Review: “Frozen II” is bigger, not better

Back in 2013, much of the marketing for Frozen mischaracterized the actual tone and content of the film, somewhat ignoring the themes of broken relationships and mental illness in favor of showcasing the obligatory comic sidekicks. But Disney clearly caught on to the fact that although Olaf was certainly a fan favorite, the then highest-grossing animated film of all time became that because audiences gravitated toward the complex character of Elsa and the sweeping visuals. So, naturally, when the sequel was greenlit, the filmmakers leaned into the darker, more mysterious aspects of the original.

Thankfully, the marketing for Frozen II more or less showed us exactly what we were in for, while keeping the most emotional and visually impressive parts for the movie itself. But disappointingly, the higher stakes and expansion of Arendelle’s mythos didn’t altogether make for a script up to par with the (admittedly flawed) first.

A bit of good news: visually and musically, the sequel absolutely lives up to — perhaps even exceeds — the original. The new environments are incredible to look at, and the animation and effects play with the elements in creative ways that enhance the mystical setting and widen the scale of the action, which is also increased. The score is so epic and dramatic that I’m tempted to say the entire film is worth it just for the soundtrack. It essentially goes off the momentum of “Let It Go” and takes it further, even including what is possibly the most powerful and emotionally resonant musical sequence in any Disney film.

But for all the movie’s dark, mythic, emotional weight, the comedy is still very much present, and once again, may even be better than it was in the first film. Olaf is toned down a bit, but when he gets his moment, he takes advantage. Kristoff has his own subplot (which may or may not have been taken from a certain lesser known theatrical Disney sequel) that makes for some funny moments, although it doesn’t add much to the story and is all but forgotten about for a good thirty or forty minutes of runtime. And for as funny as the movie can be, it at times relies too heavily on meta humor and callbacks to the first film, which can take you out of the story and make it harder to see it as its own entity.

Though the jokes may be funnier than in the first, there seem to be far less of them. When aiming to make a sequel darker than its predecessor, there’s a certain risk that comes with the territory of dwelling too much on melodrama, and that’s unfortunately something the film falls into. Of course the first film had its fair share of sad moments, but it easily takes up the majority of this one. The script is so focused on putting the characters into dire and grievous circumstances that it fails to strike the balance in tone that made the first film work so well, and not to mention hurts the pacing.

The new characters don’t really contribute anything, and we learn very little about any of them. A few have some funny moments before being effectively cut from the film, but others could disappear altogether and the story would pretty much be the same. Their role is essentially to provide exposition and then let the heroes go off on their own again, which makes me question the point of even introducing them. That is, except in the case of Honeymaren, who shares one significant scene with Elsa that I hold firm was only added to give LGBT+ fans something to work with without Disney having to actually provide textual queer representation. After all, how can we expect them to scrape by without that extra billion from China?

Even Kristoff is absent for much of the film, seemingly going through the bulk of his character arc offscreen. This among other things leads to a pretty rushed conclusion, and again makes me question the point of his subplot in the first place. Where it feels like many of the new characters were added just to distinguish the film from the first, his role is undoubtedly padding and nothing more. Hell, Olaf probably has a bigger role than him.

To be fair, out of all of the Disney and Pixar sequels released in the last two years or so, Frozen II may very well be the best. It’s by no means a bad sequel or a bad movie in itself, it’s just that the legacy set by its predecessor in only six short years raised the bar in a way that wasn’t as much of an issue with, say, Cars 3 or Ralph Breaks the Internet. It doesn’t rehash the story of the first film, nor does it ruin it, but there’s nothing here to make it feel needed. The plot strives to answer questions that we didn’t really need answers to — we can accept in a fantasy world that a princess was born with magical powers, and we can accept that our main characters’ parents die in a shipwreck on a journey with no incredibly important purpose. The answers given are satisfying enough, but so was the answer of “this is something that can happen in this world”. At no point does this film feel like a natural continuation of the story, but if you’re a fan of that story, you’ll still feel for these characters and probably love the soundtrack, and that might be the biggest thing you could take away from Frozen as a franchise.

A senior at Hollins University whose penchant for Disney led into a love for all things film. Amateur film critic/essayist and aspiring screenwriter/director. View all posts by Mary McKeon

Originally published at http://miseensense.wordpress.com on November 25, 2019.

Film/TV critic, essayist, and screenwriter. Hollins University class of 2020 current MFA student.