Disney has given a chilly makeover to a traditional fairy tale in its latest animated release Frozen, which could be in the running for an Oscar. The movie is based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen -- 25 years after Disney's last Andersen adaptation, The Little Mermaid-- even if it takes substantial liberties with plot and characters.
The studio's 53rd feature-length film, which has had positive reviews ahead of its release for the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, brings to fruition a project which was on Walt Disney's wish list although he never made it. "Walt Disney was passionate about trying to do a version of this," the film's co-producer Chris Buck told at a press conference to present the film at Disney's Burbank, California studios before its release Wednesday.
Fellow co-producer Jennifer Lee added: "Unfortunately, we dug for some original material but nothing really surfaced .... But we knew that this was special for him. Although the exact reason Disney himself did not make a film of the 1844 Andersen tale, Lee -- who co-wrote 2012's Oscar-nominated Wreck-It Ralph -- said she was not surprised. "It's a very hard story, it's very symbolic, the snow queen herself is not clearly drawn," she told reporters.
The makers of Frozen -- expected to make the animated feature shortlist for next year's Academy Awards in March -- got round the difficulties by making substantial changes. The two main female roles -- the Snow Queen herself, and Gerda -- have been transformed into sister princesses Elsa and Anna.
Elsa, who transforms everything she touches into ice, flees her kingdom after mistakenly condemning it to an eternal frozen winter. Her sister goes searching for her, aided by rugged mountain man Kristoff and a snowman. "There are a couple of very powerful elements, like this little girl who has nothing but the power of love and who fights the negativity," said Lee. "Fear is a big thing in our society.
"So the idea of this little Anna, who's an ordinary person who just has this giant heart, trying to go up against the power of fear to fight her way through and save her kingdom and save her sister at the same time, it was so rich." Elsa is voiced by actress Idina Menzel, who told AFP: "The main thing was to maintain a vulnerability, that no matter how powerful she is, there is a sadness and a loneliness to this character.
"In the beginning, she was written more like a traditional villain and then, when they started working on it, they changed her and made her a much more complicated character and not a villain at all, just someone that was misunderstood," she added.
Visually the wide-screen CinemaScope film is stunning. Animators traveled to Norway to gain knowledge and inspiration to render the snow-shrouded and ice-encrusted landscape. As if to order, large swathes of the US were gripped by a major winter storm this week, leaving tens of millions of American facing travel chaos as they head off for Thanksgiving family reunions.
Musically it fits into the Disney tradition of showtune songs, with a score by Robert Lopez, who wrote hit musical comedies The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q. Frozen has a 90 percent positive audience rating on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website, which describes it as "beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs."
Frozen is preceded by a short, "Get a horse!" by Lauren MacMullan, which combines pastiches of black and white Mickey and Minnnie sketches before plunging into 3D virtuosity.