Full disclosure: I thought the original Frozen was just okay.
I saw it on DVD back in 2014 – after having heard the endless hype for months – and, frankly, was underwhelmed. Sure, the movie was cute, but I didn’t get the fuss, and subsequently watched as the story of two sister princesses blew up into a bona fide box-office (and merchandising) juggernaut. So, it was with a decidedly skeptical and moderately disinterested eye that I sat down to take in its sequel, which I and many others perceived as an overt cash-grab. I mean, how could any self-respecting studio not try to capitalize on a movie that’s grossed almost $1.3 billion (and counting)?
And, perhaps unexpectedly, I was pleasantly surprised.
Set a short while after the original, and reminiscent of an episode of TV’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Frozen II finds now-beloved-Queen-of-Arendelle Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) hearing a mysterious – and persistent – voice calling to her from a mysterious enchanted forest. Soon, she, sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), lovable snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), strapping Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) and loyal reindeer Sven embark on a perilous journey to track down the source of the voice and find out what, exactly, it’s trying to say. In the process, Elsa and Anna learn about the origins of Elsa’s powers, and several key family secrets – both good and bad – come to light.
Filled with astonishingly beautiful animation – seriously, this is one visually breathtaking film – and more than a few catchy songs clearly intended to become the next “Let It Go” (I’m looking at you, “Into the Unknown”), Frozen II has a lot going for it... but it also has a few problems, not the least of which is its confusing (even for adults) origins story. I can’t say too much without spoiling the film, but I kept thinking I might have missed some important detail somewhere along the narrative route that would have made the entire “river” component make sense. The entire story also feels a bit weak and forced, as though the filmmakers were reaching for a reason to revisit these characters and threw together a passable, but not remarkable, plot.
Speaking of: the cast of likeable returning characters is joined by some adorable newcomers, not the least of which are a fiery little salamander name Bruni and a gust of wind whom Olaf cleverly names “Gail.” Note: Olaf gets a fairly significant upgrade in terms of screen time, which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tolerance for chatty, slightly hyperactive snowmen. (For the record, I’m a fan.) Many of the new supporting characters, however, kind of get the short shrift in terms of development. The Indigenous tribe members and the military lieutenant (voiced by Sterling K. Brown) feel a bit thin, and more than a few critics have already chided the film for trying – and failing – to be “woke.”
Ultimately, though, I had to ask myself: will Frozen fans dig this follow-up? The answer was a resounding “yes.” It’s flawed but not so severely so that it’s not still enjoyable and affecting. It wears its heart on its sleeve and I’ll admit it made me cry more than once. Did the world really need a sequel? Probably not. But, honestly, audiences could have done worse than Frozen II. And it’ll no doubt follow its predecessor into box-office glory.