Initially Frozen 2 fell somewhere in the spectrum of “Disney movies that feel like original Disney.” The Disney of old. Princesses and Princes, magic and mystery, music and melody. Since Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, Star Wars, and – most recently – Fox, it has increasingly felt like that old Disney took a back seat and the focus shifted to big budget franchises. Much like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, the films were all brilliantly executed, but lacked the familiar scent of Disney phantasmagoria.
Almost from the first frame, Frozen 2 stands up in the classroom and shouts “present,” notifying everyone in the seats, critical or otherwise, that the Disney so many of us grew up with is still alive and well.
Frozen 2 is the follow up to the momentous Frozen, and while that statement may seem obvious at first glance, I would ask you to see it how I intended it. The first Frozen film was an event. The animated, musical film featuring Ice Queen Elsa and her mundane (not in character but in magical ability) sister Anna would gross over $1.2 billion and secure Academy Awards for both Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. “Let It Go” hummed through the vocal chords of millions, children and adults alike.
The sequel attempts to recapture this magic, something sequels of box office hits often aim to do, but frequently fail to pull off. Luckily, Frozen 2 does not disappoint.
The film takes place an undetermined amount of time after the events of the first film. Anna and Elsa haven’t aged, but the city of Arendelle has clearly progressed under the reign of Elsa. After a brief flashback that returns to the sisters’ childhood and discloses a river with dominion over time, we are quickly thrust into adventure when Elsa hears a voice from an occluded magical forest. Blocked by an impenetrable fog after a violent clash between the people of Arendelle and a magical tribe, the Nothuldra native to the forest, the sylvan setting is the home of the spirits of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.
The return of Frozen’s directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph) is apparent early on. Frozen 2 feels like a continuation. From scene composition to musical accompaniment, there is an immediate familiarity. However, where Frozen focused on the development of Elsa’s powers and independence, Frozen 2 seeks to tell the story of interfamilial relationships. This film is more Elsa and Anna than anything. We see the return of characters like Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven (all voiced by their original actors), and the introduction of characters like Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld) and Mattias (Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us), but by-and-large the story centers on the two sisters. The dynamics of support, trust, and sacrifice weigh heavily on the characters.
Musically, Frozen 2 feels middling. Where the first film catapulted into the zeitgeist, sprouting memes and think pieces alike, it is hard to tell if the musical queues in Frozen 2 will have the same lasting impact. Many parents may be quite happy to hear that. In fact, there is even a moment just before the beginning of the film’s final act, where Elsa sees a facsimile of her past self singing “Let It Go” and she recoils, almost embarrassed. I took a great amount of pleasure from that moment of self awareness. This isn’t to say that Frozen 2 is without great musical pieces, it certainly has a few, they just didn’t quite feel like they held the hook like so many of the first film’s.
Actors Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell both give stellar vocal performances, both character and musical, and the dynamic between the sisters often feels natural, but that doesn’t always avoid the moments that feel a little forced. Most of the scenes of conflict between the sisters feel true and emotional, but I couldn’t help but feel that some of this movies drama was just that: trite and melodramatic.
It is hard to recapture magic. After all, how much of Frozen’s cultural impact can be quantified anyway? Interviews with the cast and directors following the initial release of the film illustrated a group of extremely talented individuals doing their best work, but unaware of how impactful that work would be. How can anyone predict the fever pitch that comes with viral success?
In the beginning moments of Frozen 2, it felt as if the crew was trying too hard to remind you how much you liked the first movie. The first few songs felt forced and untimely, the initial flashback is perhaps too revelatory, and they overplay the doofus gimmick that Sven, Kristoff, and Olaf share. As the film progresses however, there are real emotional beats that do a lot for the plot. This movie is darker than its predecessor, and I imagine will prompt more than a few conversations in young families about sadness, depression, and hopelessness.
That is really where Disney, this film, and children’s movies as a genre seem to be finding their worth today. Where before kids movies were escapist and fantastical, we are seeing more and more of them made that confront very real issues today’s youth often find themselves surrounded by. For that reason, I found Frozen 2 extremely compelling, even if it doesn’t amass the monolithic success of the first film. Rather than taking the success and easy ticket sales earned by the first movie and creating a boilerplate movie that overcapitalizes on previous success, it takes the spotlight that it has and shines it into some very dark places, making accessible conversations that would otherwise prove difficult to approach.
Frozen 2 is a sequel, yes, but it also feels like its own film. Separated by its willingness to approach more mature conflict and emotion. Will your kids still laugh and have fun? Undoubtedly yes. Josh Gad’s performance as Olaf is still very amusing, and Kristoff’s musical ballad in the second act will make every parent in the theater cringe and chuckle. Rather than focusing on Elsa’s Ice Castle, it moves it to the background, choosing instead to tell a new, relevant story. | Caleb Sawyer