Three years ago (as Tangled arrived in theaters) Disney announced it was closing the door on fairy tale movies for the foreseeable future. Included in that announcement was the decision to scrap plans (which were already underway) to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”.

Well, here we are.

Tangled, it turns out, was such a success that those scrapping plans were scrapped themselves, and “The Snow Queen” movie went ahead after all. And it’s a good thing. Frozen (as it’s now known) is the best film the Mouse House has put out in ages– an exciting, charming, and downright exceptional movie that may just be Disney Animation’s finest effort since Beauty and the Beast.

Loosely based (and that’s being generous) on HCA’s tale, Frozen tells the story of Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and her sister Anna (Kristin Bell). When they were very young, Elsa discovered she was born with the power to turn things to ice with just a wave of her hand. After an accident, though, Elsa is kept away from people, but then their parents die (don’t worry, kids… nothing is shown, and it’s over quickly), and Elsa becomes queen. On her coronation day she finally allows herself to see the world outside.

Elsa isn’t able to hide her powers, though, and after yet another accident, she banishes herself to a far-off mountain. Anna is determined to find her sister, and, with the help of a rugged ice-seller (Jonathan Groff) and a goofball snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), she sets off on her quest.

Hearkening back to Disney’s Ashman/Menken salad days, Frozen features almost a dozen songs by husband and-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Some soar (Menzel’s “Let it Go” echoes her “Defying Gravity” from Wicked), some are hilarious (Gad’s “In Summer” is rollicking fun), and some are beautifully poignant (Bell’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”). And who knew Kristin Bell could sing?

Just as much a star of the show, however, is the mind-blowing animation. Hot on the heels of the Hollywood mantra that you should never work with animals or children is the animators’ credo that you should always avoid designing water and ice. But someone forgot to give art director Michael Giaimo (Pocahontas) the memo. The result is stunning– a visual slap to your face that will truly have you wondering how it was done while you simultaneously marvel at its beauty. And co-directors Chris Buck (Surf’s Up) and first-timer Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the screenplay) have crafted a smart, inventive story that takes what could have been typically princess-y schlock and turns it on its head.

Fusing comedy (that’s always funny and never silly) and action (that’s just enough and never too much), Frozen is a welcome treat for the entire family and an exceptional musical in old school Disney fashion. It’s not only the best animated movie of the year, it’s one of the best of the year period.

And to think… it almost never was.

5/5 stars