This should go without saying, but I, a bearded, bespectacled, burly bastard bearing down upon his 30th birthday like a boisterous boar, am not the intended or targeted audience for Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s Frozen 2. Your child (or the childless Disney-loving adult) will ultimately find things in this film powerful in a way that I can’t, et cetera, et cetera; and you should probably not take my word for gospel as to whether or not they will enjoy it. But given that this is the sequel to one of the highest-grossing original animated films of the decade, it’s impossible to ignore: Its merchandising is everywhere, the advertisements unavoidable, the stranglehold that its parent company has on the entertainment industry ever-tightening. And perhaps that corporate ethos is starting to wear even more heavily on the product, as Frozen 2 is a lame retread of its predecessor, as it attempts to do everything the first film did, just worse. I would say that it is the kind of sequel that, two decades ago, Disney would have released straight-to-video, but those DTV efforts, at their best, ultimately had more freedom than some of their theatrical predecessors.
It’s been three years since the Snow Queen Elsa (Adelle Dazeem) returned to her homeland of Arendelle with the help of her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), her newfound beau Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a cognizant snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad). Things have been pretty stagnant in the interim: Elsa has ruled as a just, if unsatisfied, queen, Kristoff still hasn’t popped the question to Anna yet, and Olaf, made “permafrost” at the end of the last film, has begun to learn more about the vast and wonderful world that he inhabits (it’s also kind of terrifying to realize that he’ll outlive every one of the main characters now, perhaps until the heat death of the universe, but hey, he’s cute!). But one day, Elsa hears a mysterious voice singing what sounds like the synth notes from “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” and decides that she needs to explore the mysterious fog-cloaked magical forest, given that the music seems to be coming from there. So, the foursome embark on a journey and discover that, inside the forest, a group of Arendelle soldiers, led by Destin (Sterling K. Brown) and a group of magical natives called the Northuldra have been trapped in the woods by the fog, and locked in a conflict for some thirty-odd years, all over a brief battle that ultimately resulted in the death of Elsa and Anna’s grandfather. In the process of righting that wrong, the sisters will discover the secrets behind their parents’ deaths and the origins of Elsa’s powers. Because, obviously, you needed that, in the same way George Lucas thought that you needed to know about Midichlorians.
If there’s one good thing to come out of Frozen 2, it’s that there’s no earworm present that is as straight-up diabolically catchy as “Let It Go” was, so parents who take their children to see it won’t have to worry about hearing the song one billion times in between soccer practice and trips to Cici’s. That doesn’t totally stop husband-and-wife songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez from trying, as Idina Mendel’s two features, “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself,” a pseudo-duet with Evan Rachel Wood, are both diva’s laments, of course, and suffer massively in comparison to that original song, especially given how frequently they invite the comparison. Some of the other songs are pleasant, such as “Some Things Never Change,” a sweet ensemble feature that is clever enough in its execution, and “When I Am Older,” Gad’s goofy solo number that marks the one time that Buck and Lee try to engage with their young audience. But, unlike in the first installment, there are one or two that are downright painful. Chief amongst them is “Lost in the Woods,” which feels designed for the awful Weezer cover it has already inspired. It’s hokey and ironic, clashing with the painfully earnest sentiment in the other numbers like a frat boy best man wearing a tuxedo t-shirt to his best friend’s wedding.
It’s just a shame how Lee and Buck’s guiding ethos in making this film seems to be “more, but less.” On the surface, in their massive new digital locations and in the new detail-oriented “worldbuilding” they’re emphasizing, they appear to offer more scale and scope, but it comes at the expense of these characters, all of whom are still reasonably compelling and fun to watch. Groff and Bell still have a pleasant chemistry, though his interactions with his reindeer are still more amusing than his love life, Brown is a swell addition to the voice cast, and Gad is reasonably cute, and his summation of the first film’s plot is perhaps the film’s sole comedy highlight. On the other hand, their motivations and drives are warmed over from the first installment, heated up like Thanksgiving leftovers a week and a half after the meal itself, and their growth in this installment is negligible. Sure, things happen to each of these characters, and they do end the film in different places than they began, but all of the changes to them are surface-level and the lessons that they’ve learned are redundant. It’s a shame because those characters are what drew that audience the first time around, not “the mythos,” and Frozen 2 falls into that trap.
On a more thematic note, the weak anti-colonialist criticism that the directors stab at with the two isolated, warring tribes feels very disingenuous coming from what is essentially the five-year standing forward face of Disney animation, and the film’s ending feels like a kind of contradiction of the ethos of the original. Those hoping for Elsa to “get a girlfriend” in this installment will also be disappointed, as anything that might alienate a global audience will ultimately be sacrificed at Mammon’s alter, given that he is the Mouse’s One True God. And that’s the whole explanation for this Frozen 2’s existence — in some alternate universe, a superior sequel might have engaged with the original and the growing ever-growing child audience that joyously received it, at least disguising the profit-making motivations with a layer of heart and artistry — but, instead, we’ve been given a film that is exclusively beholden to its shareholders, not its audience.