Back in 2013, Frozen became a cultural phenomenon that led to a series of short films that didn’t quite live up to the majesty of the full-length feature. To put all of it into perspective, Disney was sued for one of the shorts that mirrored another animators story, and another was ridiculed for its length; apparently twenty-one minutes of Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) running around doing stupid things is too much when your kids are anticipating the day of the dead. As a lesson to be learned from the disaster known as Minions, side characters like Olaf are so much better when they aren’t the focus of your movie. So it was nice to enjoy a return to Arendelle with Frozen 2, a film that doesn’t surpass its big sister in quality, but stays on par with with the magic we all expect from the franchise.
The film begins the same as the original, taking us back in time to when Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are kids (before Elsa was locked away for harming Anna) to learn the story of a magic forest that used to rule the lands with the power of the four elements, but which now is covered in fog because of a sinister betrayal that took place. The sequence is fine, but it does feel like a pretty blatant way to info-dump prior to beginning the adventure. This can be taken as both a good thing (it gets the information out of the way early so it doesn’t bog down the story) and a bad thing (it doesn’t get the film off to the best, most immediate start).
Back in the present, we learn Elsa is starting to hear a voice singing in the distance that only she can hear. This leads her to inadvertently wake up the spirits of the forest, which immediately forces the residents of Arendelle out of their home and into the mountains. To prevent future tragedy and save the kingdom, Elsa, Anna and the rest of our familiar gang head off into the magic forest to restore balance and peace to the land.
The movie settles into a nice rhythm once our heroes enter the forest. Everything that has been strategically setup in the first act blossom nicely into several plots that complement one another as if the script was its own song in and of itself.
Returning writer and co-director (along with Chris Buck) Jennifer Lee does not skip a beat when it comes to bringing these characters back to life. Anna is still very protective of Elsa, who continues to be a lone wolf, pushing her sister away (sometimes literally) to “keep her safe” from what’s to come. Olaf is his usual delightful self (though admittedly not quite as endearing as he was in the original—except for his retelling of Frozen, which was terrifically done all around!), and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), alongside trusted sidekick Sven, continue to be fun characters as they spend most of their time attempting to propose to Anna, who constantly (and hilariously) twists everything he says leading up to those magic words into something foreboding.
But therein lies the issue. Within each of these fine-tuned plots, the characters don’t change. When our heroes first reach the forest, Olaf marvels at its majesty and claims that although he doesn’t know what transform means, he has a feeling the forest is going to change each one of them in different ways. However, the changes that do occur are more external than internal, as the characters learn basically the same lessons and never reach the magnitude Lee and her team wished to climb.
It doesn’t help that the new characters introduced, including Jason Ritter and Evan Rachel Wood as natives of the forest, and Sterling K. Brown as a soldier in Elsa and Anna’s grandfather’s army who was stranded in the forest when the wall of fog was raised, have no substance beyond their willingness to help these “intruders.” Luckily, we get a cute little fire chameleon who adds some cuteness while helping Elsa find her destiny.
Now a review of Frozen 2 wouldn’t be complete without discussing the music. Right away, we know it’s going to be extremely difficult to top the soundtrack from the original, which was rich with clever songs that grew more likeable as the years went on. Original songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez does her best to rise to the challenge, but can only seem to emulate what made songs like “Do You Want To Build A Snowman”, “For the First Time In Forever” and “Let It Go” so special.
All of the songs you might expect are there: Elsa’s beautiful power ballad, Anna’s quirky-fun interludes, and Olaf’s tune full of naivete. One that stood out for me the most, though, is Kristoff’s lonely-heart balled; not because the lyrics were all that memorable, but because of Lee’s direction. The whole sequence delightfully embodies everything we loved about eighties music videos, complete with closeups of Kristoff singing superimposed over background elements of forlorn sadness.
In my review of Frozen, I lamented the animation during “Let It Go”; it encapsulated the song beautifully and gave life to both the character and the film itself, making it one of the best sequences in any movie in 2013. “Show Yourself”, Elsa’s second power balled that tries to emulate that moment, doesn’t have the same staying power of its predecessor; the animation, though, lives up to everything that made that other sequence so majestic as Lee once again transforms the screen into a brilliant landscape of visual grandeur. The entire sequence gives the film just enough juice to jump-start us into the powerful and emotional final act.
I’m not sure anyone believed that Frozen 2 could ever live up to the original — not many sequels do. And although the film does feel somewhat like a carbon copy of the original insofar as the characters are concerned, the animation and the journey the characters take remains perfectly executed, bringing us all back into a world we weren’t sure we wanted to return to and giving us a new reason to fall in love with Elsa and Anna all over again.
My Grade: A
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Next week, new movies include Knives Out and Queen & Slim. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.