Do the next right thing.
I have to give directors Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the script) and Chris Buck credit for not simply jumping at the chance to follow up a cultural phenomenon for the paycheck. People wondered on opening weekend when a sequel to Frozen would arrive and these two held fast to their mutual decision of waiting until the story drew them back. They even began work on a completely separate project before heeding the call of unfinished business where Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) were concerned. That’s what it was: unfinished business. So much of the first film deals with these sisters finding their identities and reclaiming their love for each other that nobody questions the elephant in the room. Where does Elsa’s magic come from?
An answer wasn’t necessary in that movie’s context since her power to control ice was just officially discovered. The more pressing matter was figuring out how to handle it. Would Elsa unwittingly transform into a villain or prove herself a hero? By letting her become the latter, peace was restored and trust in her ability as queen of Arendelle was cemented. As “Let It Go” foreshadowed, however, that life wasn’t what she truly desired. Even if the townspeople accepted her gifts, she’d never be able to really test their ceiling. Elsa therefore remained shackled to duty—still locked in that room to ensure no one got hurt. So when a voice is heard on the wind to coax her out, we know she must follow it.
Frozen II portrays Elsa and Anna’s ensuing adventure north and ultimately into their past. They recall a bedtime story told by their father (Alfred Molina‘s Agnarr) about his own dad cultivating a friendship with a community (the Northuldra) blessed by an enchanted forest’s unexplained wonders. Betrayal ultimately sparks a war in which Agnarr barely escapes thanks to an unknown savior. An impenetrable fog subsequently shrouds the area, sealing its untold wisdom from a world it no longer recognizes as safe. Now it houses memories of the past similar to the mythical Ahtohallan, a river the sisters’ mother (Evan Rachel Wood‘s Iduna) used to sing about in a lullaby. Now that melody haunts Elsa, revealing how it might hold answers to everything: magic, alliances, and the dead.
Off they go with Olaf (Josh Gad), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and his trusty reindeer Sven. Elsa yearns to find that “something” she’s been missing while Anna clings tighter as her sworn protector from whatever dangers may arise. Unfortunately for the latter, that which they confront is well beyond human intervention. So when the leaders from the past that they meet (Martha Plimpton‘s Northuldra matriarch Yelena and Sterling K. Brown‘s exiled Arendelle guard Mattias) begin seeking shelter from the four elements of wind, fire, water, and earth’s attacks, they hide too. Only when Elsa risks connecting with nature’s quartet of magical entities does their unbridled movements not appear so scary. Revelations are inevitably uncovered through vivid memories etched in ice and one more death-defying escapade commences with tragic results.
The Frozen universe is thus opened much wider than a simple coronation inviting princes from far off kingdoms could allow. Lee and Buck really delve deep into the relationship between nature and man and how both worlds could collide courtesy of a familiar backstory steeped in betrayal and greed that left Elsa having one foot in each. They allow for higher stakes and increased emotions as well as room for some stunning animation to bring each element to life in cute, menacing, and beautiful ways. Sacrifice was a major part of the first Frozen and its role is expanded even further here to the living and the dead. Every question you might have had back in 2013 will be dealt with and always with a satisfactory conclusion.
That says something about the care in which Lee and Buck display for these characters and their kingdom. They’ve expanded upon what they created with purpose and love—the same love Elsa, Anna, and company realize forms the glue that binds them no matter how near or far they might be at any given moment. To me this means there’s a lot more substance to what we’re seeing. I liked the original film and its subversion of princess tropes as much as the next person, but Frozen II really draws its inhabitants with a three-dimensionality that was missing. It also improves upon the music (something I was very underwhelmed with previously even before “Let It Go” was ruined by over-saturation) with songs that don’t sound like spoken word.
The whole is far from perfect, but the good does outweigh the bad like its predecessor. I’m not sure what Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez were thinking when putting “Lost in the Woods” through a Peter Cetera, 1980s ballad filter (that Lee and Buck then shot as an homage to the era’s music videos), but its sequence leaves left field to reside on a distant planet all its own. They thankfully return to Earth to let Menzel belt two tracks (“Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself”) like only she can—each a rousing centerpiece for her character’s chance at uncompromising self-actualization that sticks. Where Frozen saw Anna embrace her love for others, Frozen II lets Elsa learn to love herself. And it culminates in an authentically bittersweet end.
A lot of success also stems from the voice cast and their willingness to inject real drama into the script’s fairytale structure. Gad’s Olaf never wears out his welcome thanks to Lee using him sparingly as comic relief (sequels too often ruin this type of role by misjudging their audience’s enjoyment threshold) and Groff’s Kristoff remains endearingly awkward to continue contrasting the usual princely love interest shtick. But the film is never better than when Bell and Menzel come together to air their frustrations and realize what must be done for the other to be happy. That willingness to act with the other’s best interests in mind—no matter how sad it might make them in the present—is true love at its finest. Human compassion reigns supreme.
courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures