Review: Frozen II Embarks On A Breathtakingly Grand Journey, Despite Occasionally Getting Lost In The Woods
Frozen (2013) was a cultural phenomenon, there’s no doubt about that. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t at least heard a great deal about it, especially anyone with kids. Frozen can be easily argued as one of the Walt Disney Company’s biggest films of all time, making $1.2 billion at the box office and selling over $107 billion worth of merchandise. Given these monstrously gigantic figures, it doesn’t take a financial strategist to understand why Disney would want to make Frozen into a full franchise. And that leads us to the present, when, 6 years after the original release of Frozen, we received the long-anticipated Frozen II. This sequel has been hyped up beyond belief from announcement to final trailer, so it definitely had a lot to live up to. So on November 22, children and adults alike flocked to the movie theater in droves to watch the movie for themselves and see how it lived up to its predecessor. So far, both critics and casual viewers seem split on opinions of this goliath of a film, but it’s also smashed multiple box office records. So with all of these factors at play, let’s really take a deep look at whether this movie’s unique venture into the unknown makes it a worthy successor of the title “Disney’s Biggest Animated Film Of All Time.”
Frozen II begins as the first did, with a flashback of younger Anna and Elsa playing and receiving foreshadowing from their parents. The film surprisingly starts into lore and plot setup almost immediately, with their parents Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) and King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) telling them stories. They especially discuss and sing about an enchanted forest with four nature spirits and the Northuldran tribe that lived there, living alongside the spirits’ magic and seeing it as a gift. Although Arendelle built them a dam as a gift, the tribe was said to betray the town by killing King Runeard, Agnarr’s father, when he and Agnarr were visiting on a peaceful diplomatic trip, and the forest was subsequently sealed off to the world. They also mention a river called Ahtohallan that holds the secrets of the past but can be dangerous if you find out too much for an unspecified reason. It’s all interesting but it’s really a lot to have thrown at you so quickly, especially for kids watching. It’s also odd to see Anna and Elsa’s parents portrayed much more sympathetically in this movie after their entire reputation in popular culture has become being bad parents that locked their daughter away from the world and taught her to hide her ice powers and be afraid of herself for being different (which is an even stranger stance to take considering what we later learn about Iduna’s past), but I digress. After the flashback, the film picks up an unspecified amount of time after the original, but we’re safe to assume it’s been a few years since the first adventure. Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are happily hanging out with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad), and Sven, as well as the rest of Arendelle. Kristoff’s main arc is that he keeps trying to propose to Anna while getting constantly interrupted, which is a bit of an overused setup but at least the fantastic great voice acting of Groff keeps it funny. However, Elsa keeps hearing something calling to her from far away, and try to ignore it as she might, she finally breaks and tries to reach out in return. In doing so, awakening the nature spirits to wreak havoc on Arendelle but also unlocking the enchanted forest. Determined to find more answers and calm the spirits, Elsa sets off on a quest to the enchanted forest, begrudgingly allowing Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf to tag along.
When finally reaching the forest, the group meets the wind spirit Gale, who is simply a disembodied gale of wind named by Olaf. The wind spirit tries to show them something about the past, but its unclear what exactly it wants to say. Before anything can be clarified, the Northuldran tribe appears to defend their home, led by their chief Yelena (Martha Plimpton), as well as a group of soldiers from Arendelle that were sealed within the forest before they could get out, led by General Mattias (Sterling K. Brown). After a display of magic by Elsa and a hilarious recap of the first film’s events by Olaf, the fire spirit randomly appears and begins attacking, only to be stopped by Elsa and reveal its true form as a cute little salamander named Bruni (whose name is apparently never mentioned in the film?). The group decides to stay with the tribe for the night, Elsa meets a girl named Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews) that she bonds with and learns about the culture from, such as how there’s supposedly a secret fifth spirit that acts as a bridge. Weirdly, the movie makes it seem as though Honeymaren will be an important character in the film based on her setup and play a big role in the plot, maybe even joining the main cast at some point, but we then sadly don’t see this character again until the end of the movie. Kristoff, not having as much to do in this film, befriends a villager named Ryder (Jason Ritter) who he enlists to help him in his proposal, which so far has been going terribly. Suddenly the village is attacked by the earth spirit(s), personified as a bunch of aggressive giant rock trolls rather than just one creature, who seem to just be made of earth rather than control it. Elsa then decides to head out immediately rather than waiting. Anna and Olaf follow, and eventually they come across something unexpected: the wreckage of their parents’ ship. Since Olaf mentioned the interesting concept that water has memory, Elsa is able to use the water of the ship and her ice in an emotional scene to see that their parents died trying to find Ahtohallan to find answers about Elsa’s powers. This leads Elsa to believe that she must go far north to Ahtohallan alone, and when Anna refuses to leave, Elsa quite literally pushes her and Olaf away in an ice boat into a river and bolts. Throughout the film, in all of Elsa’s reckless rushing into things, Anna is constantly following behind to reprimand her for being too dangerous and trying to do everything alone. Multiple times this subject comes up, and it seems like it will culminate in the lesson that Elsa doesn’t have to shoulder everyone’s burdens alone and can rely on other people to help, but this theme is almost completely dropped after they split up at this point. It seems as though this message might’ve been present perhaps in an earlier script, as it does seem to be the obvious conclusion, but feels missing from this film. Without a scene of Elsa learning that she went about things the wrong way, it almost looks like Anna is just hounding Elsa over nothing since doing things alone is framed as the action that Elsa was supposed to take to save the world. This isn’t a dealbreaker of an issue for the film, but this could’ve been totally amended by even just one scene of Elsa consciously needing to ask someone for help in the climax (be it from Anna, Honeymaren, really anyone just to show that she’s grown since the film’s beginning and learned a lesson that would complete her character arc in a satisfying way). But regardless, in the climax of this movie, Elsa goes off on her own and has to cross the sea to reach Ahtohallan alone.
While trying to freeze a path for herself across the sea, she meets the water spirit who takes the form of a mysterious but beautiful horse called Nokk (who is also not name-dropped within the actual film?). After partially freezing it enough so that she can grab hold and ride it, Elsa is able to cross the sea on its back and reach Ahtohallan, which is in actuality a glacier, or frozen river, which is pretty neat to see fully rendered. It acts almost as a new ice castle for Elsa, which she runs through in a dramatic and lovely sequence to find the source of the voice that’s been calling her for so long. This is where it gets a bit complicated, if it wasn’t already. The voice is revealed to be the spirit of Iduna, Elsa’s mother, who it seems was calling her so she could find the river and discover the secrets of the past between Arendelle and the Northuldran tribe, but this is barely explained in the film and may not even be the complete line of reasoning because it’s so quickly skimmed over. Immediately after, we see through the various ice sculptures of the glacier memories of the past, learning that Anna and Elsa’s grandfather, King Runear, actually built the dam to hurt the Northuldran people because he hated magic and how they embraced it, and then proceeded to attack and kill the tribe’s leader during a peaceful meeting. We also see that Iduna was actually a Northuldran person (despite not looking at all like them or even her child self?) who saved Agnarr during his father’s attack, and was thus given Elsa and her powers as a gift for this selfless act (prompting us to wonder why she thought Elsa’s powers were a curse when she was born in a culture that respected and embraced magic?). However, the more Elsa learns, the more she is frozen by Ahtohallan for going too deep, instead of drowning for going too deep as she would if Ahtohallan were a regular river instead of a glacier, perhaps, though this realization did take a second watch to set in. As soon as she realizes that the dam must be destroyed to appease the spirits, she sends out an ice message to Anna and freezes solid. Anna and Olaf, having successfully avoided earth spirits by getting stuck in a cave, receive the message in ice sculpture format and realize the truth about their grandfather attacking the tribe and the true nature of the dam. But because Elsa froze and essentially died for a little while, her magic fades away, including Olaf’s permafrost that keeps him from melting. He starts to flurry away in Anna’s arms, and even though anyone over 12 in the audience knows there’s no way Disney will have Olaf die forever in Frozen II, it’s still an extremely well-done, depressing scene where Kristen Bell shines in her voice acting performance. Despite believing Olaf and probably Elsa to be dead, Anna pulls herself together and does what needs to be done by destroying the dam, even if it will wipe out the currently uninhabited Arendelle. In a final big action scene, Anna gets the huge earth spirits to physically destroy the dam, and we finally see Kristoff again after he sort of decided to disappear for the second half of the movie. Since the dam is broken, the spirits are appeased and Elsa is unfrozen in Ahtohallan (not completely sure how those correlate in all honesty), so she mounts the Nokk and races off to stop the wave from the dam from destroying Arendelle with her ice powers. Considering Arendelle was empty and no one would’ve been hurt, it would’ve been a lot better narratively to actually have it be destroyed as an ending, and then rebuild the town by asking for the help of the Northuldran people, further promoting peace and unity between the two and cementing Elsa’s character arc of asking for help to shoulder large burdens as was described earlier. But in the version we got, Arendelle is saved and everyone is reunited, including Olaf being reformed, as water does have memory. Elsa also reveals that she was the fifth spirit, bridging the way between the tribe and her kingdom. However, with more self-discovery to be had in the forest, Elsa steps down as queen to live in the forest and tells Anna to replace her, which is when Kristoff finally proposes and Anna, of course, says yes, leading to them becoming queen and king of Arendelle while Elsa hangs out in the forest with the tribe and spirits, although always visits Arendelle to see her family for game night.
Frozen II honestly has a lot going on in all aspects, which can be both a positive and a negative. The animation, as we’ve come to expect from Disney, is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s amazing to see just how much it’s changed from the first movie. Since 2013, Disney has invented completely new animation programs, some from previous movies such as Moana and others specifically for this movie, just to enhance the physics of things like hair and water, and it definitely shows in scenes like when Elsa crosses the ocean. The soundtrack of this movie is also fantastic, and although Let It Go may never be truly replicated again, Into The Unknown is a pretty great contender for Disney’s latest earworm. Personally, I most liked Elsa’s second solo song, Show Yourself, with how lovely and musically complex it was, although I did mistake it for a romantic ballad upon first listening to the soundtrack before the movie, as I’ve since heard others did as well, which is weird considering the actual context of the song. Kristoff’s song is another standout, being not only catchy, not only finally utilizing Jonathan Groff’s great singing voice in a solo number, but absolutely hilarious. It’s a potential breakup song that he sings as he laments being left behind by Anna with an imaginary chorus of reindeer, all done in the style of an 80’s rock ballad. Need I say more? That’s another element in which this film excels: the writing, despite story shakiness, is uproariously funny. Olaf is especially great in this one, which is good since comedy relief can be difficult to play as funny rather than annoying. From the showings I attended, both children and adults seemed to enjoy the jokes, which is a great sign. In all honesty, the issues of Frozen II could’ve been amended by bringing in a writer solely focused on narrative flow and character arcs, as the current script is disjointed but still full of emotion and comedy. Another draft or two would’ve been a godsend as the film introduces concepts with a lot of potential and already has lovable characters. It would’ve been really nice to spend more time with the tribe and have Honeymaren play a bigger role as the film seemed to be hinting, as well as Mattias, as he was another really funny character that received very little screen time. A little bit of extra runtime could’ve gone to great use with explaining/clarifying plot points that were unclear, especially everything that happens at Ahtohallan. And finally, modifying Elsa’s character arc so that she could learn and change by the end of the movie through asking for help, trusting others, and further emerging from her cycle of pushing people away and being overly self-reliant. These traits make her constantly try to fix all of the problems that she encounters on her own and caused her to nearly die. The good news is, with the overwhelming monetary success of Frozen II and the popularity of trilogies, there is a very big chance that we’ll be getting a third Frozen film, which will give them a great opportunity to implement themes like these that are carried throughout the film and receive a satisfying resolution at the end. Until then, definitely go see Frozen II; it may not be perfect, but it does have a lot to offer viewers, whether you’re a kid or an adult. Some things never change, like the joy that a Disney animated musical can bring even the most scrutinizing of filmgoers.
4 STARS (OUT OF FIVE)