It’s hard to envy Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, despite their probably restful nights sleeping in giant piles of money. Having directed the first Frozen film, Buck and Lee found themselves in an exciting position. When Frozen was released over Thanksgiving 2013, Disney didn’t know what it had, and there was no universe playbook the way there is for so many Disney properties. It was a film that charmed critics and made a good amount of money, and then the phenomenon happened. This includes a recently mounted Broadway musical, a 21-minute short film played before and infamously removed from screenings of Coco, and lots and lots of merchandising, some attributing Frozen to keeping Disney Stores in American shopping malls open.
But of course now, instead of allowing Buck and Lee to branch off and do something else before the inevitable return to Arendelle, Disney instead, prioritized a sequel first! It’s been six years since the original, and Disney must keep its investors happy, and more princess dresses must be sold, so enter the unnecessary but entertaining world of Frozen II.
Three years have passed since the events of Frozen, and we find Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven living happily in the quiet kingdom of Arendelle, as we open with a song about how happy everyone is with the monotonous nature of their lives. However, this is a sequel, so we can’t do that for very long. Elsa begins to hear a voice calling to her from what her parents described as the Enchanted Forest, a land beyond Arendelle trapped in an eternal mist. So, the gang goes beyond the mist to save those captured in the forest, and along the way, we discover why these people are trapped in the forest and how Elsa is genuinely the only person who can fix the crimes of the past. Elsa also manages to gain a deeper understanding of what her powers mean and how to truly fulfill her own destiny.
I feel exhausted, just writing that plot description. I left so much out. There’s so much going on in this movie, and the plot, as a result, is way too complicated for its own good. For a film aimed at children, the journey is less whimsical and bleaker, and it’s an interesting angle for sure. We have a really interesting fixing-the-sins-of-the-past, Disney-does-Annihilation thing going on. However, the writers occasionally remember this is a movie aimed at children, and we have all of the prerequisite comic relief with snowman Olaf. What made the original film so charming was how it sneakily subverted expectations and reassessed what audiences wanted from a Disney princess movie. This one feels like it’s doing about ten different things at once.
However, there are certain things this one does better than the first. I’ll begin with the songs. In my opinion, the only genuinely memorable song in the first Frozen is Let it Go. For a full-on original musical that inspired a Broadway production, there aren’t many songs that really stand out. Many of the Frozen songs are exposition through sung dialogue, which is an annoying way to do a musical. This one has grand, sweeping showstoppers for every single core character. Elsa has two, both of which might be better than Let it Go. The voice performances are also a lot sharper and better realized in this one. It thrills me that Disney is bringing attention to well-regarded Broadway performers like Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad, and it simultaneously irritates me that these voice performances might be all these people are widely known for.
So, in the end, Frozen II is equally clunky and inspired. It’s trying to do a lot of fascinating work, and the animation is overwhelmingly beautiful, even more so than in the original. But in the end, this almost feels like a bit too much for a 90-minute movie. There isn’t much more development to the characters that we haven’t already seen in the first film either. However, the songs are lovely, and the movie is consistently beautiful to look at. I just would like Disney to give Buck and Lee a little more room to breathe in the inevitable third installment.