Nov. 27, 2013 at 7:03 AM ET
Here are two hard-to-believe truths about Disney's new "Frozen," which opens Wednesday. 1) It's the rare film that actually is worth the ticket surcharge for 3-D, and 2) It's a princess film that defies the someday-my-prince-will-come stereotype, creating two princesses who stand firmly on their own feet and earn the crowns they wear.
Didn't know "Frozen" was a princess movie? The commercials sure don't tell you that, making it seem like a animated winter fantasy about a goofy snowman. Here's our guide to the other "Frozen" facts you won't get in the trailer. (Minor spoilers ahead.)
Are the princesses passive beauties waiting for love to save them?
Refreshingly, no. Elsa and Anna are royal sisters left alone to rule their land, until a strange wintry power gets in the way. And they face obstacles head-on, never cowering or needing rescue. Along with Rapunzel from 2010's "Tangled" and Merida from 2012's "Brave," they are born of a new generation of movie royalty. Yes, they're gorgeous, with grape-purple eyeshadow and waists so tiny they could be spanned by bracelets, and romance does develop. But it's far from the movie's main goal.
Is the 3-D really worth the ticket upcharge?
Believe it. The 3-D is so good that "Frozen" lands in that rarefied class with "Avatar," "Gravity" and "Despicable Me," in that you're really missing out if you don't choose a theater with the extra dimension. Dazzling snowflakes whirl through the audience, close enough to touch. An ice-cutter's blade slashes through a frozen fjord and even adults have to duck. Rain on a stormy ocean feels so real you want to brush it away. If your kids have the patience to keep the glasses on, pop for the 3-D version.
Will it give my kids nightmares?
Real talk here: You know how Disney has a reputation for killing off characters' beloved family members? (Bambi's mom, nooooo!) That reputation remains deserved. There's also a scary scene with a rampaging ice monster (with the non-threatening name of "Marshmallow"), a few fights, a dungeon scene (relatively unscary as those go), some cliff-leaping, and a few assorted bad guys, including one who may come as a surprise. But one of the 6-year-olds with us found the scariest moment to be a short scene where snarling wolves attack our heroes, especially the part where their gleaming eyes are all that can be seen in the forest darkness. We don't recommend "Frozen" for 3 and under, or for sensitive 4-5 year-olds, and even 4-7 year-olds should have a parent's lap they can hide in during those numerous, if brief, frights.
How many bathroom breaks will we need?
We're thinking many kids will need at least one. "Frozen" is an hour and 40 minutes long, the same length as "Tangled" and seven minutes longer than "Brave." ("Toy Story," by comparison, is 20 minutes shorter.) While never boring, you feel every minute of that span because there are so many relatively complex plots. If you do need to make a quick dash, try to time it during one of the many songs. They're good, but they're long, and you won't miss much plot development.
Will adults be bored?
Not likely. The film is pretty straightforward, however, not jammed with the sly only-adults-will-get-this humor that fills the "Toy Story" franchise. But even though "Frozen" could've been 15 minutes shorter, it rarely drags. There are humorous scenes that all ages will enjoy, particularly every line spouted by delusional, tropic-dreaming snowman Olaf. Kids in our theater especially howled when his body and head tumble apart and Olaf cheerfully warns, "Watch out for my butt!" Don't be surprised if you hear that repeated in preschool carpool one day down the line.