Full Disclosure: This reviewer’s overall impression of Frozen 2 has been heavily influenced by seeing the film with my wide-eyed, gleefully happy three year old daughter. Who just so happened to look super cute in her brand new Elsa costume.
It was always going to take a Herculean effort of storytelling and songwriting might, to even come close to topping the megahit Frozen. As hard as Disney tries every year, only a handful of their titles ever reach the status of bonafide, all-time, internationally beloved fables. But in 2013, Frozen cemented itself as a cultural phenomena. Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) were both instantaneously welcomed, certified and inducted into the Disney Princess Hall of Fame. As overplayed and at times nauseating (from the perspective of a long-suffering parent) as “Let It Go” has since become, there’s no denying its immeasurable value as an empowering anthem for young people.
Frozen became a symbol of sisterly love, female empowerment and did wonders for subverting gender roles – even challenging some of Disney’s very own long-standing constructions. And while the sequel doesn’t quite replicate the alchemy of the original, it does (thankfully) open the gates of Arendelle far and wide, while leaning more heavily on expanding the greater mythology and mystery behind Elsa, her powers and the larger magical world.
To the film’s credit, Frozen 2 has clearly factored in the growth of their audience. The world is bigger, the themes darker and far more mature. It’s been 6 years since we first built a snowman and now the filmmakers are asking us to embrace the inevitability of change.
After a brief but consequential prologue, the film officially kicks off three years after the events of Frozen. We quickly learn that our returning heroes and the rest of the townsfolk are happy and prosperous. “Some Things Never Change” is the first of many rather excellent, but not quite timeless broadway-esque tunes. The title cheekily establishes the state of equilibrium (the all-is-well stage), but is clearly suggesting to audiences that everything is about to change. In a big way.
It doesn’t take long for a haunting voice to quickly rattle Elsa’s calm and propel her into a Joseph Campbellian-call to adventure. She feels herself being cryptically drawn to the forest and beyond, and sets out to determine the source of this mysterious calling (the accompanying “Into the Unknown” is brilliant). But this time, Anna refuses to let her sister leave her side.
The bonds of sisterhood are again at the heart of the storytelling. And although the constant tensions between the two make the narrative seem cyclic and repetitive, Elsa and Anna’s earnest supportiveness of one another reaffirms itself as one of the franchise’s greatest thematic strengths.
Leaving Arendelle behind, we spend the majority of our time further north in the enchanted forest and its design is exquisitely autumn-toned. Reds, oranges and yellows vibrantly bounce off the screen, while the snow, earth, fire and water effects are all gorgeously textured and rendered. One of my favourite visuals was seeing several earth giants soaring high above the treetops, backlit by the sun.
Before seeing Frozen 2, my wife and I pondered the appropriateness of taking a three-year-old to see the film, given how dark some of the trailer’s imagery appeared to be. And while I ended up taking the risk and (fingers crossed) have avoided any negative child reactions, parents should know that there are some hefty ideas at play here.
The end of Act 2 features Anna, the series always-bubbly optimist, stranded and alone in a darkened cave. She pours out her heart in a bleak and pain filled lamentation (“The Next Right Thing”) after seeing some Avengers-level stuff happen. Bell is superb, but its power and sadness will go right over most kid’s heads. It’s one of the many adult inclusions into a film that is primarily catered for younger children, yet narratively, wishes to unpack and explore the outcomes of violent colonialism.
Not that everything is doom and gloom, but between frightening altercations with giants and water horses, and witnessing the partial butchering of the Sámi people, there are a handful of moments that may prove too much for littlies.
It’s in-between these moments, that the filmmakers know what to do: reinsert Olaf.
Depending on your levels of cynicism for anthropomorphic comedic relief, you will either continue to love or hate Josh Gad’s Olaf. But even the most hardened sneerer would have a hard time dismissing the snowman’s hilarious recapping of the original film’s events. Even Kristoff, who takes a backseat for the majority of the film, is given a gloriously stupid 80’s power ballad (“Lost in the Woods”) complete with Queen-esque superimposed reindeers. These goofy inclusions help to lighten the tone of a more serious film.
While Frozen 2 does feel at times, like your typical middle chapter in a wider sprawling saga, it does enough character-wise and musically to endear itself to audiences, with promises of big things to come. While none of the songs overtake “Let It Go” as the Disney song of the decade, the musical feels far more organic, better framed and fitting narratively.
Thematically, the sequel constantly reminds us that change is inescapable and it’s a powerful message to discuss with kids and adults. The film implores audiences to persevere and keep on doing “the next right thing”. I couldn’t be more on board with any piece of popular culture that offers such sage and timely advice.