Most Disney animated fairy tale sequels were relegated to the straight-to-video path; there’s just not that much interesting to say after “happily ever after.” Luckily, and due to tons of youngsters screaming “Let It Go” ad nauseum all the way to the multiplex back when the original Frozen came out in 2013, Frozen 2 has hit the big screens. If you have a child or a passionate love for Idina Menzel’s singing, you’ll be dragged to the theaters. One of the best qualities of the sequel is the visually arresting animation. There’s a big focus on nature (that explanation will come later) as the characters travel outside the land of Arendelle into a magical forest—with gorgeous vistas and waves of oceans that feel real as a National Geographic documentary at times. The animation is superb, the rest of the film feels not disappointing necessarily, but a bit disconnected.
The story makes a distinct and interesting choice to focus on the ability to learn from history, and specifically history’s mistakes. In this general theme, this sequel does its own re-writing of the first film’s history by attempting to add in a bunch of love/emotion in flashbacks to Anna and Elsa’s seemingly perfect parents. In the first film, the audience basically saw them as sociopaths since they physically separated the sisters, shaming Elsa and locking her away along with the (potentially homophobic depending on how you want to read the character of Elsa) advice of “conceal don’t feel.” Then they died and the audience actually didn’t feel too sad about it because they were shitty parents. The sequel on the other hand tries to show them as nurturing and add some depth to the mother specifically and her background, but it feels a bit cheap and easy because of how rotten they were in the first film—they were almost minor villains.
Aside from trying to interweave the parents into this sequel, there’s an ongoing plot line about Kristoff attempting to figure out how to propose to Anna. It’s less of a story and mostly has the emotional weight of an ongoing gag. The only good use of Kristoff (and the vocal talents of Jonathan Groff) are a moment when Kristoff gets his own solo, a Richard Marx-ish power ballad about being lost in the woods (complete with an excellent take on 80s hair band music videos). The fact that Kristoff isn’t such a major player is refreshing in the way that it’s always been the sister’s love, not the love of a man, that feels so necessary in this fairy tale. The disappointment is that Kristoff wasn’t used as more than a gag.
Even Olaf gets WAY more emotional weight in this film—almost too much—especially for a cute, kid pleasing character. He gets a ton of screentime, some of it provides easy kid laughs and some funny philosophical rants for the adults, but the attention he gets starts to get really tedious with this out of left field neurosis he fixates on about getting older and growing up. It was funny in the first film him being in love with summer, but at this point someone really needs to tell the guy than snowmen don’t age.
The story of the two sisters relationship is the most satisfying heart of the film. Elsa’s whole story is her urge to follow a mysterious voice, which is a metaphor for her need to explore her own desires and run wild. This story initially gets couched in a shared journey with Anna to go into the magical garden to unlock the secrets of their village, and their family’s past, but eventually Anna must realize that while she and her sister love each other, they’re on different paths with different desires and that’s okay. It’s a beautiful message for kids and adults alike, plus it’s nice that again in this sequel romance didn’t suddenly take center stage.
But what lots of folks have been waiting for… what about the music? Honestly, it’s fine. There’s nothing as earwormy and breathtaking as “Let it Go” or as adorable as “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” but the songs are charming and there’s a lot more of them in this film, and while they may not be catchy, they serve as a good engine to move the plot along. The scenes they take place within are more memorable than the songs themselves. Anna even sings a song about living through grief, which not only bracing in its honesty, it is a revolutionary message to send children.