I may not have been the biggest fan of Frozen but I certainly understood its widespread appeal. It offered not one but two princesses and a significant empowerment message for girls, an endearing comedy figure in Olaf, an unconventional leading man, and an enjoyable score featuring the indelible song “Let It Go.” I didn’t know what to expect from a sequel, especially given that like most fairy tales, this one concludes with everyone living happily ever after.
Therein lies the dilemma. How do you invent a story that justifies extending “ever after?” I was hopeful that returning directors Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the screenplay) and Chris Buck would find a way. My 20-something students at USC were eager to see the results and didn’t share my wariness.
I would love to say that my fears were unfounded, but Frozen 2 is forced to contrive new conflicts for royal sisters Anna and Elsa and the kingdom of Arendelle. The resulting narrative is dizzying in its complexity. I can’t imagine how many times young children will turn to their parents and ask what’s going on. As often as not, I wouldn’t know how to answer.
The film is also burdened with a perceived obligation to outdo the original. Frozen featured spectacular animation, especially in the climactic snow-creature scenes, so the action in Frozen 2 is presented on a gargantuan scale. Its intrepid heroines encounter vast torrents of oceanic water and snow. It’s impressive but unrelenting. I never pictured Anna and Elsa as superheroines in the Marvel mold.
The songwriting team of Robert Anderson and Kristen Anderson Lopez find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to top “Let It Go” and do their very best. Broadway belter Idina Menzel is up to the task, but her defiant “Into the Unknown” is more of an aria than a song—difficult to remember, let alone hum. Kristen Bell gets a vocal workout, too, and has to contend with lyrics like “this grief is gravity/it pulls me down.”
The Disney team is too talented to give us anything substandard and offer audiences a great-looking widescreen movie. There are inspired moments, my favorite being Kristoff’s rendition of the song “Lost in the Woods.” But they can’t overcome the dilemma of any movie sequel: we already know the principal characters, so the novelty value of seeing a goofy reindeer who functions as a Greek chorus is gone. Even Olaf the snowman’s stream-of-consciousness dialogue seems more loopy than funny this time around.
I’m sure Frozen II will be popular and my remarks will be drowned out by a stampede to the box-office. I just wish I’d liked it more.