Does knowing why Frozen’s Elsa has magical power make the Frozen universe or the character any more appealing or deep in any way? See, I don’t think so, but finding that out is essentially the entire reason Frozen II exists. That and some more really nice songs from original songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (who also wrote the Oscar-winning “Remember Me” from Coco). Back too are some truly stunning animations and strong direction from Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (Oscar winners for the first film; Lee also wrote the screenplay for Frozen II), so the links to the first film are strong.
So why does this installment come up short?
It’s been six years since the first film, and the appeal of the animated musical hasn’t waned at all. Kids still dress up like Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) for Halloween—and many other days during the year. Anna (Kristen Bell) is still the loyal sister to the new queen of Arendelle. The love affair between Anna and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is strong, and he’s on the verge of popping the question. And Olaf the snowman still sounds a lot like Josh Gad, while Sven the reindeer still doesn’t speak. But all these years later, Elsa is now haunted by a sweet but haunting song that no one else can hear coming from an ancient, fog-encased lost forest called Ahtohallan, where decades ago their parents (voiced by Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood), and even their grandfather (Jeremy Sisto) had an encounter with tribe of indigenous people called the Northuldra, who worship the elements and attempted to make peace with the Arendelle kingdom—an endeavor that went terribly wrong for reasons unknown.
And while the mysteries of the past collide with current questions about the source and reason for this strange song reaching Elsa, we are treated to a road movie through some spectacular terrain and environments that test Elsa’s abilities and show us just how far the Disney animators have come in so many years. The treatment of water and fire in particular is especially impressive. But a great deal of Frozen II is dark, bordering on sinister, and some of the revelations about the past are quite painful to those in the present, especially Elsa. And I’m still not sure why any of it was important and why I was supposed to care.
I remain impressed with not just the visuals, but the songs as well, in particular Menzel’s take on “Into the Unknown,” which is clearly meant to be the “Let It Go” of Frozen II, although a song later in the film, “Show Yourself,” moved me much deeper and is also a potential rousing crowdpleaser. Brace yourselves for “modern” versions of some of the songs from this movie by the likes of Panic! at the Disco, Kacey Musgraves, and even Weezer during the closing credits. What is the world coming to?
Without giving too much away, we also get vocal work from the likes of Sterling K. Brown, Ciaran Hinds, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, and the multi-faceted Alan Tudyk, all of whom play characters who, to share their story would be spoiler-y. The film gets enough right to give it a modest recommendation, but keeping the sisters separated for so long worked in the first film because it made the reunion was so special. Here, it denies us their newfound chemistry, which would have served this story well. And although it comes with some awesome new costumes, setting Elsa above all others the way this film does practically betrays what made her so special. She was a goddess who chose to live and exist among mere mortals, and for some reason, that made her all the more human.
And perhaps that’s what’s missing from this sequel as well. The first film was so unassuming on the surface that its becoming such a monster hit seemed special and unexpected. But this time around, Frozen II is literally trying to explain so much of the first installment that it robs it of its unique qualities. Come for the music and artistry, and perhaps what’s missing from this installment won’t seem as vast.
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