It's pretty much fair to say that the Walt Disney animated movie musical isn't what it used to be, but, according to the early rave reviews, Frozen just might join the classics like The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Cinderella littering the Disney vault.
Though The Princess and the Frog and Tangled certainly have their fans, the modern heyday of Disney's animated movie musicals is still linked to the films of the late 80s and early 90s like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. On paper, Frozen does seem like a return to form. The tale of two sisters (voiced by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel) and a kingdom covered in ice is loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen story like The Little Mermaid was, and is a full-fledged musical with a Broadway pedigree. But having all the credentials does not necessarily yield the magic that Frozen apparently brings. How did Frozen master the formula?
It has the soul of a Broadway musical
Part of what revitalized the lagging Disney brand in the late 80s was the employment of wonderful New York songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Here, Disney also turns to emerging Broadway talent, husband and wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the latter of whom was one of the people behind both Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. In fact, Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter writes that you can "practically see the Broadway musical" Frozen will become. Pointing out one exception, Alonso Duralde at The Wrap explains that the "the tunes are terrific — moving, stirring, funny and catchy." One number, a Menzel show-stopper called "Let It Go," even inspired mid-screening applause, according to Drew Taylor at The Playlist.
The animation is gorgeous
Though it's not hand-drawn like pretty much all of those classics, the animation is the film's "other true marvel," according to Scott Foundas at Variety, who notes that its use of widescreen is a " a nod to the CinemaScope richness of 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Lady and the Tramp.'" Plus, the snow looks good, Taylor writes: "Snow hasn't ever been attempted like this before in animation, and the amount of different types of snow, and the way that t it evokes certain emotional undercurrents of the story, is truly breathtaking."
There's the appropriate amount girl-power
Frozen certainly looks traditional, what with its ready-for-marketing princesses, and Duralde says it masters the balance between pretty puffy dresses and progressive empowerment. "It’s about two beautiful sisters in a castle, yes, but it’s also about learning to embrace your own power and to overcome the fear of your own abilities," he writes. Taylor, meanwhile, notes that it is "completely female-positive," despite a recent controversy over the film's head of animation's comments that animating female characters is difficult.
It inspires Beauty and the Beast-esque feelings
Beauty and the Beast is perhaps—at least in our opinion—the most perfect example of the modern Disney movie musical. It's clever without being cutesy, modern without being anachronistic, and features the impeccable lyric "I use antlers in all of my decorating." Now, critics are comparing Frozen to that classic. Duralde raves that it is " the best animated musical to come out of Disney since the tragic death of lyricist Howard Ashman, whose work on 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Beauty and the Beast' helped build the studio’s modern animated division into what it is today." The Beauty and the Beast comparison is a common one. At Den of Geek Simon Brew writes that "The biggest compliment I can thus give Frozen is this: somebody watching it is going to feel the same way about Disney's latest that I felt over 20 years ago when I first saw Beauty and The Beast." Taylor explains that "if someone had announced 'Frozen' as the studio's follow-up to 'Beauty and the Beast,' no one would blink. It's that good." That's high praise, considering Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to ever be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture.