“Frozen” (PG): Lovely for most kids 6 and older, this gorgeous animated 3-D musical is loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” With vivid characters, high (and low) hilarity, stunning ice imagery, and Broadway-caliber songs, the film has the power to enchant. Some scary scenes may be too menacing for under-6s, and even 6-year-olds may need brief reassurance.
In the Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle live two adorable little princesses, Anna and her older sister Elsa. Elsa has a mysterious gift: She can, with a wave of her hands, fill a room with snow and ice to play on. One day, while cavorting with Anna, she almost freezes her little sister. The spell is reversed by magical trolls, but Elsa, afraid her growing powers will do more harm, stays in her room. The trolls erase Anna’s memory of all this, so she doesn’t understand why Elsa ignores her now.
Soon after, the king and queen are lost in a shipwreck and when Elsa comes of age (now voiced by Idina Menzel) she will be crowned queen. Anna (Kristen Bell) can’t wait for the coronation, singing “For the First Time in Forever” of her eagerness to meet new people and find romance. She falls for a visiting prince named Hans (Santino Fontana) who proposes on the spot. When she tells Elsa, the new queen refuses her permission. In her angry state, Elsa unintentionally unleashes her powers.
Accused of sorcery, she flees to the mountains. Elsa doesn’t know that she also covered Arendelle in permanent winter. Anna decides to go after her, leaving Hans in charge. She gets help from a plainspoken (but cute) ice seller named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his adorable reindeer, Sven. They’re joined by a lovable live snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad). They head up to Elsa’s palace, but Elsa conjures a snow monster to chase them away.
While no character dies, the film includes life-or-death scenes at the edges of snowy cliffs, and battles in which Elsa is stalked by soldiers with crossbows. She nearly impales them on ice shards. As with most kids’ movies, “Frozen” has a few instances of toilet humor and other mildly gross gags.
“Black Nativity” (PG): Fine for kids 10 and older, this sentimental musical parable was loosely adapted by director Kasi Lemmons from the 1950s theater piece by poet Langston Hughes. It showcases traditional songs – “Motherless Child,” “Silent Night,” “Fix Me Jesus” among them – as well as new ones. The film has dialogue, too, some of it rhymed and some not. Lemmons’ experiment succeeds only sporadically, because the disjointed narrative and the songs are so awkwardly mixed.
Even so, the all-star cast, fabulous singing, vivid emotions and rich visual style could make “Black Nativity” an engaging experience for kids open to it. A young Baltimore teen named Langston (Jacob Latimore) learns that he and his single mom Naima (Jennifer Hudson) are about to be evicted. He wants to help, but she sends him to spend Christmas week in New York with her estranged parents. As he gets off the bus, his backpack is stolen. He goes into a hotel to find a phone, and is wrongly accused of stealing a wallet. Charges are dropped, but Langston’s grandfather, the stern Rev. Cobbs (Forest Whitaker), must meet him at the jail. Cobbs and his warm, kindly wife Aretha (Angela Bassett) live in a lovely old Harlem brownstone. Langston refuses to warm up to them. He even steals something precious to them. Through the Christmas Eve “Black Nativity” service (with Mary J. Blige as an angel) at his grandfather’s church, Langston finds a new understanding of familial love and Christmas.
While there is little or no profanity, the film has many references to the difficulties of inner-city life, including homelessness, crime, violence and drugs – including a verbal reference to “crackhead” – but all in very understated ways. One climactic moment involves a gun, but no harm is done.