A beautiful princess with magical powers that she can’t control; an adorable snowman, with buck teeth and a carrot for a nose, who longs to sunbathe because no one ever told him that heat melts ice; a picture-perfect prince who is revealed to be a scheming, opportunistic cad.

Those are among the unconventional characters in the new Disney 3-D animated movie musical, “Frozen,” very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” They are significant departures from tradition in a film that shakes up the hyper-romantic “princess” formula that has stood Disney in good stead for decades and that has grown stale. Treacly, kissy-kissy endings are not enough anymore. Nowadays, a princess has to show her mettle and earn her happily-ever-after stripes.

Allegorically, “Frozen” lacks the purity and elemental power of a classic myth like “Beauty and the Beast,” but at least its storytelling is fairly coherent, and its gleaming dream world of snow and ice is one of the most visually captivating environments to be found in a Disney animated film. There are moments when you may feel that you are inside a giant crystal chandelier frosted with diamonds.

It all takes place in the fictional Scandinavian land of Arendelle, whose king and queen die in a shipwreck, leaving the country in the hands of Elsa (the voice of Idina Menzel), the elder of two daughters. This blond, high-strung princess has a secret problem. If she isn’t extremely careful, everything around her freezes when she takes off her protective gloves and waves her hands. Elsa’s best friend is her impulsive redheaded younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), whom she nearly freezes to death by accident.

The sisters become estranged when Anna falls in love at first sight with Hans (Santino Fontana), a too-good-to-be-true prince from a neighboring kingdom, and Elsa forbids them to marry. With one wave of Elsa’s hand, eternal winter descends on Arendelle. She is so horrified by her destructive gift that she retreats to a remote ice palace atop a mountain.

As Arendelle suffers through the deep freeze, the resourceful Anna, who still loves her sister, is determined to track down Elsa, who she believes can reverse the spell. Thus begin Anna’s adventures in mountain climbing. Along the way, she meets Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a rugged ice dealer who guides a reindeer-driven sleigh. During their “Wizard of Oz”-like quest, they are joined by Olaf (Josh Gad), that sweet, wisecracking snowman.


“Frozen,” for all its innovations, is not fundamentally revolutionary. Its animated characters are the same familiar, blank-faced, big-eyed storybook figures. But they are a little more psychologically complex than their Disney forerunners. Its princesses may gaze at a glass ceiling, but most are not ready to shatter it.

Is it significant that Jennifer Lee, who directed “Frozen” with Chris Buck, is billed as the first female director of a Disney animated feature film? Perhaps. Ms. Lee is credited as the screenwriter of a story that she and Mr. Buck developed with Shane Morris. That screenplay cautiously incorporates some slangy contemporary argot, but its tone is never desperately hip in the manner of the “Shrek” movies. Most of what fun there is revolves around Olaf, a classic Disney sidekick.

If “Frozen” still has one foot planted in 19th-century children’s literature, good and evil are not so clear-cut. The title character of the original fairy tale was evil. Her 21st-century descendant is merely confused and scared. As always, love is the solution to everything. When nothing can thaw the icy heart of the frightened Elsa, love does the trick, but in this case it is sisterly loyalty and devotion rather than romantic attachment.

“Frozen” has eight original songs by the married team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, musical theater veterans whose blend of playful wit and sentimentality here comes closer than any score for a Disney animated film to capturing the charm of the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman collaboration in its glory days. One song, “Fixer Upper,” sung by a bunch of trolls promoting the charms of an imperfect eligible bachelor to a picky princess, is genuinely amusing:

So he’s a bit of a fixer-upper,

So he’s got a few flaws.

Like his peculiar brain-dear.

His thing with the reindeer.

That’s a little outside of nature’s laws!

It can’t be accidental that “Frozen,” with its two female leads, one voiced by the original Elphaba in “Wicked” (Ms. Menzel), has a lot in common with that Broadway juggernaut and seems ready-made for theatrical adaptation. For this journey, instead of a broomstick, take mittens, snow boots and steaming hot chocolate.

“Frozen” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for some action and mild, rude humor.