- Frozen 2
- Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
- Written by Jennifer Lee
- Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and Josh Gad
- Classification PG
- 103 minutes
Two thoughts occurred while watching the sequel to Frozen. First: Man, the field of computer animation has come a long way when it comes to depicting water. Every drop of H2O here – and there is a lot of it, in the form of rippling and then rushing rivers, towering tidal waves, pelting rain, and all the chilled equivalents – looks exactly like the aqua of our world. However much money was deemed necessary to spend on perfecting the art of animating water to such photorealistic perfection, it was well-budgeted and spent. I could watch the background environmental action here for hours. But then the second thought of my Frozen 2 experience hit: I really wish I was listening to Let it Go right now.
For all the many millions of dollars thrown at Frozen 2′s next-generation computer animation, and the many millions more devoted to the film’s various artisans and voice performers and musicians, the new film simply doesn’t sing. Not, at least, like its predecessor, which arrived in 2013 as a curiosity if not outright annoyance (a non-Pixar Disney film? Pfffft) and left that same year as a cultural typhoon wherein not one inch of the culture was safe from domination. Whatever cinematic alchemy enriched the original Frozen to such delirious heights – from the playful animation to Idina Menzel’s to-the-rafters rendition of Let it Go – has been since crystallized in time, never to be thawed. So returning co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck make do with what, only a decade ago, might be considered decent enough material to warrant a direct-to-video sequel à la The Lion King 1 1/2 or Aladdin 2: The Return of Jaffar.
The new film opens three years after the events of the first, with the superpowered Elsa (Menzel) happily if warily ruling over the wintry kingdom of Arendelle, her loyal sister Anna (Kristen Bell) by her side and still courting lovable everyman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). Everything seems fine and frolic-y until Elsa starts hearing a mysterious siren call coming from the nearby woods, which have remain unexplored for decades due to narrative convenience. This leads the sisters, Kristoff and their crew of comic-relief things-that-shouldn’t-emote-but-do – including reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf, the latter of whom is again voiced by Josh Gad and whose tenor acts as a Pavlovian prompt for parents to discreetly insert their AirPods – on a journey to uncover the origin of Elsa’s magic, and the dark history of Arendelle.
There’s a challenging chestnut of an idea resting inside the main story line, pivoting on Lee and Buck’s desire to explore postcolonial politics and the erasure of Indigenous culture. Arendelle, you see, has only thrived because Elsa and Anna’s grandfather (spoiler-alert, for those who don’t know how screenplays work) betrayed the trust of the area’s Indigenous people. But the filmmakers’ potentially interesting thematic interests are slathered in slow, prosaic storytelling. Not to mention an eventual undermining of whatever good cultural intentions Frozen 2 had, given that the film is obviously more interested in ensuring Elsa, Anna and the other modern-day Arendellians come out of the mess guilt-free than anything involving, say, actual accountability. None of this should be surprising – this is reconciliation by way of Disney, sanded down and squeaky clean. What actually takes the wind out of Frozen 2′s many attempts at epic gust is its repeated failure to imagine and entertain.
Elsa, Anna and the rest of Arendelle’s heroes don’t seem to have evolved much from the final minutes of the first film. The animation has been upgraded on a technical level – again, so much pretty water – but the “enchanted forest” near Arendelle feels conjured by any school-aged child with a half-decent imagination. Returning composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez attempt mightily to leap over the musical highs of Let it Go, but the necessary majesty just isn’t there in the obvious new contenders Into the Unknown and Show Yourself. And if anyone thought that the 2017 short film Olaf’s Frozen Adventure pointed to an overexposure of that particular character, then Frozen 2′s many snowman-centric moments will make you pray for global warming.
So Frozen 2 mostly ends up as a cash-grab. But thanks to its brand legacy and the sheer might of Disney, you’ll likely be handing that cash over regardless. Make it hard. And cold.
Frozen 2 opens Nov. 22