In recent years, Disney has made a living off of remaking, rebooting or continuing franchises that were not necessarily calling out to have any of those things done to them. If it once made money, they are going to try whatever they can to bleed more out of it. The result has been a lot of the same, with little of the creativity and originality the company made its name off of. I expected more of this from Frozen II, a sequel to the 2013 smash hit that tweaked the Disney formula a bit by being about the love between two princess sisters, instead of one of them being romanced by a prince. Much to my surprise, it is really good. They neither repeat themselves nor take away any of the elements that made the first unique in the Disney animation cannon. It is a sequel that builds on, and enriches, the world created by its predecessor. It is funny, engaging, very entertaining and basically perfect for a family outing around the holidays.
Anna and Elsa are now ruling together as the princesses of Arendelle, with the help of snowman Olaf, Anna’s boyfriend, Kristoff, and his reindeer, Sven. When Elsa (she of the magical snow powers) starts hearing singing from the forest, the group investigates, embarking on an adventure that reveals the truth about their kingdom, their parents and the forest.
The key here is Frozen II (91 minutes, plus a very funny post-credits scene) is faithful to the characters as we know them, while also allowing them to grow with a brand new story. Though I did not exactly love the original Frozen, I found the characters and themes to be quite enjoyable. Anna and Elsa are still plucky, smart, loyal and brave, willing to do whatever it takes to protect each other and their kingdom. Here, they learn it will take more than they thought. Olaf remains their lovably earnest sidekick, goofy in a childlike way. He brings welcome comic relief. If, like me, you do not remember the first one particularly well, have no fear: Olaf recaps it for us in the funniest scene in the movie. Despite the laughs, this entry has bigger stakes. Even jolly Olaf has heavier things to deal with, as he worries about change.
Usually, it is the women in these stories who sit on the sidelines giving support. In this case, it is Kristoff who disappears for sections, reappearing to add a little romance. His relationship with Anna is amusing, if unnecessary. His real value is in subverting the heroic prince trope and in his friendship with Sven. Sven cannot speak, but he says tons with well-timed reaction shots. Frozen was Disney formula with some adjusted gender roles. II continues that, keeping the characters the same while giving them larger things to be concerned with.
Frozen II goes for a slightly more abstract conflict and surreal imagery. The animation is lovely with a couple of scenes (one involving Elsa underwater and another showing her learning about her family’s history in a cave) that are downright beautiful. I also get endless enjoyment just from seeing Olaf walk. His movements capture his personality so effectively you can tell how he feels without him saying anything. There is so much care in every frame, making this feel closer to golden age Disney than their current approach of trying to pump out as much familiar content as possible.
If you have kids who liked Frozen, you will undoubtedly wind up seeing Frozen II. The good news is it is funny and sweet, giving them more of the characters they loved and adding depth to the world. The kids should enjoy the friendship between the sisters, the silliness of Olaf and Sven and the action (which is actually fairly mild this time around). The adults have that stuff as well as the animation and some solid world-building to entertain them. Since I only thought the first one was okay, and I am generally not a fan of sequels, I did not anticipate a lot from this. For me, it was better; funnier, deeper and more fun. The songs may not blow up this time (that would be a blessing for parents), but you should probably prepare for your kids watching this on repeat. At least until the inevitable Frozen III.
4 out of 5
Kristen Bell as Anna
Idina Menzel as Elsa
Josh Gad as Olaf
Jonathan Groff as Kristoff
Sterling K. Brown as Mattias
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Screenplay by Jennifer Lee