2014 was “the ‘Frozen’ year” in my house.
Obsessed with the 2013 animated Disney hit, my 6-year-old daughter spent a year rewatching the movie on DVD, listening to the soundtrack over and over, dressing up in an ice-blue Elsa gown for ‘Frozen’-themed birthday parties and school talent shows.
I’m guessing 2020 will not be “the ‘Frozen II’ year” in our house, and not just because my daughter is six years older, and now swears she really wasn’t that into ‘Frozen’ in the first place. (Uh huh.) It’s that this sequel, despite being perfectly entertaining and gorgeous to look at, can’t quite capture the magic of the original. It was clearly made not because the filmmakers had another story they were yearning to tell, but because Disney had another movie they were yearning to sell.
Screenwriter Jennifer Lee (who co-wrote with Allison Schroeder, and again shares directing duties with Chris Buck) doesn’t conjure up a false rift between sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) to recreate their schism from the original film. That’s a cheap trick of many sequels, and it’s nice to see the film have more respect for the characters than that. The sisters are happily presiding over the idyllic kingdom of Arendelle, with now-permafrosted snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and reindeer whisperer Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) by their side.
But Elsa keeps hearing a mysterious singing voice beckoning her from afar, perhaps a metaphor for the true, magical self she’s been keeping under wraps for the sake of sisterly harmony. The source of the singing seems to be an enchanted forest protected by elemental spirits and now cloaked in mist. In a prologue, the sisters learned from their father that the forest was the site of a tragic clash between Arendellians and the natives of the forest, but the real story has remained as shrouded in fog as the forest itself.
When those spirits threaten the safety of Arendelle, the sisters, Olaf and Kristoff head into the forest to uncover the mystery, save Arendelle and, of course, sing some songs. Change is a recurring theme in the film — both facing change in the future, and being willing to change one’s perception of the past. For an ostensible kids’ film, Lee and Buck touch on some darker themes about loss, trust — even colonialism.
The animation is some of the most beautiful ever seen in a Disney movie — snowflake crystals glitter in the air, giant waves crash in the ocean, and the autumnal enchanted forest adds a new color palette of rust and gold to the “Frozen” blue and white. This was one of the rare times I sat in a theater and wished I had paid extra to see the movie in 3D.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez give Olaf another funny song, although I laughed harder at Kristoff’s number, which is a note-perfect pastiche of an ‘80s power ballad. As Elsa, Menzel gets to belt out a couple of showstoppers (“Show Yourself” and “Into The Unknown”) although they don’t have the instant-classic status of “Let It Go.”
It’s an accomplished film, one that delivers on its mission of making the audience laugh a little, cry a little, and send them out the door with a few memorable songs in their heads. But as a follow-up to a modern classic, it’s a little mushy. Although, on the bright side, at least Disney didn’t remake “Frozen” as live-action CGI like “The Lion King.” Yet.