This review contains spoilers for ‘Frozen II.’
On the heels of its predecessor’s record breaking success, Disney’s “Frozen II” debuted to similarly raucous reception. With the biggest opening weekend of any animated film ever, it was clear that audience anticipation for the sequel was rampant.
Through heavily investing in what made the franchise so lovable in the first place, the sequel lands squarely in the realm of easy to love, easy to forget.
The film opens with a dynamic call back to the vaguely ethnic, nonlexical melody from the original. It is the perfect opening to a story previously closed with a notoriously happy ending. The film privileges audiences with a return to Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna’s (Kristen Bell) childhood — capitalizing on the sassy decisiveness of Anna, the tentative rationality of Elsa and the bond between them both. The film uses the entirety of this sequence to deliver the foundations of the story about to unfold. With a new nursery rhyme, new history and new dangers, the opening is burdened with carrying the rest of the film. Placing this kind of responsibility on the initial minutes of the film sets up what could easily read as contrived and ham-fisted justifications for this sequel.
Fortunately, the film maneuvers the murky rapids of these expectations by neatly weaving these histories into moments where the audience finds its characters in the present. Unfortunately, this synthesis stitches in some of the more disappointing facets of the original.
To start, Elsa is again made to undertake a journey that isolates her from other characters. But where this journey was regarded as one of turmoil in the original, the sequel defines her newest transformation as necessary to its happy end. Much discourse around Elsa also saw her as a prime example of what queer coding often looks like in film. Her impossible-to-forget ballad “Let it Go” is somewhat of a rallying cry for those relegated to dark spaces, their own icy palaces of ostracism. The sequel takes up this queer torch, but rather than further illuminating a notoriously complex character, the sequel sets Elsa’s character development ablaze.
She’s still coded as queer, but this time she gets to find her icy palace and stay there.
The film tries to mitigate this by introducing a host of new, adorable characters to travel with her. And in many ways these characters, undeniably cute and instantly engaging, achieve this goal. They challenge Elsa as Anna did in the original. But in the end, constructing a story that demands Elsa’s relegation to those same icy and isolated locales is an inescapable pitfall.
Still, where Elsa’s growth leaves much to be desired, the film does allow many of its other characters the privilege of evolution. Anna is made to deal with her own traumas head on, in a way that is painful and emotional. The film is able to articulate loss and grief in a way that is touching and refined.
And even while the film does prioritize its most lovable characters from the original, it also uses them to breed a new affection for those introduced in the sequel. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is able to find an easy friendship, able to engage with other characters because of the things that made him infamously awkward in the first place. And Olaf (Josh Gad) is tooled in a way that reminds audiences why he was such an intrinsic part of the first film’s success — his charm and naivety is used to elicit a tender regard for the narrative and its contents.
All in all, “Frozen II” does exactly what it sets out to: it returns audiences to a world it once loved and leaves plenty of room to grow. With new songs — including “Into the Unknown,” a ballad from Elsa that goes toe-to-toe with “Let it Go,” and a 1980s glam rock-esque number from Kristoff sure to put a smile on parents’ faces — and new worlds, “Frozen II” does more than just earn its assured place as one of the most successful sequels of all time.