Instead of the bygone damsels in distress — yes we're talking about you Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty — the female royals of "Frozen," Disney's latest animated wonder, are feisty, forward and independent.

Strong female leads are fitting, as "Frozen" marks the first time a female has occupied the director's chair in the 76 years of Disney animation features. Jennifer Lee, who wrote Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph," as well as the screenplay for "Frozen," co-directed the icy 3-D adventure with Disney veteran Chris Buck ("Tarzan").

Inspired by the 19th century fairytale, "The Snow Queen," by Hans Christian Andersen, "Frozen" marks another Disney film modernizing one of the Danish author's stories. "The Little Mermaid" also adapted an Andersen fable.

Eight new songs, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, work well when paired with the stunning visuals. But none really shine with classic tour de force like a "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" — and it's been too long since we've had a big Disney-stimulated hit.

But the overall message more than makes up for the film's pitfalls. Rich in magic, perils and family ties, "Frozen" encourages us to embrace our fears, overthrow our inhibitions and find the true meaning of love.

Set in the kingdom of Arendelle, sisters Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are best friends who love to play in the snow. Luckily big sis Elsa can create ice and snow with her bare hands.

When Elsa accidently zaps her sister with her sorcery during playtime, Anna is almost killed. Since their daughter can't control her power, the king and queen send Elsa to her room and isolate her from her sister. But the girls are left alone when their parents die in a shipwreck.

Dauntless optimist Anna tries, for years, to get her sister to come out of her room. "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" Anna sings. But Elsa, afraid of hurting her sister again, remains locked away. That is until she turns 18 and is now fit to be queen.

On her sister's coronation day, Anna is excited to finally have a house full of people. She even plans to keep her eyes peeled for the possible swoon-worthy suitor. Like clockwork, he comes in the form of the handsome Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana). Anna falls instantly and the two become engaged.

Anna's impulsive behavior enrages her big sister, which results in Elsa freezing the kingdom. Disgusted with the continued lack of control over her sorcery, Elsa flees up the mountain and builds her own ice palace.

On a quest to bring her sister back, Anna teams with the uncouth, ice-selling Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who has a lovable pet reindeer named Sven. Anna is able to convince Kristoff that if he helps her up the mountain, summer will return and he'll be back in the ice business. She hooks him further when she saves them from a pack of wolves.

Soon we meet an adorable snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) who offers cute and cuddly comic relief at just the right times. When they reach Elsa, Anna is unable to coax her into returning to the kingdom. In a fit of rage, Elsa hits her sister with her powers once more and thus begins the race against time before Anna's heart freezes over. Only the act of true love can thaw her.

The animation in "Frozen" is premium and the 3-D earmark adds to the pearly appeal of the ice and snow, but we are lacking in the sweeping romance we've grown accustomed to in a Disney princess movie.

Anna and Kristoff's flirtation, while engaging, could stand to be a bit more rapturous. But when Kristoff teases Anna about getting engaged to Prince Hans just after they'd met, you can't help but love him — and love him for her. Cheers to "Frozen" for that message: Finally a tale for gals about love as a journey and not just something meant to save the princess (or damsel) from her unfortunate circumstance.

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"Frozen," a Disney release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for some action and mild rude humor. Running time: 108 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jessica Herndon on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SomeKind

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  • 117. John Turturro as Francesco Bernoulli ("Cars 2")

  • 116. Vanessa Redgrave as Mama Topolino/The Queen ("Cars 2")

  • 115. Tony Shalhoub as Luigi ("Cars 2")

  • 114. Cheech Marin as Ramone ("Cars")

  • 113. Whoopi Goldberg as Stretch ("Toy Story 3")

  • 112. Will Arnett as Horst ("Ratatouille")

  • 111. Roddy McDowall as Mr. Soil ("A Bug's Life")

  • 110. Wallace Shawn as Rex ("Toy Story")

  • 109. George Carlin as Fillmore ("Cars")

  • 108. Bruce Campbell as Rod "Torque" Redline ("Cars 2")

  • 107. Penn Jillette as TV Announcer ("Toy Story")

  • 106. Frank Oz as Jeff Fungus ("Monsters Inc.")

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  • 104. Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh ("Brave")

  • 103. Fred Willard as Shelby Forthright (live-action) ("WALL-E")

  • 102. Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head ("Toy Story")

  • 101. Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the Axiom's computer ("WALL-E")

  • 100. R. Lee Ermey as Sarge ("Toy Story")

  • 99. Paul Newman as Doc Hudson ("Cars")

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  • 97. Pete Docter as Kevin ("Up")

  • 96. Lou Romano as Snot Rod ("Cars")

  • 95. Lou Romano as Bernie Kropp ("The Incredibles")

  • 94. Andrew Stanton as Crush ("Finding Nemo")

  • 93. Andrew Stanton as Evil Emperor Zurg ("Toy Story 2")

  • 92. Brad Bird as Ambrister Minion ("Ratatouille")

  • 91. Brad Bird as Edna Mode ("The Incredibles")

  • 90. Joe Ranft as Red ("Cars")

  • 89. Joe Ranft as Jacques ("Finding Nemo")

  • 88. Joe Ranft as Lenny ("Toy Story")

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  • 87. John Ratzenberger as Tom ("Up")

  • 86. John Ratzenberger as Mustafa ("Ratatouille")

  • 85. John Ratzenberger as the school of Moonfish ("Finding Nemo")

  • 84. John Ratzenberger as Mack ("Cars 1 & 2")

  • 83. John Ratzenberger and Kathy Najimy as John and Mary ("WALL-E")

  • 82. John Ratzenberger as P.T. Flea ("A Bug's Life")

  • 81. John Ratzenberger as Hamm ("Toy Story 1,2, & 3")

  • 80. John Ratzenberger as The Abominable Snowman ("Monsters Inc.")

  • 79. John Ratzenberger as The Underminer ("The Incredibles")

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  • 77. Bud Luckey as Chuckles ("Toy Story 3")

  • 76. Willem Dafoe as Gill ("Finding Nemo")

  • 75. Denis Leary as Francis ("A Bug's Life")

  • 74. Jeff Garlin as Captain B. McCrea ("WALL-E")

  • 73. Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego ("Ratatouille")

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