The reputation of Disney’s 2013 mega-hit, Frozen, seems to precede the movie itself. Even if you’ve never seen it, you know the songs and the characters. They’ve transcended the screen and into common knowledge. Frozen II, if it were a standalone, would never accomplish the same feat. It’s become an event more than an actual movie, and instead of using that immense pressure to benefit the film as a whole, the creatives behind the project allow the success of the first film to hinder the sequel’s ability to be a good movie.
The story opens with Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel, aka Adele Dazeem) as young girls as their father, King Agnarr of Arendelle (Alfred Molina), tells them of a magical place called the Enchanted Forest, inherited by a native tribe called Northuldra. When Agnarr was a boy, his father, the king, made a treaty with the Northuldra by building a dam in their forest. But things suddenly and inexplicably got out of hand and there was a war between the tribe and Arendelle. Agnarr was saved by an unknown figure and taken back home. The rest of the people battling in the Enchanted Forest, which is controlled by elemental spirits, became trapped there behind a wall of mist.
The rest of the movie is set three years after the events from the first film, where Anna and Elsa’s parents had died trying to find a cure for Elsa’s magical snow powers. Now, Elsa keeps hearing a mysterious voice calling out to her from far away. Trying to figure out where it’s coming from, she unintentionally awakens the elemental spirits, putting Arendelle in danger. So she must embark on a journey to the Enchanted Forest and follow this voice. Oh yeah, all the main characters join her as well.
Frozen II is founded in a mysterious premise–albeit a convoluted one–but relies on it a bit too much. The concept has great potential but directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee fail to execute it well at all.
The movie begins very sluggishly, featuring three songs in the first 20 minutes. And we continue to dance around the story’s conflict for another 30. We’re curious where the movie is going to take us, but most of the twists are predictable.
A film is much more than its premise. In fact, watching a movie in itself is what makes it different than merely reading the words on a piece of paper. But in Frozen II, despite the potential of its initial premise, the story feels glued together, creating an uneven, and often disorderly feel.
For instance, there’s really no creative reason why all of the characters go along for the journey other than to appeal to the audience and to sell more toys. The film is held down by its popular characters, telling a story with five when it could have been accomplished with just the two main women. But everyone loves Kristoff and Sven and Olaf, so they’re along for the ride. And while Olaf supplies us with the comic relief, he’s leaned on way too much here. In the original, he was only in the latter half of the movie. Here, I found myself getting tired of him.
The 2013 original featured strong notions about true love and sacrifice, presented in a somewhat groundbreaking fashion within the animation medium. And Frozen II isn’t without its potent themes, but you could almost say those themes are too obscurely hidden within the movie. Some may think that’s a strong point, but the truth is, these ideas are simply not realized enough. Perhaps the focus should have been on matching up to THAT aspect of the first movie.
Instead, all the concern seems to be on the music matching up. And if you thought the first movie had way too many songs, this one has just as many. In musicals, you don’t want to use musical numbers as a crutch every time you need to convey a character’s inner-conflict, but just as the first Frozen does that to the extreme, Frozen II follows suit.
I will say, I was the most curious how the songwriters, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, would followup their Oscar-winning soundtrack. This is, after all, the first theatrical sequel to a Disney musical ever. Unfortunately, the music may be the weakest part. The songs are derivative and I would almost prefer they don’t exist at all in order to focus more on the actual story. Though, obviously that would never happen.
One of the songs, “When I’m Older,” sung by Olaf, is a straight ripoff of “Maria” from The Sound of Music. Then during a later tune, “Lost In the Woods”, my cousin turns to me and honestly asks, “Is this a Peter Cetera song?” No, it is not a song from the ’80s, but it does feature squealing electric guitars and a soulful melody obviously borrowing from the style of Cetera’s own “Glory of Love”. Granted, this may be the only catchy melody in the whole film, but it also feels the most out of place.
But that’s just it, there’s no consistency to the music either. While there were way too many musical numbers in the first movie, at least there was a cohesiveness to them all. However, this soundtrack seems like a grab bag of reject songs from the previous session.
Frozen II is not a good movie even without its terrible music. In fact, it’s the very epitome of a below par sequel. The film cares more about cashing in on an intellectual property that’s become astronomically popular over the last six years. The stakes for Disney may have been too high, but mostly the filmmakers couldn’t escape the success of the first film, inhibiting their creativity. In one regard, Buck, Lee, and company have folded under the pressure of never being able to matchup to the original. Though simultaneously, they’ve relied too much on the first movie’s success to carry them to the finish line. At some points Frozen II feels organic, but at other moments the movie feels like it’s more concerned with measuring up than anything else.