I loved the first Frozen from the second I saw it. Sometimes when you see these big movies over and over again (and as a parent of three daughters I have seen this one a fair few times) and when the Disney marketing machine kicks in and the whole thing becomes more than just a one hundred minute film, it is hard to remember those first reactions. This is one of the personal advantages of having a blog though and reading that review from six years ago I am able to relive how I was immediately impressed by the way the movie honoured the Disney Princess formula yet felt modern, how it played with the patriarchal conventions of the fairy tale genre and how it celebrated sisterhood with two strong and inspirational but flawed female characters.
Of course all of this is a lot to follow and since then Zootropolis and Moana have made excellent female characterisation and contemporary themes even more the current Disney Animation Studios norm. There have already been a couple of Frozen short films since 2016, Frozen Fever and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, and certainly neither of these managed to capture any of what made that original film so great.
In fact the problem that those two twenty minute cartoons struggled with is also an issue at the start of this movie. At the end of Frozen, everything was tied up in a nice happy ending and Anna and Elsa and everyone else were left living out a cosy domestic existence in their Arendelle idyll. That is nice to see but it isn’t as engaging as anguish and high adventure. Rather than struggle on with these narrative restrictions though Frozen II gives us a fun little song about it (the first of a few occasions the film shows great self awareness) and then gets down to the business of taking those now familiar characters on a spectacular and thrilling new mission. Pretty soon Elsa’s overbearing restlessness and sense of difference and isolation come in to play again and everything switches from dainty and idyllic to dangerous and epic.
To say anything much about the narrative of Frozen II would be to rob it of many of its treats but they have certainly created a plot that measures up to what came before and it is this sophisticated story telling that puts the film among the best of the huge Disney animated back catalogue. Crucially it also looks amazing and it is wonderful to see that the studio that is systematically remaking all of its classic cartoons as live action films, seemingly suggesting that they weren’t good enough before, can still showcase what this medium can do better than any other form of cinema. There is one scene in particular, previewed in the trailer, where Elsa tries to cross the ocean without a boat and the imagery is just stunning.
This main challenge of the film, as is the case with any sequel, is that much of what it presents is not new anymore. The best moment in the first film was its subversion of the true love conquers all trope with that love being between two sisters rather than a handsome prince and a vulnerable young woman. That’s been done now, twice with the first Maleficent movie playing a similar trick, but Frozen II has a few smaller conventions to tear down too and it still has its own surprises. The film deals with mortality and grieving in a fresh way too. Unfortunately it doesn’t present audiences with the first gay Disney hero as many hoped it would but it does steer toward that road at times even if is doesn’t actually take the turning. They have certainly set it up for the next one to be ‘Frozen 3dom to Marry’ if they want to go that way.
In terms of the songs, there probably isn’t a tune that will quite equal Let It Go but there are actually two fair contenders; Into the Unknown which is all about duty verses companionship and Show Yourself about finding an identity, which both pick up on similar themes. There is also a heart rending hymn to living your life in the face of unimaginable loss and Olaf gets another bouncy ditty that examines notions of childhood insecurity and the facade of adult rationalism. I think it is safe to say we have moved well away from the naive optimism of When You Wish Upon a Star.
Kristoff also gets his own song which oddly is presented as a cheesy 80s man ballad and it isn’t totally clear how much of a gag this is meant to be. It doesn’t really work alongside the rest of the film and feels more suited to a Shrek movie than it does the sequel to the jewel in the Disney Animation crown. This might be the movie’s one misfire but some people might love it so I’m sure in balance this won’t hurt it.
Is this one for the kids?
For all of its huge adventure and mature sensibilities Frozen II is still a lot of fun for a younger audience. Any girl or boy who was inspired by Anna and Elsa’s fortitude last time will find much to get excited about again and even with its real sense of peril and sacrifice the film is still rated a U.
The Ripley Factor:
Even with all of its great empowerment of women, the last film was criticised for its portrayal of Elsa with her big eyes and her small waist, sashaying around her ice castle. The hip swinging is actually mocked this time but the permanent purple eyeshadow still makes it look she’s been punched in the face twice.
Nonetheless, the spirit of sisterhood is still the beating heart of Frozen and this time the story is enhanced by notions of motherhood so the feminism is compounded.
Frozen II has a lot to live up to but none of what made its predecessor a hit has melted away.