In 2013, “Frozen” took the world by storm. More specifically, “Let It Go” did. For nearly a full year, no one could get away from Anna, Elsa, and definitely not Olaf.
The hype was justified, though. Disney had crafted a tremendously entertaining film that more than lived up to the craze surrounding its signature soundtrack. “Frozen” was an empowering and compelling movie capable of captivating both children and adults alike.
And, of course, it never hurts when you rake in $1.2 billion at the box office. So, naturally Disney made the obvious decision to green light a sequel.
Now, six years later, it’s here and looking to pick up where its predecessor left off. When it comes to carrying on the tale of Anna and Elsa, “Frozen II” is fine, however, it does so in a way that’s devoid of any of the heart or purpose that made audiences fall for the story in the first place.
A few years after the events of “Frozen,” things are going smoothly in Arendelle once more. Anna (Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) are deeply in love, Olaf (Josh Gad) no longer fears melting, and everything in the kingdom is back to normal. However, Elsa (Idina Menzel) is continuously drawn to a mysterious calling only she can hear.
When an inexplicable occurrence causes the earth’s natural elements to abandon the kingdom, Elsa knows she must travel north to an ancient, enchanted forest rumored to be the birthplace of the elements – and her powers. Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven the reindeer join Elsa on the journey to save the kingdom, and together they uncover dangerous secrets concerning their family’s troubled history.
Unlike the first film, “Frozen II” does tackle some significantly darker material. Whereas the deaths of Anna and Elsa’s parents were glossed over during a song in “Frozen,” their disappearance is at the center of the sequel. Director Chris Buck carefully dives into the emotional weight both sisters carry in regard to the loss of their parents and even looks at how Elsa blames herself for their death. Additionally, the story centers around betrayal, xenophobia and the fallout of an attempted genocide.
For a movie about singing snowmen, things have really gone to the next level in “Frozen II,” and for the most part, the difficult topics are handled extremely well. Considering the target audience, Buck does a nice job of simplifying complex subjects into ways even children can easily identify what is right and what is wrong.
While I won’t detail the specifics of the film’s ending, it’s worth mentioning that the supposed climax is quite a letdown. There is no decisive battle between good and evil, no grand revelation, instead, it just sort of happens.
In the current era of filmmaking where nearly everything is two-plus hours, at 103 minutes, the ending arrives surprisingly fast and initially had me questioning whether it truly was the finale.
It’s impossible to talk about a sequel to “Frozen” without breaking down the soundtrack. Unfortunately, it too is quite a disappointment. Obviously, “Let It Go” was the first film’s greatest hit, but it also featured popular songs like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” “For the First Time in Forever,” and “Love is an Open Door.”
This time around, there’s no “Let It Go,” and honestly, there aren’t any of the others, either. Menzel’s “Into the Unknown” is clearly supposed to be this film’s big hit, and while hearing her belt will never get old, the song pales in comparison. However, “Show Yourself,” a duet between Menzel and Evan Rachel Wood as Elsa’s mother, is definitely the film’s best and most moving piece. Other than those two, though, there aren’t many jams.
Menzel may have the edge when it comes to the pipes, but she can’t hold a candle to Bell as an actress. We’ve seen what Menzel is capable of in the first “Frozen” and certainly on stage in “Wicked,” so maybe the issue is just in how Elsa is written. Regardless, when the two sisters share the screen, Bell’s emotional range completely drowns out Menzel’s stoic and detached delivery.
All narrative issues aside, “Frozen II” is beautiful. As with pretty much any modern-day Disney animation, the attention to detail is truly astounding. Unlike the first film’s snowy white color palette, the sequel embraces a wider variety of brilliant autumnal colors that make for a stunning visual experience.
In the film’s third act, Elsa questions the reason for her existence, however, the same can be asked about “Frozen II” as a whole. The easy answer is because it will likely cross the billion-dollar mark, too. But beyond being a cash grab for Disney, the uninspired plot and disappointing soundtrack will keep “Frozen II” from leaving a lasting impact like its predecessor.
Star Rating: 3 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.