Frozen II is something of an anomaly for Disney. The company isn’t known for making sequels to their classic animated films. (OK, not canonically at least!) During the studios’ first 60 years there was only one: The Rescuers Down Under in 1990. (An odd choice that’d I’d love to learn the reasoning behind!) Even with sequels becoming de rigueur for every popular animated film from other companies these days, Disney has been surprisingly restrained with only three since their last: Fantasia 2000, Winnie The Pooh in 2011, and Ralph Breaks the Internet in 2018. But despite that, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that they wouldn’t fast track a second part to their biggest hit ever!
Anna, Olaf, Kristof, and Elsa are all pondering what it means to mature and whether things have to change as we age, when… things start to change and they have to all grow up a little more to face it! A magical voice calls to Elsa, though she wants to ignore its song. Her no-longer-gloved hand is forced when a mysterious power drives her people out of Arendelle. She and the others head north to uncover secrets hidden in the past, the repercussions of which are endangering their present, and may change the course of their futures.
Frozen II is not Frozen I. That statement could be both good or bad. Unfortunately, Frozen II is more of the latter. You want your sequels to be fresh and not just rehash what came before. What you don’t want is a sequel that doesn’t feel connected to the original. In fact, this almost doesn’t feel like a Frozen film at all. The whole thing seemed like some other story with the characters from Frozen shoehorned in. Where the first movie kept things mostly light with some well-earned poignancy thrown in, here solemnity is the norm with some slightly-jarring humor added occasionally. Frozen was fun, this was more of a chore.
Just as bad for a sequel, several plot points don’t mesh well with the first movie. For example (and without giving too much away) characters act contrary to the way they did in the first, and characters that we learn had specific knowledge in this movie could have used that information in the last film.
Even allowing this outing to stand on its own without comparing it with its better predecessor, it doesn’t fare well. The beginning of the movie is filled with way too much exposition. Characters go on and on telling us backstory rather than letting it be revealed in a more organic way. While I say that as a knock, thank goodness it was there because the entire story is extremely convoluted and confusing. I can see why the writers included so much explicit exposition early — because they had to get it all out quickly to make way for their ponderous plot. I readily admit that I could not explain to you, even if I wanted to spoil the movie, exactly what happened. Part of that is due to the overly complex story; part is due to poor explanatory writing; but a big portion of it is it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to begin with. I really don’t think most kids are going to know what’s going on.
There were several new characters joining our main cast: a group of Arendelle soldiers led by Lieutenant Mattias; Yelana, the leader of a tribe to the north; and tribe-members Honeymaren and Ryder. But this is Elsa and Anna’s film and just about every other character could have been removed without much trouble. Kristof and Olaf are relegated to lightening the mood when needed, but could have stayed home with the people of Arendelle. Mattias and Yelana are semi-important to the plot, but are rarely utilized and could have been replaced with even more exposition! Honeymaren and Ryder could have been completely cut from the movie without a single change required. Now, is it a bad thing that Elsa and Anna are the sole driver’s of the narrative? Not at all. But it might have made for a more interesting story if they were forced to interact in a meaningful way with the characters around them. How do you do that without lengthening an already too long film? Kill two birds with one stone: simplify the plot.
Music was such an important part of the original Frozen. In that review I wrote, “not only are [the songs] fun, they’re well-written — catchy music, clever lyrics, intricate harmonies and counterpoints, with both plot-advancers and showstoppers. This could be most ambitious Disney song score since The Hunchback of Notre Dame“. Unfortunately, the only word I would use from that review when talking about the songs in Frozen II would be “ambitious” — but without the same connotation. I was a music major in college. So I find some of the songs here intriguing in that they are unconventional — uncommon intervals, unusual rhythms, unexpected dissonance. Academically interesting? Sure. But easily singable — especially by the target audience — they ain’t! Part of what made the first movie so ubiquitous was you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the songs, either on the radio, on random phones, or someone actually just singing it out in public. I don’t know that we’ll see that for this soundtrack.
However, the filmmakers are extremely lucky in that they have such an amazing cast singing these songs. I wasn’t sold on Jonathan Groff the first time out, but that may have been because he wasn’t given much. But the man can sing! Josh Gad is such an unexpected talent — thank goodness to whoever took a chance on him when he first started out! Kristen Bell is Anna. The character would have to be rewritten without her. And Idina Menzel. There are just no words good enough to praise her ability. There would be no Frozen at all without her. (That said — and this is something you won’t hear often — Brendon Urie of Panic at the Disco out-sang Menzel on the end credits version of Into the Unknown!)
There is one aspect of the film that you can’t complain about and that is Disney’s bread and butter — animation. The sets (like the enchanted forest) are stunning. The effects (like Elsa attempting to cross the sea) are incredible. And, like the original, who knew costume design in a cartoon could be so beautiful and interesting.
I’ve been hard on Frozen II, I know. But the first became such an important and iconic film in our collective culture. Trying to follow-up on that would be as impossible as finding two identical snowflakes. Of all the studios in Hollywood, Disney knows that maybe best as evidenced by their prudence when it comes to sequels. That self-restraint has been admirable, and one would hope that when the company decides to move forward with a “part two”, they will only do so if they can make a worthy and worthwhile successor. And if that’s not the goal, what should you do with your sequel plan? Let it go.
November 22, 2019
directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee