By now, Disney has the animated musical thing down to such a precise science that it's fair to wonder how a movie like "Frozen" could deviate from the standard formula. At first glance, it doesn't. The main characters are princesses, it's based on a fairytale (Hans Christen Andersen's "The Snow Queen"), there's an anthropomorphic sidekick -- and so on and so on.
But the 53rd entry in the studio's classics series is a surprisingly moving and perceptive effort. "Frozen" might not have the unforgettable songs of "The Little Mermaid," the classical storytelling of "Beauty and the Beast" or the epic scope of "The Lion King," yet it offers something special in its own right. This is a movie about true love, but not the usual sort.
It's centered on the unshakable bond between sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), which transcends even the most trying of circumstances when Elsa, who has hard-to-control magical powers and is the Queen of Arendelle, flees to the mountains in shame after accidentally covering their village in an eternal winter.
The spectacularly animated Scandinavian vistas, replete with an imposing ice palace and snow-covered fjords, given an opalescent sheen and rendered in CinemaScope, stand out in 3-D. The aforementioned sidekick, a snowman (Josh Gad) who dreams of summer, is sweet and charming. There's no "Be Our Guest" or "Under the Sea" when it comes to the songs, but the powerhouse voices of Menzel and Bell are utilized effectively.
It all comes back to family, though, and the rather radical decision to strip the movie of a central villain. This isn't a simplistic portrait of light and dark, good and evil, but a story imbued with the complications of real life. The narrative is ultimately about two sisters trying to reconcile their love for each other with their personal flaws and fears.
You don't expect a Disney fantasy set in a mythical snow-covered village to hit home in such a real way, but that's the great surprise here.