Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee | Screenwriter: Jennifer Lee | Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad | Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures | Running Time: 103 min. | MPAA Rating: PG
While 2013’s Frozen became firmly lodged in the pop-culture consciousness for its numerous merchandising and constant repetition of the soundtrack, it was also a film of great surprise and subversion. Shifting the tale from being about finding true love to staying to your sibling, the charming characters and visual splendor became all the more enjoyable. While Frozen II is still serviceable with its likable characters and decadent fantasy with songs aplenty, it never delves too deep into its more mature themes.
We learn that the royal sisters of Anna and Elsa have a family past most troubling, though censored and glazed over in their youth. When they first heard tell of their father being a young hero when a war breaks out in the legendary enchanted forest, they’re more impressed by dad’s ability to survive than question what truly went down in a forest of magic. But that lack of questioning has led to troubles on the island of Arendale, where the kingdom is threatened by the forces of nature, literally calling out to Elsa several times. Her inability to answer and let the messages go to her musical voicemail could lead to the destruction of her kingdom. Adventure is afoot.
Though the story does touch on the tried and tired structure of man versus nature (or magical nature if we’re being specific), there’s more appealing edge in the thematic elements. Olaf, the talking snowman, is more perplexed by the coming of fall, questioning mortality and decay as he believes his mind is maturing. He gets into quite the deep conversation with Anna about how things can never remain the same forever, later taking the form of a song with playful lyrics. It’s both hilarious and maddening how Olaf has his cheerful mind constantly dwelling on such bigger topics if only to temporarily forget about them when the action starts up.
The music, of course, will be a big draw but the songs this time more or less feel like required beats to hit. This is mostly due to the structure which brings in a deja vu for character arcs and beats we’ve seen before. The big showstopper of the film, “Into the Unknown,” is delivered when Elsa is concerned with her powers and wanting to depart on her own. Olaf has a song about things making sense when he’ll be older, once more singing about his ignorance of how the world functions. It’s for this reason why the song of Kristoff, frustrated in his running gag of trying to propose to Anna, is the most charming and different for staging his song in the form of a 1980s rock ballad without so much as a wink. Whether this soundtrack will be just as palpable an earworm remains to be seen but I can say right now they’re not exactly lodged in the brain.
Frozen II certainly has some strong animation from the Walt Disney Animation Studio, venturing into new territories of utilizing elements, from a cute lizard constantly on fire to a horse made of water. Though it’s a pleasing spectacle, the story takes on so much that a tougher take on death and lineage seems doomed to a happy ending of mixed messages. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the picture as the chemistry between the characters is still strong, with dialogue as witty and biting as Disney’s previous animated productions. But with so much to explore and too much going on, this sequel comes off more like busywork than ever touching on something a little grander for a picture that could use a sharper edge.