The Oscar Race for Best Animated Feature is over. It’s going to be Frozen II. As someone who thought Frozen, now considered by many to be a classic animated film on par with The Little Mermaid, was a very good-not-great movie, it was going to be tough for its successor to melt my icy cold heart. Rest assured, this one is grander, deeper, more challenging, and even more gorgeous than its predecessor. Walt Disney Animation Studios has made a near perfect movie here, and they deserve to be proud. Frozen II outdoes the first in every respect! Heart melted!
This could have been an easy way to cash in on the phenomenon of the first one, and make a quick $200M dollars at the domestic box office while selling $1B in blue dresses and soundtracks. However, thanks to the incredible talents and leadership of directors Jennifer Lee (also Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studio) and Chris Buck, the animation team put everything they had — heart, soul, and hand — into this project and the results are absolutely stunning from both a narrative and aesthetic standpoint. You can tell the filmmakers’ first priority was the story and the evolution of the characters, because the whole film logically advances the mythology established by the original, and evolves the characters in such mature directions. This is not one of those sequels content to rehash what worked in the first film; it actually, thoughtfully, successfully builds on everything while touching on some incredibly timely and deeper themes — all the while being so entertaining.
The comedic scenes are absolutely hilarious (without spoiling anything, there may or may not be a Bryan Adams-influenced number in this movie). The adventure scenes and stakes feel more dangerous and thrilling (the sequence with Elsa and the Nok in the dark sea is incredibly exciting). The song numbers are a lot catchier and do fantastic jobs representing the mental states of each of the characters (listen to a song called “The Next Right Thing!”). And there are scenes in this movie that are incredibly mature — at times heavy — for a children’s movie. But that’s the beauty of Frozen II! It never talks down to its audience because it knows its audience has grown up since the first! The result is a sequel that never pulls its punches. Anna’s arc, for instance, towards the last third of the movie may represent one of the bleakest, yet most realistic moments I’ve ever seen Disney tackle. Yet, the message about perseverance that comes across also makes it one of the most profound and hopeful scenes Disney’s ever put in a movie.
I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start with a general summary of the film. The story takes off about a couple of years after the events of the first film. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven are relatively content with their status quo lives in Arendelle. However, Elsa keeps hearing a strange voice, seemingly related to an old fable her father once told to her and Anna. The fable described an enchanted forest, ruled by four slumbering elemental spirits — representing earth, fire, wind, and water — where a huge battle broke out between Arendelle’s troops, led by Anna and Elsa’s grandfather, King Runeard, and the villagers that lived there. Upon chasing the voices she’s hearing, Elsa inadvertently awakens the spirits, who attack Arendelle. Now in order to protect her kingdom, Elsa and the gang must track down the source of the voice, and find out how to appease the spirits, and potentially learn some generally shocking revelations about themselves and their family along the way.
Frozen II is a sequel that uses the characters we know and love to their full potential. Everyone gets an interesting arc (Kristoff, to a lesser degree, but even his arc is still pretty entertaining). Based on what we know about Elsa from the first movie, this sequel questions whether or not a royal life in Arendelle makes the most sense for her. It also challenges the relationship between Anna and Elsa, and Anna’s role as Princess of Arendelle. All of this is put to the test as both characters are pushed beyond the limits of what they’re capable of from both an emotional and physical standpoint. By the end of the film, these aren’t the characters we began the movie with, and they’re far from the characters we ended the last movie with. Hell, even Olaf gets a great arc about learning what it means to grow up and feel complex emotions. The character work is just outstanding, and the results of how those arcs conclude, overall, are incredibly satisfying!
More than that, from a narrative standpoint, we get so many satisfying answers to the questions the first film left us with. Why does Elsa have powers? Where were their parents going? Why does the opening song of the first film remind us of Pocahontas (particularly when we probably should forget about that movie)? You will get answers to all of that! And you will be satisfied!
From a thematic perspective, the film tackles multiple relevant issues gracefully; from how the sins of the past can affect the future, how future generations can strive to correct those wrongdoings, and the need for humans to push themselves to continue on in spite of the most dire circumstances. Much like their other work in the past 10 years, Walt Disney Animation has taken mature, unconventional real-world themes, and used their artwork to shed a light on complicated issues, in a way that kids could understand them, without ever being condescending.
We should also discuss the most important theme of all when it comes to this franchise — female empowerment! While I know, as a male, it’s generally not my place to speak to what a movie means to female audiences, I can’t help but think about and commend the filmmakers for how amazing Elsa and Anna are as characters. The movie gives both of them opportunities to be the strongest characters in this entire franchise, and will have audiences looking up to them no matter what gender each individual theater patron will be. When it comes to male characters in the film, they’re the perfect example of how non-toxic, supportive, ideal characters should be in supporting the real heroes of the movie — the royal siblings. What the first film did as far as giving younger females characters to look up to is only enhanced even more greatly in Frozen II. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what the younger generation who grew up with the first movie will think about where the movie takes Elsa and Anna.
From an animation perspective, the effects are so stunningly realistic. I’m convinced that showing one of the scenes involving a herd of reindeer stampeding in a circle could fool anyone into thinking that was real nature footage. But more than just the effects, the visual shots and animation cinematography in the film actually showcase some of the most badass, metal scenes in Disney history. I won’t spoil it all, but the final shot was probably one of the coolest scenes I’ve ever seen in any of Disney’s animated films.
The music, as previously stated, in my opinion, surpasses that of the first film. While folks may not necessarily agree with that controversial statement, songs like the aforementioned “The Next Right Thing,” or the powerhouse ballad “Show Yourself” really are meant to flesh out our characters, and were created specifically to voice what it is they’re going through. In short, the songs have a pointed objective to build on the narrative and character work of the film, making each one as resourceful as the next.
The only criticism I may have about the movie is potentially in its predictability. However, there’s always typically a sense of predictable direction when it comes to animated family films, and Frozen II is no exception. But really, that’s just getting nitpicky at this point.
It’s tough for me to not want to continue talking about the movie. It’s been almost a week and I still keep thinking about how much I liked it! I keep humming “Into the Unknown” on my way to work. I keep thinking about some of the coolest (no pun intended) scenes from the film. And most importantly I’m absolutely flabbergasted by how much it surprised me, and upped the ante greatly from the first. The Walt Disney Animation team has absolutely outdone themselves in every respect. And while, in general, I’m usually opposed to/fearful of sequels to Disney animated classics, I know when it comes to the Frozen films, I’ll never want to let this franchise or its characters go.
Overall Score: A
Frozen II hits theaters November 22!