Frozen II review: Disney’s spectacular sequel dampens the charm

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s follow-up to their phenomenal ice-maiden animation takes on the weight of ecological tragedy with ravishing technique, but loses the human spark.

Generation snowflake: Frozen II and the quest for climate justice

Kate Stables

Frozen II (2019)

What comes after ‘happily ever after’? Disney animated features based on fairytales don’t usually get theatrical sequels. But the $1.3 billion commercial and cultural phenomenon that was Frozen (2013) replaced passive princely rescue with fierce girl power. So it’s no surprise to find this visually spectacular, dark-themed sequel reaching beyond happy-ending tropes to turn fairytale into epic.

Drawn north by a siren voice to save the kingdom of Arendelle from attack by mysterious forces based in the Enchanted Forest, outsider Elsa is this time a Tolkien-for-tinies questing heroine, rather than a rogue snow queen. Plunging into ferocious conflicts with the nature-wrapped and nebulous ‘element spirits’, as she wrestles a swooping tornado or ices a roaring wildfire or flood, she becomes an increasingly mythic figure.

These big battles demand outsize soundtrack bangers, but Idina Menzel/Elsa’s Let It Go-style empowerment ballads Into the Unknown and Show Yourself strain uncomfortably for anthemic status. Now a sparkly dressed, song-powered superhero, Elsa works towards the kind of kingdom-saving transformation that hints at the influence of the Marvel Universe on that of Hans Christian Andersen.

Frozen II (2019)

Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee have plundered Norse myths and Sami folk tales (and the 1950s Disney forest paintings of Eyvind Earle) to create lavish autumnal settings for forest battles and waterfall plunges. There’s a Studio Ghibli vibe, too, in the film’s animist content, and its Princess Mononoke-ish struggle to rebalance humans and nature, as gorgeously rendered gales, conflagrations and sea storms sweep angrily across the screen. Less happily, this is spliced with an overcomplicated narrative, ranging across key childhood flashbacks, loose Frozen plot threads and damning royal-family revelations. These last are received via intricate ice sculptures, which resemble Carnival Cruise buffet centrepieces more than magically conjured insights.

Combined with Frozen II’s weightier themes (colonialism, wronged indigenous tribes, reparation) and overarching climate-change allegory, it’s pretty dark stuff. Racked by her inability to protect Elsa, sister Anna is left sidelined, her boyfriend Kristoff’s failed marriage proposals levered in as light relief. Jonathan Groff/Kristoff’s 1990s boy-band spoof song Lost in the Woods, complete with reindeer chorus, provides three minutes of uncomplicated pleasure. As does Olaf’s idiot-savant snowman; Josh Gad’s wisecracking voice work and hilarious ten-second recreation of the Frozen plot make him the film’s standout performance.

However, neither they nor a Bambi’s-mother-sized tragic moment can prevent the narrative feeling worthy and a bit generic, despite the eye-popping staging of Elsa’s titanic sea battle with a rearing, spectral-horse water spirit. The film’s obsession with big themes and its lack of meaty characters / villains / twists to carry them reduce it to handsome, ravishingly animated spectacle. Shorter on the character, charm and heart that marked out Frozen, the sequel can’t give its high drama the same emotional intensity. It’s suffering from superhero syndrome: when comic-book epics dominate the box office, they also colonise Hollywood creativity. Supersizing Frozen II to create a battle-packed origin story suggests that Disney’s question this time was: “Do you wanna build a franchise?”

 

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