And that's fine, really. It's a good movie. Honest. It's easily one of the best animated movies of the last few years, which, okay, granted, isn't exactly wild praise. (It's better than Turbo and Rio combined!) It tells a good story, it tells it well, the characterizations are vivid, it's funny and even occasionally moving.
I just don't know why it's animated.
This is the problem I have with at least 90% of recent CGI movies: They're so busy trying to recreate reality, with meticulously rendered hair and fabrics, that they beg the question of why they weren't shot in live action anyway.
Consider this, the big moment from Frozen, the most character-defining moment. In particular note the action starting at about 2:56.
Yes, she's literally letting her hair down, but the moment is a total throwaway, because absolutely nothing is done to emphasize it. There is literally nothing in this entire sequence that gains from being animated. Or, more accurately, there's nothing here that takes advantage of what animation can do. The settings and movements are depicted with thudding literalism.
This is the recurring problem with computer animated features. All the software is written to depict a sort of reality. The settings are meticulously rendered, and furnished with equally realistic lighting. The Dreamworks feature How To Train Your Dragon went so far as to hire the great cinematographer Roger Deakins as a visual consultant. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that maybe, for an animated movie, they should employ painters or graphic artists instead. That's the advantage settings in an animated film have over live action: They can turn abstract, or deploy colors purely for visual emotional effect. Here's a sequence from Pocahontas, a lesser film in the Disney canon, one of their last big successes in cel animation before Pixar started the CGI revolution with Toy Story.
Even before the visuals turn vaguely abstract, the colors are varied, the shades of blue alone turn according to the emotion of the scene. Quite a contrast with Frozen, where the color and lighting remains the same from shot to shot.
But the movement is even more mundane that the setting. Again, consider the shot of her letting down her hair. She just kind of reaches up, removes the tiara and her hair...just falls. The moment isn't emphasized, or, more to the point, the movement isn't emphasized. Animation is all about exaggeration, a caricature of reality, but that isn't what happens here. It's what you'd see if this was being performed on a stage, but shouldn't the power of animation be used to emphasize the significance of the moment? She's becoming a whole new person, but this is depicted almost entirely through the song and through Idina Menzel's powerhouse vocals. True, she's making a palace over in her own new image, but even that is depicted rather prosaically--that is, the character is literally doing this, and we see it, but it doesn't have the impact it would have with more vivid staging.
I admit, I prefer hand-drawn animation to CGI, but every form of art has its strengths and limitations. Brad Bird made fine use of stylized movement and realistic settings in The Incredibles, Pete Docter beatifully gave cartoonishly-designed characters a sense of reality in Up and, though the movie itself isn't much, Genndy Tartakovsky proved computer animated characters could stretch and squash with the best of old school cartoons in Hotel Transylvania. My problem isn't really with computer animation, it's with how it's deployed. And with the massive success of Frozen, it seems less likely than ever that anyone will try to do anything new.