Synopsis: After the events of Frozen, Elsa (the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem) and Anna (Eleanor Shellstrop) lead a happy existence in Arendelle, until a literal voice from the past draws the former to a mysterious mist-covered forest that seems to hold the answer to her powers.
1. Frozen, obviously, was a big deal. Not only did it make all the money, it reinvigorated Disney Animation and pushed it back to the forefront of an increasingly crowded pop-cultural space. ‘Let It Go’ was inescapable, gallons of digital ink were spilled and the characters of Elsa, Anna and Olaf became new Disney icons. A sequel was inevitable. But where else was left for Frozen to go? This dilemma is reflected in how Frozen 2 begins with not one, but two exposition scenes, which belies a desperate sweatiness about having to expand the world of the original movie (self-contained, complete) to the extent where a brand new plot can be grafted onto it. These opening scenes are a microcosm of Frozen 2, an overstuffed, often unnecessary endeavour that contorts itself into knots to justify its own existence. However, what these scenes also show is that Frozen 2 is not a boilerplate sequel, and there is something almost laudable about its ambition to paint on as wide a canvas as it possibly can. Frozen 2 is a mess, but at least it is an interesting, largely enjoyable mess.
2. I’m not joking about the film’s ambitions, by the way. Just to give an example, while the original largely focused on relatively kid-appropriate themes of sisterhood and being true to yourself, Frozen 2 deals with (deep breath) – historical trauma, colonialism (or at least the subjugation of indigenous communities by white settler communities), and the fact that existence is fleeting, with the only certainty in life being the fact that it eventually ends. I am exaggerating for comic effect, but only a little. There is a darkness to Frozen 2 that has been largely absent from Disney Animation since The Lion King. The action scenes are pummelling and intense, with a sense that our characters could genuinely get hurt (or y’know, die). Hell, there is even a plot point that Elsa might have indirectly caused her parents’ death! The heaviness of the movie is indirectly acknowledged in a fourth wall breaking moment when Olaf (Josh Gad) tells the screen audience that they are much older than they used to be. As such, what Frozen 2 reminds me of is Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix – the work that attempts to follow its childhood audience into maturity by cramming in as many ‘grown-up’ ideas and events as possible. And like Order of The Phoenix, Frozen 2 is not always successful in treading the line between ‘children’s entertainment’ and ‘serious teenage business’.
3. Part of the reason for this is due to the film’s uneasy tone. As mentioned, while the action scenes and emotional beats are bloody intense, this is a Disney Animation film, which means that all this heavy stuff is mixed in with comic relief that can be quite silly. The problem is that this leads to some serious mood whiplash as the ‘haha’ and ‘boohoo’ elements are not balanced well, compared to something like a Pixar film. The comedy feels a lot more forced this time compared to Frozen, and while the jokes are funny and well-constructed, they feel out of place in the midst of so much darkness.
4. Disney is trying so hard to create another ‘Let It Go’. The song this time is ‘Into The Unknown’ and it’s … kinda eh? It’s not a bad song by any means (slightly tuneless and lacking oomph to my untrained ears), and Idina Menzel sells the hell out of it as only a Broadway legend can, but it just lacks the extra that made ‘Let It Go’ so special. While ‘Let It Go’ took place almost right in the middle of the film and represented a climax in Elsa’s journey, ‘Into The Unknown’ occurs in the first act and reveals very little about the character that we do not already know. It just feels (and this is a pattern) reverse-engineered and grafted on to try to replicate the magic of the original Frozen, and cannot escape being seen as a mere facsimile of something much better. On the other hand, we have ‘Lost In The Woods’, a hilarious pastiche of an 80s Michael Bolton style power ballad that is entertaining as all hell. But it does say something that Frozen 2‘s best song is ‘the silly one’ instead of ‘the epic one’.
5. What is not a mere facsimile though, is the plot of Frozen 2, and by god, is there a great deal of it. Elemental spirits and memory rivers and ancient tribes and broken peace treaties and an enchanted forest are all key aspects of the plot, and it is delivered at such a breakneck speed that much of it does not have the necessary space to breathe. The creators of Frozen 2 (co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee) have not explicitly ruled out the possibility of a Frozen 3, but the fact that they throw so much into this film makes me suspect that they put every single idea they had into this one. Now, these ideas are good-to-excellent, including the plotline of Elsa and Anna uncovering the truth about their past, and Buck and Lee should be lauded for never talking down to their audience. As mentioned, Frozen has grown up with its audience, and thus has morphed from a Disney Renaissance style fairy-tale musical into a high-fantasy adventure movie, complete with real life parallels to colonialism. This may not be entirely successful as the plot falls completely to pieces when you think about it too much, but it zips by breezily enough that it feels more-or-less satisfying in the moment.
6. What is beyond just ‘meh’ is the art design of Frozen 2. This is a beautiful movie, and quite possibly the first Disney Animation film to fully push the boundaries of digital animation. Beyond the lush, realistic backgrounds (the Dark Sea is a highlight), Frozen 2 excels in exploring the possibilities of what magic could look like. There is a sense of boundless creativity in the abstract shapes and colours that burst forth from Elsa’s ice powers or the mysterious force that reaches out to her. The film is a visual delight, and with Disney seemingly determined to leech all the colour and vibrance out of their live-action remakes, it is at least heartening to see that the animation department has not lost their touch in creating stunning imagery.
7. So, is Frozen 2 actually a good movie? The answer to that is a resounding maybe. It is a visual and aural delight, and there is something comforting to spend another one and a half hours with these characters again. The film is also noteworthy for how it dares to tell a different kind of story from the original, a story of greater thematic and plotting complexity. However, this ambition serves as the limiting factor for Frozen 2, which tries too hard for too many goals and never satisfactorily achieves any of them. Perhaps a more judicious trimming of the screenplay – say, the removal of one or two plot elements – might have made this a better film, but part of the sprawl comes from having to appeal to so many different demographics and maintain as wide a reach as possible while continuing to establish Disney as a ‘woke’ brand**. As such, Frozen 2 is a solid enough watch and an entertaining mess that ranges from awe-inspiring to barely coherent within the same scene. While I am sure there is an impetu$ to continue the franchi$e in the Di$ney boardroom*, it does seem like this is about as far as it can be taken. After all, as a popular song once said, Disney should let it go.
* I am not, nor will I ever be, a subtle writer.
** For more on this, I refer you to this fantastic video by pop culture critic Lindsay Ellis.