A lot has changed in my life in the past six years since the original Frozen debuted in theaters. My girlfriend and I attended a viewing of that film together and mostly enjoyed the experience. The film arrived with minimal fanfare initially for a Walt Disney Pictures film, but soon a phenomenon was born. I remember leading up to the release of the film seeing piles of ignored Frozen merch at my local Disney Store. Once the film landed and people got to experience it that merch evaporated. Parents looking to put an Elsa or an Olaf under the tree for Christmas were left scrambling, staking out shops before they opened in hopes of landing a coveted toy.
Since then my girlfriend has become my wife and we’ve welcomed two kids, a boy and a girl. Frozen was just another quality Disney film for us to occasionally enjoy, but now it’s practically a lifestyle. My daughter is a certified Frozen nut. She loves Elsa, and every night asks to wear her Anna pajamas even if she wore them the previous night and got them covered in Cheerios at breakfast that morning. She loves to sing and frequently can be heard belting out the lyrics to “Let it Go.” If you happen to enter the bathroom at my house and shut the door behind you, you’ll be probably be serenaded as you do your business. It starts with a knock, then a question: “Elsa?” Then you’re treated to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and if you know your Disney and insert a, “Go away, Anna,” at the right time the sequence ends with a dejected “Okay, bye.” If in that amount of time you’re still not finished though, expect the process to begin again.
When Frozen II was announced it was a foregone conclusion that my wife and I would have to take the kids. It became abundantly clear when the first trailer dropped and my daughter lost her mind when she saw Elsa was wearing a purple dress, her favorite color. Thankfully, theater assigned seating makes it much easier these days to attend a film on opening night and that’s what we did, taking in Frozen II on Thursday the 21st. My daughter arrived in fashionable style wearing her Elsa dress she picked out when we vacationed at Disney World last winter (she went with Elsa’s winter dress from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, if you’re curious) and both kids got to pick some candy as we settled into our seats. The theater was bustling with patrons, mostly mothers and daughters. Some adults were even in full costume, proving that Frozen-mania isn’t something only children suffer from, and there were some men in the audience as well. Even some that appeared to have no children with them.
It was a rather raucous setting to partake in a film, but it felt appropriate given the excitement this franchise has created in viewers. Frozen II largely picks up where the previous film left off. If you have skipped the two shorts released since then you won’t miss out on anything as everyone is where you would expect them to be, for the most part. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is adjusting to life as a queen while Anna (Kristen Bell) is still mostly carefree. She’s in a relationship with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who is now struggling with how he should pop the question to his beloved. Sven is by his side still, and of course there’s Olaf (Josh Gad). When we first see the precocious snowman we find out almost immediately that Elsa has given him a coating of permafrost, apparently the animators didn’t want to have to include a flurry over his head for an entire film. He’s also strangely obsessed with growing old and gaining more maturity. Something he talks about with Anna early on.
This discussion quickly leads into a feeling of “sequel-itis,” as it brings about a discussion on change. Every thing is the same, but different, and it’s a reoccurring theme in the film. The main plot point though concerns Elsa, as she’s hearing a voice that apparently no one else can here. It’s not exactly driving her mad, but it is annoying her and she wants to know where it’s coming from. A strange sequence in which the elements themselves appear to attack Arendelle bring about our friends the trolls from the first film. Through them, and a flashback to a story Anna and Elsa hear from their father, the heroes are sent on a journey north to discover why the elements are raging and to make up for the mistakes of the past.
The journey our heroes will embark on will test the bonds of friendship and family. Anna in particular is determined to remain at her sister’s side. It seems like it’s something that could even come between she and Kristoff. Elsa, for her part, wants only what is best for her sister and her kingdom and does not wish to put her sister in harm’s way. Characters will go through periods of self doubt leading to numerous pep talks. It gives the first half of the film a real laborious pace, but the characters remain likable throughout so it doesn’t become too oppressive.
As a continuation of the story, Frozen II is a mostly satisfying ride. It doesn’t possess many surprises, though a few twists may shock some younger viewers. There may be moments that even reduce children to tears, so parents be warned. The film is a bit weary of the larger cast and change in dynamics from the first film. It feels more confident when characters are either on their own or paired up. I was looking forward to seeing these characters as more of an ensemble, but the film doesn’t really go in that direction. Ultimately, I think parents and children will be satisfied with the story of the film, though younger viewers may not grasp everything that’s going on. It’s more challenging in that respect, and you may get peppered with questions during some parts. I will be interested in seeing how often this film is on my television when the day comes, so in some respects it feels like the film’s true judgement day is still far off.
Aside from the tale of sisters looking out for each other, what really stood out with the first film was the music. “Let It Go” was probably Disney’s biggest musical hit from an animated film since The Lion King so the songwriting duo of Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez probably felt more pressure to make this film a success than even the directors. Based on the pre-release toys and the way the sequence is presented in the film, I’m pretty sure they’re banking on the Elsa track “Into the Unknown” as being this film’s version of “Let It Go.” Like the film itself, it’s a more demanding song than “Let It Go.” While it possesses a catchy hook, it’s probably not going to make the same sort of impact. “Let It Go” worked so well because it was basically a pop song with a familiar and easy structure to it while also suiting the character it was given to. It’s an empowering track, and it’s not something easily duplicated. When I first saw Frozen, when that song came on I knew it was going to be a hit.
Nothing in Frozen II gave me that impression. Kids will likely enjoy “Into the Unknown,” but for the most part the musical numbers in this one adhere more towards the old Broadway approach. They’re used for exposition as much as for entertainment. Some are even a bit of a bummer like Anna solo effort, “The Next Right Thing.” The song that might actually win over the most fans is the Kristoff track “Lost in the Woods.” It sounds like an 80s piece of pop rock and really caught me by surprise. There’s even a version of it recorded by Weezer which plays over the end credits. The biggest spectacle is another mostly Elsa solo effort called “Show Yourself.” It might be the film’s best moment, but the arrangement of the song is done to serve the film and not the song, so I don’t know if it will take off like other tracks.
The original Frozen had a bit of a tortured development process, originally being conceived as a 2D film. It went through a lot of re-writes and when it finally hit theaters little of that showed in the film’s story and music, but I found the visuals a bit underwhelming. The snow effects were great, but textures were plain and boring and some of the animation was very puppet-like in places. Frozen II, to probably no one’s surprise, is a much more impressive visual experience. It helps that it’s going with a new season as this one takes place during autumn. The reds, oranges, and browns of the forest really help give this film a different feel from the other productions. It’s quite a sight to behold, and of course our heroes have new wardrobes to show off and keep the people in marketing happy. Some of the new faces aren’t particularly interesting to look at, but they’re not a low-point either. Fans will probably like the little flaming salamander that shows up, and the animators still enjoy playing with Olaf’s anatomy in unexpected ways. There’s also several dramatic sequences that top anything from the first film. You’ve probably seen snippets of many of them in the trailers, but the film reserved a few choice moments to keep as a surprise.
Frozen II was going to be a tough one. It does suffer in the usual ways sequels do, and it doesn’t help that the film basically admits as much during points in the story. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure though as I still came away satisfied, and I saw this film in a theater full of screaming children (I have to point out though, my kids were good as gold because I am a proud papa). The film answers some of the questions from the first movie, and if you really like the music of the first film you’ll be happy to see this one is loaded with musical numbers. There is some padding here and the film probably doesn’t need all 103 minutes of its running time. I think fans will mostly be pleased though and it’s hard to imagine that this is the last we’ll see from these characters. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give it comes from my beloved daughter herself, who while walking out of the theater made sure we knew that she wanted to go see it again.