I usually consider sequels as a series of problems that need to be addressed. The huge success of Frozen made the sequel’s stakes higher and the creative decision-making both more focused and more challenging. We have to keep Elsa and Anna, of course, as well as Kristoff and Sven. But how do we add drama and tension? And what about Olaf? He was a delight in the first, so do we give him more to do in the sequel, and if so, how much more? Anna and Sven are in love, but where is their relationship now, and where is it going? Saving Arendelle worked last time, so do we put a twist on it and do it again?
What big challenges are going to come between the sisters? Do we dig into their pasts, or is everything in the present looking toward the future? And then there are the musical questions—how much, of course, and how can anyone ever hope to capture “Let it Go” lightning in a bottle a second time?
Fortunately, Frozen II answers these questions in as creative a way as one could hope, with one mild caveat. Disney is generally synonymous with magic, but the focus here is on the powers of the enchanted woods, and the elements therein. (You will have to break it to the children that in spite of its importance in the plot line, water doesn’t actually have memory.) The animism gets a bit thick, and the emphasis is probably the film’s one small weakness. The plotline gets a bit muddied because of it, and the departure from normal Disney magic pulls the film away from the more direct and rather less complicated world that the film previously created with Frozen. Perhaps this is Disney’s way of darkening up the sequel, a common approach (The Godfather: Part Two, The Empire Strikes Back, etc.). While perhaps distancing the film from its younger viewers this way, it also opens it to some of the most elegant Fantasia-like imagery since, well, Fantasia.
The film is densely packed with wit, creativity, and stunning imagery. The sequences of Elsa in the woods are often strikingly lovely. The film rightly keeps the Elsa-Anna connection tight, but it verges on being a little much, as Anna is supposed to be in love with Kristoff, whose attempts at proposals are one of the bright spots. The sisterly love, though, is as sacrificial as before, and is probably the two films’ greatest theme. It’s so refreshing to see a Disney film that 1) doesn’t have a rebellious teen trying to get away from “abusive” authority figures, and 2) doesn’t have someone’s main lesson be to “follow their heart,” a motto that can get a person into trouble as much as it helps them find their way.
Everyone moves forward here—though I missed the shopkeeper (who appeared but had nothing to do). Elsa has a new journey—physically and emotionally. Anna makes what turns out to have the greatest journey of all in some ways, but no spoilers here. Kristoff grows up a little, and Olaf is busier than ever (a good thing for this viewer).
The biggest reservation that people have about this “not being as good as the first movie” is that it has simply, and necessarily, lost its freshness. The sisterly love has already been established (and here built on). We already know that Olaf is delightful. We have the main characters down, the locale is familiar, and the personal dynamics are set. But the film does all it can to make up for the loss in freshness with its humor, its intelligence, and its beauty. Nothing can replace the joy of finding new characters, new relationships, and new worlds, but Frozen II nearly makes up for that loss in other ways.
One difference that may or may not work for some viewers is the move toward traditional musical forms. There are moments where the film is something of an animated version of a mid-century M-G-M musical, and the form and the songs stick out a little. However, the main number by Kristoff is a satire on ‘80s music videos, and is funny enough to take one out of the film (in the best way—I couldn’t stop laughing). Olaf also does a couple of recap skits that are absolutely delightful (if you really want to see all of him, stay after the credits, but it’s not really worth it—and this is from a major Olaf fan.) Kristin Bell as Anna gets to show off her voice, especially in her upper range, in a way that occasionally threatens to overpower powerhouse Idina Menzel. Then of course there is “Into the Unknown,” the “Let it Go” song here sung by Menzel which will not be sung by as many little girls as “Let it Go,” but is a lovely song in and of itself. And BTW, “Let it Go” is lovely referred to in the film, as are several other moments of the first film; Frozen II seems to have a healthy and non-competitive relationship with its predecessor.
One of the film’s great strengths is that there is always something going on, and there are multiple layers of meaning and activity. Warning; the college professor is about to come out: A creative comparison could be made with an animated feature like The Good Dinosaur, which is as thin and uninteresting as Frozen II is dense and entertaining. The film will take several viewings to catch everything going on. Yes, I understand that Disney is a corporate behemoth that knows how to market well and encourages multiple viewings of its films. Here, though, it’s warranted. Frozen II is a delightful, beautifully drawn, funny, and smart film that shows what can be done when creative answers are as important as the bottom line.