Premise: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.
Look. When you’ve got one of the most profitable films of all time like Frozen in your back pocket, there’s bound to be talks of a sequel. This is 2019 after all, and the studio that made Frozen is Disney, who’s never met an original property it couldn’t shoehorn into a prequel, sequel, or spin-off. Not to mention the untold millions Disney has raked in from merchandising ever since – if you’ve gone a single Halloween since 2014 without seeing an Anna or Elsa or Olaf costume, you’re either lying, or weren’t paying attention. None of this is surprising.
What is surprising, however, is how warmed-over (pun intended) Frozen II feels. To some extent, it’s understandable: Frozen essentially came out of nowhere to reinvigorate Disney’s musical princess movie algorithm. Instead of romance, the real goal for the main heroine was her own self-love and acceptance. So how do you follow-up something like that? For directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who directed the first film), the motto seems to have been “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Set a few years after the events of the first film, Frozen II explores sisters Anna’s (Kristen Bell) and Elsa’s (Idinza Menzel, or Adell Dazeem, if you’re John Travolta) family history, and the origins of Elsa’s ice powers. Soon after Elsa begins hearing a mysterious voice, the kingdom of Arendelle endures a mysterious attack and the two sisters – along with Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), their magic snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), and the reindeer Sven – have to discover the connection in a mystical forest. While Frozen II’s plot is much more of a quest-based plot than the original, you have to admire the chutzpah of Buck and Lee to mirror the emotional and story beats of Frozen, right down to the musical cues: there’s even another scene of Elsa singing a self-empowerment anthem as she walks through an ice cavern! While there aren’t any earworm-y songs akin to “Let it Go” or “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” this time around, it’s certainly not from a lack of trying. “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” are powerful ballads, thanks in no small part to the veteran pipes of Menzel, but they just don’t fit with the overall themes of the film. Kristoff does get the best song in my book, though, in a funny, REO Speedwagon-esque power ballad that fully leans into its weirdness. More of that in Frozen III, please.
It goes without saying that Frozen II is a gorgeous film, but saying that of Disney films feels almost like old hat by now. The animators clearly had fun with the looks of the ancient forest spirits here; the wind spirit is represented by a rustle of leaves, fire is an adorable chameleon, water is a horse, and earth is enormous golems. The colors are rich – especially in the autumnal forest – while also adding some more baroque tones like in a fascinating moonlit scene on a beach.
Your kids will almost assuredly love this film; my 4-year old certainly did, and I enjoyed my time with it as well. A large part of the emotional crux of this film has to do with memory – both its reliability, and the way it can be distorted from one generation to another. The forest was where Anna and Elsa’s grandfather brokered a supposed peace deal with the magical native people before they were born. Sneaking a subplot about cultural reparations into a children’s movie is certainly a bold move, and it mostly works. Whether kids are able to grasp what Buck and Lee are trying to say – or whether they’ll only see it as another adventure for their heroines – remains to be seen. Sadly though, this is one of the few ideas that wasn’t already spelled out when the original film came out.