It’s not every day that Disney releases a sequel to a ‘Princess’ film. I approached Frozen 2 already resigned to the fact that this sequel could never live up to Frozen, and sure that the inevitable lack of substance I’d encounter would be the result of a money-driven, panicked studio trying its hardest to capitalize on one of its biggest franchises ever. To my surprise, this film instead comes across as a good effort at a plausible and engaging continuation of the original story. I, and parents everywhere, breathed a sigh of relief.
This film achieves many true successes: the songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are catchy and well-written (if not as memorable as the first film’s), the jokes are often surprisingly funny, the emotional tone of the film comes across as genuine, the autumnal colours are refreshingly muted, and the animation, from the depiction of water to the stitching on the costumes, is notably gorgeous. The interaction between Elsa (Idina Menzel) and the water-horse, in particular, is stunning. However, it’s not all good news: the plot moves from an understandable emphasis on discovering the origin of Elsa’s powers to a rambling and unfulfilling meander of a story with too many characters and an oddly shoe-horned pseudo-colonialist storyline.
The plot begins, after a flashback to Anna and Elsa’s childhood, with a newly philosophising Olaf discussing the nature of change with Anna, and a fourth-wall-breaking self-aware acknowledgement of the passing of time through the catchy ‘Some Things Never Change’. The cosy charades-playing family dynamic of Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf is cut short by Elsa hearing a mystical call to adventure. Her following song, ‘Into the Unknown,’ doesn’t match the explosive magic of ‘Let it Go,, but it does, along with the later ‘Show Yourself,’ make a decent effort at capturing similarly powerful emotion in typical theatrical style.
Following an elemental attack on Arendelle, the main characters journey into the magical forest for an unfocused but charming adventure. High points include: Kristoff’s surprisingly hilarious song and refreshingly gentle masculinity, as manifested in his repeated proposal attempts, and also, in contrast, the standout emotional rawness of Anna’s song, ‘The Next Right Thing,’ which is aided by an impressive performance from Kristen Bell. This song and Olaf’s played-for-laughs existential crisis throughout the film give Frozen 2 an increased sense of emotional maturity that is both a welcome change from the original and also speaks well to the growth of Frozen’s original audience, which it found a whole six years ago. This maturity, paired with Olaf’s show-stoppingly funny rundown of the entirety of the previous film, does a good job asserting this film as a fresh and relevant continuation of the original story that does just enough to leave the past Frozen behind.
Despite this, the focus on the characters’ pasts is disconcerting; the almost worshipful focus on Elsa and Anna’s parents (after their controlling and abusive role in the original) doesn’t ring true, and, without giving too many spoilers, the plot twist surrounding the sisters’ mother was embarrassingly badly handled. Most intriguing was the addition of a political subplot regarding the sisters’ ancestors and their personification as treacherous colonisers of the forest’s indigenous people; this topic is oddly and unfortunately skated over, leaving audiences with the sense that it either should have been further developed or instead cut out entirely. The finale itself is similarly disappointing. Without giving too much away, I will say that the film’s last ten minutes gave the unfortunate impression of a studio with too many ideas and too little focus.
On the other hand, the lack of a traditional Disney villain works well in this film – it seems fitting for this era that the demons these characters are facing are their own. It’s also a relief to find that Elsa is not given an unnecessary love interest, though in the wake of the Twitter-famous demand to ‘#giveelsaagirlfriend,’ it’s remarkable that this film was able to both reject the idea of a romantic storyline for her and also leave the subject of Elsa’s romance open to interpretation by way of the final act’s open-endedness. To focus instead on Elsa’s journey of self-discovery seems to speak to our current era, and the deeper dive into the relational dynamic between sisters results in a story with even more relatable themes and more sensitive portrayals of emotions than those seen in the original.
Despite its unsatisfying storyline, Frozen 2 represents some of Disney’s best work in its beautiful animation, engaging characters, and universal appeal – it’s a far cry from the cash-grabbing mess it could have been.