Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Writer: Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Martha Plimpton, Alfred Molina, Ciarán Hinds, Alan Tudyk
2013 saw the release of one of Disney’s biggest hits to date: Frozen. With ever-popular characters and a soundtrack that is played to death, its popularity continues to grow, which is a highly unusual feat for a movie. And now, with the sequel firmly making its mark in cinemas across the world, the franchise is set for something of an unimaginable resurgence. Frozen II promises the return of the beloved characters, as well as new songs to blast at every kid’s party or karaoke session. But does it really embody everything we came to love (or not) about the first movie, or are the days of building a snowman firmly over?
Three years post-Frozen and Princess Anna (Bell), Queen Elsa (Menzel), Kristoff (Groff), Olaf (Gad) and Sven are enjoying life in the kingdom of Arendelle. One day, Elsa starts to hear a voice, as though someone is calling out to her. When she sets out to discover the origin of the voice, she awakens the elemental spirits, who cause havoc in Arendelle and cause the kingdom be evacuated. In order to settle the elementals and bring her people home, Elsa must set out on a journey of self-discovery that will end up revealing the truth of Arendelle’s past, as well as that of Elsa and Anna’s parents. Anna insists that Elsa should not go it alone, and so Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven embark on the adventure with Elsa, discovering much more than they thought they would along the way.
The surest thing to note about Frozen II is that it essentially follows much the same formula as its predecessor, in that the main plot is borne of Elsa’s power (in the case of this movie, it’s about where her power came from) and the secondary plot is based around Anna and her self-confidence and loyalty when supporting her powerful sister. There’s even a tertiary plot now, which is all Kristoff’s (we’ll come to that shortly). The structure of the film is also familiar, with the adventure taking similar twists and turns to that of Frozen and interspersed at just the right moments with powerful musical numbers. Altogether, it’s a framework that worked very successfully for Frozen, and, thankfully, also works very well for Frozen II. It’s perhaps too familiar, in that it doesn’t really make for the most exciting film (meaning we pretty much know what’s coming and how it will all turn out), and the story itself is rather lacking in comparison to the first movie, but the strength of the characters and the originality and hooks of the new songs (particularly ‘Into the Unknown’, Frozen II’s signature tune that’s almost as mighty as ‘Let It Go’) firmly keep it from being relegated to the Bin of Crappy Sequels. Disney aren’t usually as courageous as to release the sequel to a massive hit into cinemas (at least where female protagonists are concerned), but it absolutely paid off in this instance.
Although the story had input from multiple people, Lee’s screenplay kept the most important themes from Frozen and built on them in Frozen II. Themes carried over are ones of love (both familial and romantic), feminism and anti-toxic masculinity. Also added are themes of change and growing up, something reflected in all characters through their individual journeys. One journey that really stands out, though, is Kristoff’s. His love for Anna was clear after the first movie, but in the second his feelings are built in a way that shows everyone (men in particular) that it’s ok to be outright with their feelings and to not feel threatened by a strong woman. Kristoff’s unending support of Anna is reflected in his dialogue, with lines such as ‘My love is not fragile’ and saying to her ‘I’m here. What do you need?’ rather than trying to act as the obvious hero and treating her as a damsel in distress. His desire for her love and attention is perfectly captured in his own song, Lost in the Woods, an 80s-style ballad that is funny in its visual delivery but poignant in its lyrics. Other than Anna and Elsa’s bond, Kristoff’s venture into what is usually a Disney princess’s territory of singing about love is probably the standout character arc of the movie.
As per the first movie, the performances are fun and entertaining and tug at the heartstrings when necessary. As previously mentioned, the story can be a bit confusing to follow (the basic plot is understandable but they seem to throw in all this extra dialogue when all you want is to hear is Elsa go for another belter), but the characters more than make up for it. Gad provides more excellent comic timing for Olaf, throwing in some improvisation when necessary, and continuing to make him quite a unique character amongst the pantheon of Disney sidekicks. Groff effortlessly makes Kristoff sound like someone you could get on with in reality, and all the while you will want to insist he performs some covers of big 80s hits (there’s an untapped talent in there for Kristoff). He’s a well-written character who sets a high bar for which most, if not all, future male Disney characters should be aiming for. Bell’s Anna is as adventurous and fun and loving as she was previously, if not more so now she has Elsa back at her side. Bell’s delivery is every bit as charming as it has been before, and she embodies Anna entirely in just her vocals, both speaking and singing. And, as always, Menzel’s vocal performances are out of this world, making ‘Into the Unknown’ another top Disney song (if ‘Let It Go’ is 10/10, then ‘Into the Unknown’ is 9/10). Her ability to infuse a strength into Elsa’s voice is unmatched, as well as Elsa’s deep desire when it comes to keeping her sister safe. Overall the cast is just as exceptional as they were in Frozen, and thankfully their characters’ dialogue represent the themes of the story wonderfully well.
Considering many people who are now aged between 25-35 grew up during the Disney renaissance period, it’s fair to say that Disney movies are categorically not just for kids, as they are, generally speaking, what made our childhoods what they were. Disney are well aware of this, and so their movies are usually palatable for both children and adults; their ability to balance stories and themes and characters for older and younger audiences is almost unparalleled (probably why it was so easy for them to take Studio Ghibli under their western wing). Frozen II is another example of a movie that has something for everyone, with it being both entertaining and full of heart. Much like the Toy Story franchise, a considerable amount of time (six years, if you can believe) has been left between original and sequel, and that is arguably the secret to a decent Disney sequel. It may not have quite the impact of Frozen (that would be near-impossible to achieve), but it has certainly made its mark, and, thankfully, the cold still doesn’t bother us anyway.