Disney's latest epic, Frozen, is a real bargain: For the price of one ticket, you get two films, both of them pretty sweet.
Frozen starts off like one of the studio's fairy-tale classics, with a royal family facing a terrible curse in its Edenic preindustrial kingdom.
(The story is a drastic, sentimentalized reimagining of The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen's most ambitious fable.)
Plucky princess Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) cannot understand why her older sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), is so withdrawn. She finds out the hard way on the night of Elsa's luxurious coronation as Queen of Arendelle (presumably Norway).
Frozen establishes a strong, confident tone: Cool mythology, rich, vivid animation, and 3-D effects that are actually worth seeing, not just migraine-inducing distractions.
Even the songs are charming, although Bell and Menzel handle them far more proficiently than the male leads, Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and the noble commoner Kristoff (Lancaster's Jonathan Groff).
But then, as Anna sets off from the palace to save her sister and her kingdom, Frozen abruptly takes a goofy and juvenile turn. A balmy, buck-toothed snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad of Broadway's The Book of Mormon) hijacks the movie and steers Frozen in a direction that is campier, as well as more childish and contemporary.
Olaf and his antics are rather irresistible, thanks to Gad's surprising range and inventiveness. His performance is a celebration of silliness reminiscent of Martin Short's best work.
For the rest of the film, Anna's romantic quest and Olaf's splatter farce coexist but never coalesce. Don't be put off. Frozen is a highly unusual but hugely enjoyable double feature.
(out of four stars)
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. With the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
Running time: 1 hr., 48 mins.
Parent's guide: PG
Playing at: area theaters