Into the (almost) unknown.
As “snow queen” of Arendelle, Elsa (Idina Menzel) takes solace in acceptance of herself and her ice-generating powers by the entire kingdom. With her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (Josh Gad), Elsa fears anything changing what they’ve won… but a mysterious siren-like voice is calling out to the snow queen that only she can hear. Recounting the bedtime story of a cursed enchanted forest told by their father (Alfred Molina) before his and their mother’s (Evan Rachel Wood) disappearance at sea, Elsa is joined by her friends to help seek out the source of the call. Can a dark secret be uncovered in time to save two kingdoms, or will those seeking it be consumed by the memories of the past?
In 2013, an incredible thing happened: a film called Frozen caught fire. A full-on musical inspired by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ice Queen,” it began the story of two sisters, one as normal as anyone but the other blessed/cursed with the power to generate snow and ice… even to bring it to life. As frightened of herself as everyone was of her, Elsa was unusual for a Disney princess, becoming a metaphor for the misunderstood in need of understanding, whether within or from without. Anna accepted Elsa for who she was — an unconditional love — even when Elsa herself did not, showcasing the real enemy as being fear itself. Without going as far as the underappreciated The Emperor’s New Groove, Frozen broke plenty of Disney conventions, but can the sequel successfully expand the franchise without sacrificing the original elements to the audiences that appreciated them?
Jokes aside about Elsa being a perfect candidate for Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, someone in the writer’s pool was a clear fan of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element and various Indiana Jones movie stunt pieces. In addition to the usual Disney embellishments of their own past films — Elsa and Anna’s toys, for example — the story is interestingly game to explore bad choices of the past and revisit often-glossed-over off-screen character deaths. Then there’s the whole too-white assessment of the original film, answered here by not only ret-conning diversity but Disney gaining permission for specific cultural appropriation in the exemplary way they did for Moana. While making bold in-story choices continuing to break Disney conventions, Frozen II leans heavily on visual spectacle and characterization, a safely world-expanding part two in set-up for the inevitable part 3.
The new story centers around history and discovery rather than sisterly love, showcasing how good people take on too much responsibility either because they feel they deserve the consequences or to spare others from the burden — pretty complex for a Disney princess film. What isn’t explained, however, are the forces behind the scenes, godlike entities that reward and punish as they see fit. While elemental entities are introduced — a letdown for everyone hoping that Elsa’s Winter abilities might suggest Anna having latent Autumn abilities — it is strongly suggested there are higher powers at work and in play. If the elemental entities had been directly responsible, they could have solved their problems years ago without any help at all, indicating the film’s events were intended as tests of a sort, trials of faith and family to prove worth. Someone or something appears to be orchestrating this game that reeks of Greek mythology — preahps demigods — and the film intentionally sidesteps this too-obvious point in a clear setup for another installment.
Love him, hate him, or both, Josh Gad’s Olaf is ever one f-bomb for being Frozen’s Deadpool, uncontent to walk the line between amusing and annoying but gleefully dancing a jig across it. With musical self-awareness all the rage on Broadway now, Frozen II ups their ante with genre anachronisms and accompanying music video scenes that sometimes jarringly take viewers out of the story, even in the name of entertainment. Overall, it hits the notes (for better or worse) that fueled the original film, not quite reaching the same heights but happy to string fans along for at least one more outing viewers won’t have to wait another six years for.
Frozen II is rated PG for action/peril, some thematic elements, and Elsa Dallas Multipass.
Three skull recommendation out of four
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