Nov 27, 2019

When “Frozen” came out in 2013, it was lauded for its admirable circumvention of the Disney Princess trope—you know, the princess whose motivations primarily revolve around a prince, with the film inevitably ending with a happy-ever-after punctuated by a big, white wedding. “Frozen” was not at all like that. Not only was the primary love story one of sisterhood, the act of true love that inevitably saves the day isn’t doled out by any prince or man for that matter. Add a powerful 11 o’clock number that became as ubiquitous in karaoke parties as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and it wasn’t just a hit movie, it became a monumental event.

The sequel has big shoes to fill. It comes in the era of #MeToo, of political correctness, of divisive world leaders who aren’t afraid of voicing their intolerance. It even comes now when we expect a lot from our animated movies, hoping they will impart something for adults just as much as for children. 

You see the bones of this attempt to live up to all these expectations in “Frozen II” (story once again by Jennifer Lee). Any romantic subplots are merely tacked on with the core relationships remaining familial. It’s what the film gets right, just like the first movie. It is still young women who choose themselves, choose each other, and get things done.

It begins with a young Elsa and a young Anna being told a bedtime story by their parents about an enchanted forest sealed after an inexplicable battle between the people of Arendalle led by their grandfather and Northuldra. The myth and magic of the forest became a lullaby that they remember until young adulthood. All grown now, we see them a few years after the end of the first film; Elsa (Idina Menzel) is a respected ruler and Anna (Kristen Bell) is flourishing now that the kingdom has opened its doors. It’s also fall, a transitory season where things change with the color of the leaves. 

Elsa hears a siren call beckoning her, and this sets off the plot of the sequel. The people of Arendalle are driven out of their home by acts of nature and it’s up to Elsa and Anna (with Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven) to find answers and make their home safe again. This leads them to the enchanted forest from their father’s stories. Elsa’s magic allows them entrance and the forest begins to reveal its secrets, the truth about the past, as well as how Anna, Elsa, and her powers tie into the myth.

It’s a fast-paced adventure with surprising leaps in a plot that even adults paying close attention might find a bit challenging to follow. It’s to keep the young audiences engaged, and to keep running time well below two hours and still tell an ambitious story. The art direction ( by Lee and Chris Buck) is stunning, especially towards the climax with Elsa facing the vast open sea and a magical horse. 

It’s hard to tell if any of the songs Robert and Kristen Lopez will become as iconic and anthemic to little girls as “Let It Go” and “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” were, but Kristoff (Jonathan Groff)’s 80’s-inspired “Lost in the Woods” is an absolute riot (if mostly for the adults watching), Elsa’s newest octave-shatterer “Into the Unknown” is rousing, and Anna’s wrenching “The Next Right Thing” is profound even out of context. Olaf (Josh Gad) dishes out seemingly inconsequential zingers for big laughs, too. There’s even a fire gecko whose sole purpose is to be cute. 

There’s a whole lot of charm in this, but it follows the original’s winning formula a little too closely that it feels almost repetitive. Elsa’s still a little reckless in her solo pursuit of understanding herself, Anna seemed to have waylaid her own self to be her sister’s keeper and end up the true heroine in the end. These are important themes to tell young children—that young women have their own autonomy to do as they please, but these are also the same morals imparted by the first film. Just more concisely.

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