Well, the day has finally arrived. Six years after the original Frozen hit theaters, Disney Animation has returned to their billion-dollar-earning story to add a new chapter in the adventures of Anna and Elsa. Now that Elsa has regained control of her powers, the kingdom of Arendelle sits with gates wide open, a sign that all may come and join in the local festivities. Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf are there to join her in the celebrations, a happy family once more that is there for Elsa whenever she might need them. In fact, almost everything seems pretty perfect for the Arendellians. There’s just one small problem: Elsa keeps hearing a voice call to her, a voice she believes comes from the spirits within an enchanted forest her parents had told her and Anna about as children, which was long ago shrouded by a magical mist from which no one can leave and into which no one can go. This mist was the result of a decades-old curse brought onto the forest after the four spirits had witnessed an unjust act, and deemed those inside cursed until one could come along to break the spell. And yet, from within the mist, the voice continues to call to Elsa no matter what she does; it is this voice, in partnership with the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) that force the kingdom of Arendelle to be evacuated, its citizens soon stuck on the cliffs overlooking the castle. Believing that the mysterious voice might lead to the source of Elsa’s powers (as well as the answers behind what’s happening to Arendelle), Elsa, Anna, and the gang set off to find the voice, enter the enchanted forest, and break the curse held over it once and for all.
I had a bit of a complicated relationship with the first Frozen; when it was released, I though it was one of the best films Disney Animation had done in years, embodying exactly what they needed after Tangled to confirm that no, that movie was no fluke, and they were staging a huge comeback. Since then, it’s made its way all the way into my Top 10 Movies of 2013 at the #3 spot, which is not an easy spot to climb to, especially when given time to reflect on all the other great films that came out that year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always like this, and after seeing the original Frozen on Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, I became embittered and annoyed by its overly aggressive marketing push, which started in December of that year and only really seems to have ended within the last year or two. “Frozen fever,” they called it, and that fever made me feel sick; don’t get me wrong, I still thought the film was great, but I couldn’t put it on or wander into it showing at any house (once it hit home release) where not everyone was quoting the entire film verbatim as it was playing. Luckily, that did end after a while, and I still think the movie’s great, so I had some fairly lofty expectations for Frozen II, and for the most part, it delivers on just about everything it promised.
Let’s start off with the obvious so we can get to the real substantive stuff: no, Frozen II is not as good as Frozen. Given the sort of perfect storm the original was, that was always going to be somewhere between difficult and impossible for the filmmakers to pull off, but they got pretty close, considering everything they were up against in terms of story, character, new animation, new songs, etc. The biggest issue I had with the film really is just one that the film might have been bound to have anyway by going for a more mature story, namely that it being a movie with heavier subject matter means that subject matter is going to be harder to tackle well. There’s certainly an attempt to tackle it well, and again, they got pretty close, but unfortunately, the dramatic stakes of the film don’t get quite the amount of development in the first act that they might otherwise require. I understand this is a kids movie when it comes to the dotted red line, so some things need to be sped along rather quickly, but in this particular case, I would have liked to see more of what life in Arendelle was like for our main characters and the townspeople post-Frozen before the actual plot of this one kicked in; as it stands, the plot comes up so quickly we don’t really get proper time to catch our breath before jumping right in. Frozen II, also, being a successor to its famous musical predecessor, has a bunch of new songs in store for fans; there are some which are decent, and some which are really good, but the main problem is that none of them (well, except maybe one) quite measure up to the level of “Let it Go,” or “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” They’re certainly not bad songs by any stretch, but they don’t necessarily feel like they belong on Broadway the same way the songs from the first one did, which is a shame, considering (almost) everything else in this movie has improved on the original in some form or fashion.
And now we get to talk about the good stuff. There’s a lot to like in Frozen II, not the least of which is the sheer amount of worldbuilding this team was able to pull off; we get to see plenty of the enchanted forest throughout the picture, but there are some surprise locations in the film that, if they don’t blow your mind, will at the very least greatly impress you (and they’ll definitely blow the kids’ minds). The animation, as expected from the mouse house, is exceptional, and the whole animation department deserves high praise for some of the images they’re able to pull off here. It’s clear that most of Disney’s money probably went to Pixar for Toy Story 4, since that’s still the best-looking animated film of the year, but they definitely poured a lot into this one too, and there were more than a few times where I nearly dropped my jaw at how beautiful things were or at some of the things they were able to pull off in expanding Elsa’s powers to a greater level. There’s a new look she’s given in this film that will soon become instantly iconic to young viewers, and in my mind, is one of my favorite Disney character designs ever put to screen.
The key thing to get right with a sequel like this, though, even with impressive world-building and animation, is the character building, and although the set-up is a bit rushed, we can see immediately that these aren’t all the same characters we saw in 2013. They have some of the same habits, quirks, and personality traits they had before, yes, but those are now balanced out and matured by some genuine, sincere writing that speaks to just how well Jennifer Lee (screenwriter) knows these characters and clearly loves writing them. Without giving away any spoilers, Elsa and Anna in particular are given a lot of room to grow with and apart from each other, and one can feel that connection every time they’re on screen together. The supporting characters are all great too, even if we don’t get to spend that much time with them, given everything the movie still has to accomplish that they don’t directly affect. Even Olaf gets to grow more as a character, and as with the original Frozen, this is used to great comedic effect, with Josh Gad’s loveable snowman getting some of the best lines in the film as the character is meant to be “maturing” throughout.
I don’t want to say too much more at the risk of running into potential spoiler territory, but suffice it to say, there’s a lot of stuff in this film to like just as much as the original, some stuff to love even more, and some stuff that begets admiration and respect, even if they don’t quite measure up to what the first one was able to pull off. Frozen II has a lot more on its mind than the original did, what with the character growth and major world-building to accomplish, as well as the introduction of some much deeper thematic undercurrents, but it does its best, and in the end, it comes out as a worthy sequel that manages to capture most of that magic once again. If this storytelling team has one more chapter in them, I’d certainly be down for them to close out a Frozen trilogy.
I’m giving “Frozen II” an 8.4/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.