2013’s Frozen was by far Disney’s biggest animated feature of not just the year but the decade. No other animated film in their stable has generated such buzz and a merchandising frenzy. From the iconic songs to the doe-eyed characters, the film had everything one could want from a fantasy adventure. With such allure and numerous shorts over the years, a sequel was assured. When it arrived, however, most of that vibrancy has melted in the search for more fun.
An Icy Legacy
The film dips back into the past to explain a little bit more about the history of the kingdom of Arendelle. From an early age, royal sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) have recalled the tale. There were once two clans of the island; the kingdom of Arendelle itself and the magic-reaping people of the forest. Peace was had but some mysterious occurrences caused war to break out and the forest becomes a mysterious magical void. Elsa and Anna didn’t question how so much of this story left unanswered questions because they were kids. Now as adults, after the events of Frozen, they need to find out the truth.
What they learn is nothing all that riveting. It’s the familiar tale of man versus nature, more boldly presented as our heroes must appease the spirits of the forest. It’s so familiar that Disney posed a similar adventure no less than a month ago with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. As they literally answer the call of nature, the two sisters must learn the tragedy of truth and be true to themselves to save their kingdom.
A Snow-Packed Plot
To keep the film from being too somber, a number of characters provide comedic and cute backup. Almost too many. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) returns as Anna’s love interest, still talking to his reindeer Sven in his own funny voice. For his next move, Kristoff plans on asking for Anna’s hand in marriage but just can’t find the right moment. An epic adventure to save an island can do that.
The comical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) once more brings out the best commentary and jokes. His mental journey is also the most compelling, starting the picture by questioning how nothing lasts in the decay of life. That’s some heavy thoughts for a snowman. His development in accepting the world around him is also rather neat. When cornered and confronted by hostile forces, he tries to smile and accept that his increasing maturity will fill in the gaps of his confusion. It brings a whole new level of adorableness to his character.
Then there are the numerous additions of a tiny fire spirit, a playful wind spirit, lumbering Earth giants and a horse made out of water. And then there is the mysterious folk of the forest. And a lost army led by Lieutenant Destin Mattias (Sterling K. Brown). And more reindeer. All of them are tightly packed into this script to assure there’s always something happening. This also suffocates the picture from the slower more moving moments.
Of course, a big draw for the film will be music and there are certainly plenty of new songs present. But a lot of these sequences are merely checking off the familiar notes of the previous picture. Consider Elsa’s big showstopper of the number “Into the Unknown.” Not a bad song but it’s staged in such a similar method to “Let It Go.” Even Elsa’s story is similar for this song to work, having her shirk others to find herself on her own. Time will tell if the melody will be as iconic but I can tell you right now it’s not an ear-worm.
Even though the rest of the soundtrack follows similarly, there are a few charming moments. Perhaps the most surprising song of the picture is Kristoff’s solo song of being romantically frustrated. His sequence is presented more like a corny 1980s music video with odd transitions and trying to turn his forest setting into a recording studio. The whole bit is done strictly tongue in cheek that it works rather well at being subtly funny. The staging is at least more pleasing than Elsa’s solos which seem to drop the location entirely in favor of a more concert-friendly stage.
A Mixed Message
While the film proceeds with the usual doses of magic and wonder, there’s a certain unappealing aftertaste to the film’s climax. Throughout the film is a central message of death. Fall is upon the island as the leaves lose their color. War is brought up in tragic events that have led to death most unfortunate for the royal family. The finite nature of the world is brought up several times by, surprisingly, Olaf. And there’s quite clearly a colonialism angle, even if the film tries its best to distance itself from previous Disney pictures.
Where this all falls apart is the ending. Desiring a happy ending, these tougher topics are never given the weight and maturity they deserve. Perhaps the filmmakers had gone too far with an engrossing story for such a franchise. Maybe they realized at the last minute a dour ending of environmentalism and colonialism wouldn’t gel with its family audience. As a result, many of the sacrifices one would expect to follow to craft a meaningful adventure are washed away for a happy ending. Even the second act death of a character doesn’t feel as fearful because the film is too bouncy in tone and light on the emotional punch to ever let such sadness stick. Wouldn’t want the kids leaving in tears.
Frozen II delivers more of the same but in the form of leftovers that didn’t quite cook all the way through. Though the animation is far more ambitious, especially with natural elements, it’s in service of a film without teeth. This could’ve taken a unique turn in touching on tougher topics. Instead, this fantasy merely flips the happy ending switch and avoids having to be about anything more than a musical adventure. The void left makes this tale out to seem about as empty as the previous Christmas special. This makes the story far more suitable as a special than an engrossing second chapter. Disney’s animated sequels have always tended to be rather weak from their predecessors and that tradition continues. Some things never change, a mantra that is muttered in this film. It seems far truer than the limitations of life.
A decent if not disappointing sequel to Disney's biggest animated feature of the decade.
- Charming characters
- Beautiful animation
- Some surprising songs
- Very mixed messages
- Underwhelming story
- Themes still left unexplored