It may come as a massive shock to you all, but I am a massive Frozen fan. I saw the animated blockbuster five times in theaters, and will never forget the magic of seeing Disney return to its roots with a good old-fashioned musical extravaganza. So when the studio announced that they were working on a sequel – the first sequel to a Princess film in the studio’s storied history – I was elated. I couldn’t wait to see Anna and Elsa and Kristoff and yes, even Olaf (whom I enjoyed before pop culture oversaturated him) once again. And now that I’ve seen Frozen II…it’s clear that lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Shortly after the adventures of the first film, everything in Arendelle seems to be at peace. Anna (Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) are happily in love (with Kristoff preparing to propose), magical Elsa (Idina Menzel) is settling in as leader of the kingdom, and Olaf (Josh Gad) is just as oblivious as ever. However, when a magical voice calls to Elsa, and the kingdom is threatened by a magical environmental disaster, our heroes must venture into a long-forgotten forest to confront rock monsters, the elements, and the long-lost secret of the kingdom’s past.
Before I get into the reasons I was disappointed in Frozen II, let me talk about the things I like. For there are a lot of strong elements inside this film, starting with the animation. It’s clear that the design has improved in the six years since the first film, and it shows in every frame, whether it’s a wide panoramic of a forest, a massive rainstorm on the beach, or even the expressive faces of the protagonists (Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff are all infinitely improved over the still-decent designs of the first film). I’m also relatively impressed with the story at the center of it all – there’s an interesting message about stolen lands from indigenous people and the harmony between societies and nature. This story actually becomes more exciting upon the realization that there are no villains in this film. As cool as it was to see the “If only there was someone who loved you” twist in the first film, the knowledge that there’s not Big Bad Enemy that needs to be defeated means the characters must find common ground and deal with personal battles, as opposed to rote black and white stories of good and evil. And in terms of comedy, there is one truly remarkable scene in which Olaf recaps the plot of the first film to a very immersed Sterling K. Brown, whose reactions are second to none. There’s a lot of things to like in this sequel.
However, it says a lot when the best scene of a film is a recap of the last film. Frozen II is a deeply flawed, uninteresting film, starting with its characters. None of the core group act in accordance with their character growth from the previous film, forgetting the lessons they’d learned along the way and regressing to old behaviors. It’s incredibly frustrating because it feels as though the film has forgotten the film’s core storyline: the bond between sisters and siblings. None of this angle that made the first film so resonant shows up here, leaving the film a cold, distant mess (pun intended). Meanwhile, the jokes just never land. Olaf has gone from moderately funny to insufferably terrible. In fact, his funniest moment comes when he dies near the end of the film (oh, don’t worry, you know they’ll bring him back, so this spoiler doesn’t even matter). And don’t get me started on a scene where a group of villagers chants the theme song at Elsa, turning the non-diegetic score into some sort of national anthem. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds. At its worst, Frozen II is a soulless cash grab, like a bad straight-to-DVD knockoff.
Of course, when it comes to Frozen, the only thing you have to know/worry about is the music. I mean, you don’t care about the performances of the cast – you just want to know if they sing their little hearts out. Well, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is nothing will be played with such insufferable frequency as “Let It Go.” Unfortunately, that’s because the songs just don’t have the same impact. Sure, Menzel and Bell and the lot give their all to the songs they have, but the songs very rarely match the heights of the first film’s dominant soundtrack. Wannabe hit “Into The Unknown” levels out as “fine,” never reaching the heights of even Frozen’s worst song, and many of the other ditties are just bad. In fact, there are only two songs that really stand out from the pack: “Show Yourself,” a powerful ballad that stands out despite serving as an “Into The Unknown” sequel, and “Lost In The Woods.” “Woods” in particular is truly great, not only because it gives Jonathan Groff a chance to sing, but also because the film ridiculously lets it go full-on 80s music video. There are running reindeer and Air Supply references and it’s all truly hilarious and wonderful. It almost makes up for the rest of the soundtrack.
Frozen II is a disappointment through and through. Despite its excellent characters and interesting story, it never aims higher than the quality of Bambi II and Cinderella II. There’s so much they could have done with this film – better songs, better material, better jokes. But instead, this is the best they could come up with. It just makes the case that Disney should focus on new material as opposed to returning to the same well as before. In short, they need to let it go.