On the face of it, Frozen seems to be very much in the traditional Disney mould. Set in the fairytale kingdom of Arendelle, it follows the Princess Anna and her sister Elsa, who has the magical power to turn anything she touches to ice. When Elsa comes of age and is due to be crowned Queen a disagreement with her sister sees her powers run out of control, plunging the kingdom into eternal winter. Anna, with the help of mountain dweller Christoff sets off to find her sister and save the kingdom.

Like Tangled before it, this is a return to Disney's old-school musical fairytales- in this case, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen- with updated CG animation. The story-book world is brought to life magnificently. Clearly inspired by real-world Scandinavian scenery (complete with the Northern Lights) the beautiful backgrounds alone are a treat for the eyes. The character animation is outstanding, combining the traditional Disney look with cutting-edge computer animation techniques. This is undoubtedly one of the best-looking animated flicks to date, but we can't help but wonder what this would have been like if it had been animated in 2D.

However, Frozen brings much more to the table than merely updated visuals- it's story-telling is quietly revolutionary. Disney has a tradition of female protagonists going right back to the beginning with Snow White. Yet (as in most media) more often than not they're largely defined by their relationship with men. Their ultimate goal is to settle down and presumably start a family, and the whole film leads up to that. Frozen has a romantic sub-plot, sure enough, but it very much takes a backseat to the true heart of the film. Yes, this is a love story, but it's a story of the love between the sisters that powers the story, and makes this shine. This is something that is rarely seen on screen, animated or otherwise. Brave attempted something similar with mother-daughter relationships, but then become sidetracked trying to remake Brother Bear, becoming less interesting as a result. Here the relationship is convincing and works fantastically well, backed up by strong performances by the leads. Hopefully, Disney (and Hollywood as a whole) will learn the right lessons from Frozen's success and it will lead to stronger female-led films in the future.

Outside of this, the movie is rich in the usual pleasures Disney films provide. The cast is full of memorable, beautifully designed and charming characters. Christoff's loyal Reindeer Sven is the latest in a long line of lovable animal sidekicks, and audience-favourite comic relief snowman Olaf provides frequent laugh-out-loud moments. Oscar winning Let It Go aside, the music may not be as memorable as some of Disney's classics at first listen. It's all perfectly well done and brilliantly performed though, and the Troll's song and dance number is a definite stand-out.

It would be easy to be cynical and see this as formulaic in many ways. But when it's this well done, you'd really have to have a heart of ice not to warm to this utterly beguiling creation. It's always seemed somewhat presumptuous the way Disney has labelled each film a Disney Classic on its release. In this case though, it doesn't seem far off the mark, as this seems likely to be able to hold its own alongside the greats like The Lion King and The Jungle Book. Without a doubt, this is the House of Mouse's best for a very long time.