Frozen 2, 2019.
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
Starring Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton and Alan Tudyk.
When elemental forces threaten the future of Arendelle, Elsa and Anna take their friends on a dangerous quest to a long-hidden enchanted forest.
A lot of sequels come with the weight of anticipation behind them. Avengers: Endgame had to pay off one of the biggest superhero cliffhangers ever, while Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will have to put a cap on a 40-year franchise. Frozen 2, however, carries something far more important on its icy shoulders. If it flops, it’s going to ruin Christmas for roughly 50% of the world’s children, as if a million voices belted out the last note of ‘Let It Go’ and were suddenly silenced. Thankfully, this particular trip into the unknown is a delight from start to finish.
The original film’s cast has settled into an idyllic existence, with Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) ruling over the universally happy population of their isolated kingdom. Olaf (Josh Gad) is enjoying the benefits of living longer than the average snowman (“maturity is making me poetic,” he deadpans) while Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is preparing to pop the question to Anna. Elsa, however, begins hearing voices that become impossible to ignore when elemental powers force the people out of Arendelle. The heroes embark on a journey to an enchanted forest, clouded in mist, which relates to a story Elsa and Anna were once told by their parents.
There’s a great deal more plot to Frozen 2 than the first time around, with the visual spectacle taken up a notch by directorial duo Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee – the latter is now Disney’s chief creative officer. There are stampeding reindeer, huge monsters made of rock and an autumn-brown forest strafed by blasts of pink fire. This is a much bigger Frozen, but it never loses sight of the sisterly bond at the heart of the story. These are characters exploring their past, and that means things get sticky.
While the first film focused on a pretty straightforward, uplifting theme of sisterly affection, Frozen 2 explores what it means to grow up and take responsibility. These characters are getting older and that is forcing their relationships to shift. It’s no coincidence that the eternal winter of the first film has become a feast of autumnal glow, reflecting the season of change. This movie is precisely as emotionally mature as its predecessor, with Olaf singing with adorably misguided certainty about how he’ll understand and know everything when he grows up and later sharing a scene with Anna in which the two rationalise their anger and discuss how it’s okay to be frustrated and upset sometimes. It’s no Inside Out, but it’s a far cry from the average fairytale adventure.
If Disney is now aimed as much at millennials forced into arrested development by the financial peril and general insecurity of life as it is at kids, Frozen 2 feels like it is speaking directly to that audience. It’s essentially ‘Adulting Is Hard: The Movie’, and I mean that absolutely as a compliment.
On the musical front, husband and wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have again delivered a half-dozen or so memorable numbers destined to form a key part of family road trip mixtapes for years to come. Elsa gets not one but two impressive show-stoppers, with Idina Menzel’s soaring, almost supernaturally acrobatic voice capable of sending a row of goosebumps running down even the most sceptical of arms. Gad and Bell carry more of the comedic weight, though each gets emotional high points, and Jonathan Groff – vocally sidelined last time around – steps out into the musical spotlight with soft rock ballad ‘Lost in the Woods’. The first karaoke bar in London to get that track will earn my eternal custom.
At times, Buck and Lee knock the movie down into cruise control and relish in the glory of the original film. While this fan loved the numerous nods to the ‘Let It Go’ behemoth and the fact Anna still knocks on her sister’s door in the same way they did as children, those references might eventually grate for parents worn down by repetition over the last six years. There’s even a whirlwind recap of the story so far delivered by Olaf, channelling Michael Pena’s fast-talking Ant-Man character. Corporate interests also intrude occasionally, with an adorable little lizard critter gaining a prominence that initially seems likely to become plot-relevant, but ultimately proves to be a naked merchandising opportunity.
This is also true of the new characters, who are given short shrift in favour of the reverence for the original cohort of protagonists. Sterling K. Brown’s military man has the whiff of a character whose best moments ended up on the cutting room floor, while Kristoff’s new reindeer-loving buddy Ryder and Elsa’s barely named friend Honeymaren are perfunctory to say the least. It’s as if the team felt obliged to bring in new faces without really having any need for them. Perhaps, as the running time crept up, it was a first in, first out policy.
But the film understands its audience and understands that it’s the original characters who are the draw. They’re already beloved by legions of fans across the world and Buck and Lee are not afraid to manipulate that affection for some pretty savage emotional hammer blows, as well as humour that’s a great deal goofier than it was last time around. Like all of the best Disney works, Frozen 2 skates across the entire emotional spectrum with consummate ease. When it comes to emotional torture, there’s no one who can match the House of Mouse. Being cold never bothered them anyway.
Although Frozen 2 is flawed, Disney has managed an impressive act of tightrope walking in following up their latest golden goose with something that shimmers almost as brightly. Only a fool would bet against a threequel and, either way, the new songs, characters and moments are going to become a part of the cultural canon from the moment the cinema doors open. Sorry parents, but you aren’t getting out of Arendelle any time soon.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.