|Director: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee |
|Screenplay: Jennifer Lee (story by Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck & Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez & Marc Smith) |
|Stars: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Josh Gad (Olaf), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Sterling K. Brown (Mattias), Evan Rachel Wood (Iduna), Alfred Molina (Agnarr), Martha Plimpton (Yelena), Jason Ritter (Ryder), Rachel Matthews (Honeymaren), Jeremy Sisto (King Runeard), Ciarán Hinds (Pabbie)|
|MPAA Rating: PG|
|Year of Release: 2019|
There is a scene about midway through Frozen II in which Elsa (Idina Menzel), now the Queen of the fictional Nordic state of Arendelle, is walking through a magical realm filled with animated ice sculptures that play out major moments from her past—that is to say, a plot synopsis of Disney’s 2013 animated musical mega-hit Frozen. At one point she walks past a sculpture of herself singing that film’s anthemic power ballad “Let It Go,” and she turns her head with a smile and winces a bit—an amusing in-joke to all those parents in the audience who had to endure dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds, of replays of that Oscar-winning song. It’s a funny little dig at the first film that is really no dig at all, especially since it feels like virtually every song in Frozen II is striving to be the next “Let It Go,” which is indicative of the sequel’s ardent desire to match the original’s unique achievements without aping it beat for beat. Frozen II comes close, but doesn’t quite get there, although it should be applauded for taking its own route while maintaining much of what made the original so enjoyable and memorable.
The story is set roughly three years after the first film, and much of the plot revolves around answering questions about events in that film that we probably never thought to ask: Why does Elsa have the magical ability to create and control ice and snow? Where were Elsa and her younger sister Anna’s (Kristen Bell) parents going when they perished at sea when they were small children? And will Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), the burly, but gentle ice hauler, finally overcome the first film’s undercutting of traditional Disney romanticism by asking Anna to marry him? All of those questions are indeed answered in one way or another, as Elsa is drawn into a long journey to find the source of a mysterious voice she keeps hearing, which may be related to a story her father told her and Anna about his experiences as a young prince dealing with the Northuldra, a mysterious tribe that lives in the Enchanted Forest just outside of Arendelle. Anna, of course, refuses to let her sister go alone, and she, Kristoff, Kristoff’s ever-abiding reindeer Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad), the enchanted goofball of a snowman, join her. So, like the first film, Frozen II is built around a journey, and it hits on numerous themes involving persistence, determination, and the power of filial love, even between sisters who don’t always see eye to eye on things.
Alas, there are no lutefisk jokes, this time. But, the lack of humor regarding terrible Swedish cuisine aside, Frozen II is about as good as you could possibly expect it to be, which means that it isn’t as good as the first one, but is still mightily entertaining and even a bit moving. Returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (the latter of whom also scripted) have clearly taken their time and thought through all the pitfalls of a sequel to a film as massive and instantly iconic in the Disney realm as Frozen, and they manage to avoid most of them by keeping the essence of the first film while also exploring new terrain and daring to delve into some darker waters (quite literally at one point, as Elsa attempts to cross a dark, raging ocean by freezing portions of the surface and running across them). There are moments of genuine despair throughout the film, and even if we know deep inside that it will all be alright (even when poor Olaf appears to dissipate into nothing), Buck and Lee do their best to keep us on edge.
The animation is, once again, marvelous, with a canny mix of the ultra-realistic and the highly stylized, and the characters maintain their essential humanity, even when poor Kristoff is reduced to belting out a terrible, love-sick power ballad that is staged and edited like a cheesy early ’80s music video (for those who care to remember, it evokes nothing more than the most cringe-inducing moments of The Pirate Movie, a 1982 guilty-pleasure mashup of Gilbert and Sullivan and synth-pop). It is supposed to be bad in a good way, but it just felt bad in a bad way to me. Maybe I was just too involved at that point in Anna and Elsa’s plight to discover the truth of their past. so I wasn’t much interested in Kristoff’s puppy-love loneliness (returning composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who also get co-story-writing credit, do noble work here, and many of the songs are very good without every fully standing out). And, even though romantic love forms a major subplot, Frozen II is, like its predecessor, primarily about the connection between Anna and Elsa and their abiding dedication to each other, and the filmmakers wisely leave the door open at the end for further adventures.
Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Walt Disney Animation Studios