Back in 2013, the phenomenon that was Frozen stormed into theaters. At the time, I worked at Disney and for a couple weeks, there were very few requests for anything outside of Olaf or Sven. However, the mood eventually changed, and as the ugly winter of 2013 continued, audiences became hooked. The Idina Menzel ballad “Let It Go” broke through on the pop music charts, and the rest was history.
Now, six years later, our favorite cold weather friends returned to the big screen. While they’ve made intermittent appearances in shorts, their second full-length adventure was one of the most anticipated films of the year. With a rather disappointing slew of contenders for the Animated Feature Oscar this year, the hype continued to build. Sadly, Frozen II does not live up to the original. However, Frozen II handles its business, crafting another solid chapter in the franchise.
The story picks up with Queen Elsa (Menzel) ruling over Arendelle with the help of her sister Anna (Kristen Bell). Their little family includes a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna’s boyfriend Christoph (Jonathan Groff), and Christoph’s reindeer Sven. Elsa continues to hear a song from the mountains and accidentally uses her magic to unlock an ancient threat. Using knowledge from their mother’s (Evan Rachel Wood) bedtime lullabies and their father’s stories, the group ventures into an enchanted forest.
The overall story gives us some good moments for character development. The majority of the film focuses on Anna and Elsa, and with good reason. Despite learning the power of sisterhood, their relationship needs further growth. While each can have a strong personality in their own right, they over-rely on each other, creating a bit of a co-dependent relationship. The film openly acknowledges its audience has grown up, using Olaf to tell the story of what it means to grow older, but it’s through Anna and Elsa that we see how growing up affects our relationships. Another interesting aspect of political dialogue weaves its way into the story. For the sake of keeping this review spoiler-free, I won’t dive in, but the discussion within the film is worthy of being held. Perhaps most surprising of all, Frozen II handles this subplot with grace, making it a clear high point of the film.
While Frozen had some spectacular musical numbers, that becomes one of the major defects of Frozen II. Less Broadway musical and more ballad filling, most of the songs are forgettable. However, “Into the Unknown” quickly establishes itself as the song of the film, even it’s mostly in place to let Menzel blast away. The very weird “Lost in the Woods” should be fun for fans of 1980’s ballads and its fun to actually see Groff showcase his talent. Gad’s comedic talents are put to good use in this one, but his song greatly underwhelms. While Kristen Anderson-Lopez and husband Robert Lopez have become a mainstay at Disney, this feels like their weakest output to date. That said, “Into the Unknown” could easily be our Oscar winner come February, and it would be a deserving win.
The animation quality suffers a little bit this time around, but that’s not the animator’s fault. The use of water creates some beautiful shots, and even some of the fire pops off the screen. However, with How to Train Your Dragon returning this year as well, the environments feel dull by comparison. Creatures born out of these other elements help, but ultimately the dough-faced characters they used to launch the series cannot be advanced much from their original iterations. Without that opportunity, it feels like the first film was more ambitious in its animation, making this feel like an odd step back for Disney.
Frozen II will certainly appeal to hardcore fans of the first film, which seems like it was most people. However, this will be seen as a good but not great sequel to the first film. That said, there are important lessons in the film, and the ability to tell a female-centered story without turning the women on each other continues to feel like a breath of fresh air.