Frozen 2 (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, 2019): USA

Reviewed by Kimberli Wong at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, 2020

Frozen 2 starts off soon after the end of Disney’s animated hit film, Frozen, featuring songs from the award-winning songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.  While the first film was inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, “The Snow Queen,” the sequel reprises the key characters while narratively setting off into territory all its own.

If anything, this, perhaps unfortunately, illustrates clearly just how difficult it is to come up with a good original story.

Frozen 2 has its moments, the Golden Globe-nominated and Oscar-nominated song “Into the Unknown” sung by Idina Menzel being one of them.  The song seems to be written specifically for Menzel’s strong emotional belting style, and her vocals soar beautifully through it.  While not as memorable as “Let It Go” from the first movie, “Into the Unknown” does a good job of capturing themes of taking risks, knowing where you are supposed to be and where you aren’t, and following your heart.

This seems to be the main take away from the film, which opens with an almost overly-sweet picture of life in Arendelle for Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven.  After Elsa almost destroyed Arendelle and Anna almost died, the city and its people have recovered to a picturesque existence, where summer seems endless, the flowers bloom, and life is easy.  The five of them play charades at night and laugh their days away.

But all is not as it appears, and Elsa begins to hear a strange, melodic voice calling her from far away.  Inwardly she is dissatisfied with her tame life and longs for adventure.  When a strong wind blows into Arendelle, drying up the fountains and causing the earth to shake, the citizens must evacuate and it is up to Elsa and her family to journey to the Enchanted Forest and find the cause.

This is where the story begins to fall flat.  For the sequel, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck made sure to inject plenty of Olaf (the immortal snowman) humor, some that was genuinely funny and a lot that seemed designed for an easy laugh from the audience.  This distracts from the absence of a really strong plot line or any new, strong character introductions.  Basically, Elsa has to go to the Enchanted Forest to find out why it is mad and she doesn’t meet anyone particularly memorable or inspiring along the way, except for a really cute fire lizard and a really cool water horse (which, to be fair, is really cool).  The filmmakers attempt to create a compelling new world, where water has memory and the natural elements are imbued with consciousness, but it is mostly glossed over and leaves little impact on the viewer.

Most importantly, the filmmakers neglect a strong transformative aspect in the main characters, Elsa and Anna, which is really what made the first film so powerful.  In this second go around, Elsa needs to be a little more wild and Anna doesn’t actually go through much.  The song she sings when she believes Elsa to be dead, “The Next Right Thing,” while a good song on its own, falls flat in the context of the film, because up until this point there really hasn’t been much conflict between Elsa and Anna.  It’s basically “Elsa stop doing everything on your own” and… that’s it.

All in all Frozen 2 is an imbalanced film, with the new world needing to be much more awe-inspiring and the old characters needing to be much more moving.  Both of those elements were present in the first film, which is why I believe it made such an impact.  We hadn’t seen anything like Frozen before.  We have seen Frozen 2, though, a thousand times, and we have seen it done better as well.

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