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Oscars 2014: 'Frozen' and its nominations a return to form for Disney

EntertainmentMoviesAnimation (Movie Genre)Frozen (movie)MusicPixar Animation Studios

"Frozen," the Walt Disney Animation Studios musical that collected two Oscar nominations Thursday, is about a kingdom trapped in an endless winter. For the 90-year-old Burbank company, which has often suffered from a creative chill in recent decades, the movie represents a major thaw.

"Frozen" has grossed $713 million worldwide since it opened in November, making it the studio's biggest hit since 1994's "The Lion King." The film has also yielded a Billboard chart-topping soundtrack on the strength of pop friendly tunes such as the Oscar-nominated original song "Let It Go." And Disney has announced that a Broadway adaptation is in the works.

"Every day it gets more overwhelming," said Jennifer Lee, who shares directing credit on the movie with Chris Buck, and who is the first woman to helm a Walt Disney Animation feature. "The response to the movie, the fans and the crowd. People keep going back, and they have brought 'Frozen' into their lives." 

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A love story of sorts between two sisters, the down-to-earth Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and tormented Elsa (Idina Menzel), "Frozen" is a return to a format Disney was built on but which has recently gone out of fashion — the musical fairy tale.

Much of "Frozen's" outsized success is attributable to its music. In addition to beating Beyoncé on the Billboard charts, the soundtrack has inspired a YouTube mini-genre of fan-made videos of girls belting out "Let It Go" in their living rooms.

"I've been trained as a musical theater composer never to expect this, so it's against my programming," said composer Robert Lopez ("The Book of Mormon"), who wrote the music and lyrics to the movie's nine original songs with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. "We're both really grateful." 

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Critics praised the beauty of the Nordic-inspired scenery and the surprising subtlety of a portrait of female loyalty in the film, which is still in theaters in the U.S. and abroad.

Many in the animation field feel "Frozen" is a return to form for the studio, the culmination of a period of creative growth that executives Ed Catmull and John Lasseter helped foster after arriving from corporate sibling Pixar Animation in 2006.

After Disney's successes with 2010's "Tangled" and 2012's "Wreck-It Ralph," "Frozen" reflects the studio hitting its stride, said Tom Sito, a professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts and an animator who worked at Disney during its last renaissance in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

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Disney Animation's short film, a Mickey Mouse revival directed by Lauren MacMullan called "Get a Horse!," was also nominated.

It's significant that "Frozen" collected its Oscar nomination for animated feature in a category that was absent a perennial contender — Pixar. Disney's sister studio — and, for much of the last two decades, the more successful of the two — was shut out of the nominations this year both for its prequel "Monsters University" and for its short film "The Blue Umbrella."

"Disney went through a period of decline," Sito said. "Now it's like, 'OK, we're back on top.'"

rebecca.keegan@latimes.com 

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