3.5 out of 5 stars.
You’d be hard-pressed to match the critical and commercial success of Walt Disney Animation’s 2013 film “Frozen.” Success isn’t even the right word; the movie, its characters, and its songs all became a worldwide phenomena, the likes of which Disney hadn’t seen in years. But with “Frozen II,” Disney attempts to recapture that magic, offering a sequel that has some callbacks to the first film, but is a completely different movie in terms of tone and story.
Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return to direct this sequel, which is set some time after the events of the first film. Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has learned to control her ice powers and reigns as queen of Arendelle alongside her sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell). They seem content, but then Elsa begins hearing a voice calling to her. Her attempt to follow it accidentally wakens the four elemental spirits, forcing the kingdom to evacuate before it is destroyed. Recalling a tale their parents told them about the spirits and an enchanted forest, Elsa, Anna, and their friends set off on a quest to uncover the truth about the past and set the forest free.
In “Frozen,” both Elsa and Anna were relatively naïve. Elsa ran away from her problems as she struggled to control her powers, while Anna got to really interact with other people for the first time, getting immediately engaged to a man she didn’t know and couldn’t trust. In “Frozen II,” the characters are more mature, and the tone of the film reflects that. The story is darker, and while there isn’t a villain in this movie, a sense of danger and mystery accompanies the gang on their mission. The magic and mysticism of the spirits and the forest plays heavily into the story, which is surprisingly convoluted. That’s both a blessing and a curse. “Frozen II” boasts several abstract scenes depicting magic and visions that are both beautiful and fascinating to behold. It prompts the viewer to both consider the past and the present as the film progresses. And they take a story and a message that could easily have been predictable and make it harder to pin down.
But “Frozen II” also often feels like it lacks direction and clear character arcs. We spend time with each of the main characters, and they all end up facing some sort of emotional struggle. But in the case of our two most important characters, Elsa and Anna, we don’t really understand what they needed until the end of the film. The beginning of the movie could have done a better job showing, for example, that Elsa felt out of place in Arendelle, but we don’t get enough of a sense of that for the conclusion to have as big of an impact. There are also some side conflicts that feel strange or out of place; take Olaf (Josh Gad), for example. The snowman has a sudden issue with aging and maturing in this movie, singing a whole song about how some things will make sense when he is older, and repeating that sentiment throughout the film. It’s weird and feels thrown in just to give Olaf something to do. And while Olaf does largely serve as comic relief (and he does get some very funny scenes in this movie), there are moments that he does seem very wise and mature, especially as he offers advice to Anna when they are in a tight spot—rendering that whole conflict null and void.
Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) spends most of the movie trying to propose to Anna, in vain, resulting in a solid running gag that isn’t just funny, but results in one of the movie’s best music numbers, and also twists conventions around; in this film, it’s the man who sings a ballad about his feelings, while the women are running off on an adventure. Those songs are written once again by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and while, as in the first film, a mish-mash of genres are represented, there isn’t really a big show-stopping number in the same vein as “Let It Go.” In fact, it feels like a couple of the numbers—combined with the staging of the action—are trying too hard to replicate the success of that now-iconic scene. This is most obvious in “Show Yourself,” the powerful number Elsa belts out at the end of the film. At the same time, almost every song is a winner, from the peppy ensemble number “Some Things Never Change,” to Elsa’s “I want” song, “Into the Unknown,” to Kristoff’s 80’s-inspired ballad “Lost in the Woods.” The songs are always used in a way that furthers each character’s story, as opposed to interrupting the action.
The animation in “Frozen II” is also gorgeous. The effects animation is particularly impressive in those abstract scenes, where Elsa’s ice powers run wild, resulting in some magical sequences. This film has a much warmer color palette than the first—most of the film is set in a forest at the start of fall—and the golden hue that gives everything just adds to the sense of enchantment.
“Frozen” was not a perfect movie, and neither is “Frozen II.” But despite its flaws—and despite some scenes that feel like they try too hard to replicate sequences from the original—it should be applauded for being such a different film from its predecessor, taking risks with sequences that are almost experimental in nature. It’s as if the filmmakers knew they could never capture the exact same combination of elements that made the first “Frozen” so ridiculously popular—there’s enough self-referential humor in “Frozen II” to prove that—and decided to push just what they could accomplish with these characters and this setting. It leaves us with more questions than answers, but overall works well as both a continuation of the story set up in the first movie, and its own thrilling adventure into the unknown.
Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated PG.