Frozen 2 (2019)
Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Written by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Marc Smith, Robert Lopez
Starring: Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Kristen Bell
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 103 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
When they were young, King Agnarr of Arendelle told Elsa and Anna of how their grandfather, King Runeard, established a treaty with the Northuldrab tribe in the Enchanted Forest. However, a fight took place, resulting in Runeard’s death and the elemental spirits of the forest trapping everyone there with a wall of mist except for Agnarr who escaped due to the help of an unknown saviour. Three years after her coronation, Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling to her and unintentionally awakens the spirits, which forces everyone in Arendelle to evacuate. Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven set off for the forest, following the mysterious voice….
It’s getting so easy to hate Disney these days. Their monopoly on Hollywood and cinemas [quite often when you go to a multiplex now over half the films playing are from Disney]. Their seeming intent on taking over everything. Quietly putting Fox films into ‘the vault’ so that no cinemas can show them any more. The ridiculous prices they charge for their Blu-ray discs which never come down because they create artificial scarcity with their ‘vault’ garbage. Forcing people in North America to pay to join some stupid ‘club’ if they want to obtain Blu-rays of some of their older movies. Their ruining of Star Wars [okay, folks seem to be equally divided on that, but I have no doubt in my mind where I stand]. Their pathetic pretense that Song Of The South [which, as anybody with more than one brain cell will tell you, is not racist] doesn’t exist. Their creative bankruptcy which has reached the pits with their soulless, insulting cartoon remakes. The list goes on, so much so that those of us who like to whinge about this and who absolutely despise Disney honcho Robert Igor ought to by rights boycott Disney’s movies – but of course we never do [well, aside from a few folk on movie forums who I respect greatly], because, leaving Marvel and Star Wars aside for now, there’s still something special about Disney animated movies. And it’s not as if it’s new for Disney to annoy many including their fans. Back in the ‘90s and the ’00s, the company were already pissing on their own product with cheap straight-to-video sequels to many of their toon features. A few of them, like The Little Mermaid II. Return To The Sea, Return To Neverland and Lilo And Stitch II: Stitch Has A Glitch [yes, I’ve seen them all] are actually quite good and three even got cinema releases, but most of them are pretty lame, with stories that are either stupid or rehashed and poor animation. As I sat through Disney’s first theatrically conceived animated sequel since 1987’s The Rescuers Down Under, I couldn’t help but think of all these sequels – because Frozen 2 fits right in with most of them in terms of overall quality.
Well – it doesn’t fit in with them in terms of animation. It looks magnificent and actually has a more varied colour palette than its predecessor. It even offers a few striking images. But otherwise it’s distinctly lacklustre, if not exactly terrible – though there are breathtakingly dumb elements to the story, and a lot of clumsiness that makes it appear that little was actually thought through, such as time, something which seems to have no real meaning in this movie going by the discrepancy with which how long journeys take. The opening of the movie is fine, but then the build-up begins and you’re expecting this grand big adventure to come, but it never really does. There are no real stakes or threatening situations, just lots of meandering about, strange encounters, “huh” moments and Elsa going on a very similar journey to before. Everything seems very rushed so it’s hard to get really involved, meaning that much of the heart of Frozen is lost. The aim was clearly to make a more mature film centred largely around the idea of change and growing up. But, as with Ralph Breaks The Internet, it feels like we’ve gone from Toy Story to Toy Story 3 without a Toy Story 2 in-between. The result certainly has its moments, but the atmosphere in the auditorium which I saw the film was much more muted then when I saw Frozen. One can often sense when viewers are loving a movie, and I sensed it whilst watching the 2013 film, which of course became massive and had a cultural impact stronger than any Disney animated film in ages. But not yesterday. It might have broken the box office record for Disney cartoon sequels [though of course one shouldn’t really go by this record business because they never take into account inflation], but I can’t see this sequel being loved nearly as much.
The opening flashback is nicely done. Elsa and Anna’s grandfather King Runeard forms a treaty with the Northuldra people by building a dam in their homeland the Enchanted Forest, but violence breaks out and the elemental spirits of earth, fire, water and air seal everyone in – and if you’re thinking Avatar: The Last Airbender then so was I, that seems to have obviously been a major inspiration throughout. Then we’re back in Arendelle in the present. It’ s three years after Elsa’s coronation, and Kristoff wants to propose to her. His attempts to do so are a running gag and do amuse, while one should also be thankful for the fact that Kristoff isn’t portrayed as a total buffoon. Sven and Olaf provide most of the comic relief, in fact Olaf provides rather too much comic relief, some of which feels like it was added quite late in the day when they released how much heavier this film was than the original. Some of it is indeed funny, but some of it isn’t really, like a recap of the events of Frozen which strains terribly for effect but fails to hit the target. Olaf works better as the character who most often vocalises the change/growing up theme, and some of these moments are rather touching. Elsa keeps on hearing a voice calling her, and there’s a real strong atmosphere of the mysterious, even the uncanny here – and this is even when her following the source of voice is accompanied by a song, Into The Unknown, that’s deliberately very similar to Let It Go, so much so that you just can’t stop thinking of Let It Go while it’s playing. The ice forming indistinct figures against black during this scene is the most subtle of the increasingly spectacular montages that play over a few songs. Soon after this, Grand Pabbie and the Trolls colony arrive at Arendelle, and Pabbie informs that they must set things right by discovering the truth about the kingdom’s past. So Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven embark to the Enchanted Forest, following the voice.
The air spirit soon makes itself known, but is stopped by Elsa, who forms a set of ice sculptures that somehow turn out to be images from the past. The fire spirit becomes a salamander which becomes Elsa’s animal companion. And they find some Northuldra and Arendellian soldiers who are still in conflict with one another after 35 years, though despite looking older the latter’s uniforms look exactly the same as they were before. We’re supposed to believe that this lot, who don’t seem to number very many, haven’t killed each other off in all this time seeing as they’re supposed to be at war, especially as this Enchanted Forest seems awfully small. Anyway, we’re then told of the existence of a fifth spirit, and even as you read you can probably predict how that part of the plot goes. Later on, there’s another supposed twist that’s of little surprise, and then two supposedly surprising events that are not surprising at all because you know that they will both be rectified come the end. For god’s sake Disney, if you’re supposed to be making a more mature film, than do it properly. And at least try to explain Elsa’s journey a bit better than you do here, where you’re left wondering exactly what has happened and why [and things like what will happen when she dies]. At least Elsa gets some of the most visually stunning moments, notably those with a water-horse, and during her main song Show Yourself where the visuals become almost abstract. Every now and again there’s something great to look at even as things begin to amble about before a rushed climax. The sudden discovery of a lost ship makes very little sense. If it were whole enough to float all to shore at least some of those that were aboard should have survived, but if it were too damaged and sunk at best you would only get pieces of it washing ashore, not the whole ship. On the plus side there’s one moment where it looks like things are actually going to get proper scary in classic old school Disney fashion. Anna finds herself in a valley formed entirely of giants who awake quite creepily, but then the scene peters out. Can’t actually frighten today’s kids in today’s pathetic climate can we now?
The songs are a mixed bag. The afore-mentioned Show Yourself is the second blatant attempt at another Let It Go, and I’m not just talking about the song, considering some of what you see on screen climaxing with the appearance of another ice dress. This is hardly surprising seeing how big Let It Go was, though my personal feeling is that Let It Go is not that great a song, it just appeared at the right time and caught on just like so many popular songs do. Show Yourself really does have a better tune, though Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s lyrics are a bit all over the place, seemingly struggling to make their point. Olaf gets another, quite jazzy song, When I’m Older, but it’s just very much modeled on Summer. Kristoff gets an 80’s-style power ballad, Lost in the Woods, which is given a horrendously cheesy old pop video style montage which I hope is meant to be a joke, though the song is unmemorable. Much better are the earlier Some Things Never Change which reintroduces the gang in bouncy style, and the poignant All Is Found. Certain elements of some songs turn up in others and the voice call also appears in some, creating an organic feel to the film’s music. In the end the Lopezes have still done as good a job at blending Broadway and modern pop music styles as one probably has a right to expect, and Alan Menken’s score is marvelous.
Frozen 2 isn’t quite the pits of Disney animated cinema features – that award probably goes to the obnoxious Chicken Little. It’s very well made technically and every now and again there are some images of great imagination and beauty. But I don’t think they really knew what to do to continue Frozen’s story. They wanted to emphasis themes of change and maturity much as everyone who watched Frozen would be six years older, but they also wanted to semi-remake the film because of how beloved it was, yet they seemed to forget that two important ingredients in it were the relationship between the two sisters, and Elsa’s internal struggles, two things almost missing here – though we do oddly get an Anna who is annoyingly controlling and over protective. The writing is clumsy throughout, probably because they promoted the original writer, Jennifer Lee, so she didn’t have time to do much writing any more. Take the several scenes where one character tells another that this is what he or she has to do, with no explanation or reasons to that person. And the ending which doesn’t really feel in line with the message of “big changes happen in life“. Anna makes the choice to right a past wrong knowing what it would cost and that it would mean things could never been the same again, something which shows how much she’s matured on this too-short adventure. But then all of that is undone, saving Anna from having to learn the lesson that the story is meant to teach and suggesting that we can live free of any kind of consequences for anything. It’s insulting, is not at all a good thing to teach kids, and is an example of that thing some people call Disneyfication at its very worst. Frozen 2 may look, and sometimes sound, nice, but that’s really about it. When thoughts of a sequel first came up, Disney should have just let it go, but as we know they can’t let anything go which makes money.