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  • Joel Ryan

Frozen 2 Travels "Into the Unknown": But is it Worth the Journey?

Updated: 20 minutes ago

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Disney’s Frozen 2 had a monster opening weekend at the box office, bringing in even more than its predecessor in its first few days. And if the pop culture and commercial avalanche that was the original Frozen gives us any hint of what could be, Disney’s latest sequel will likely become another smash hit for the seemingly unstoppable House of Mouse.

To be clear, the original Frozen is not my favorite Disney film; I don’t even think it’s Disney’s best animated feature either, not by a long shot. But it did manage to hit enough right notes, and its magic and heart more than make up for its deficiencies.

What worked so well? Well, what do almost all of Disney’s animated musicals have in common:

1. Lovable and iconic characters,

2. Gorgeous animation,

3. Heartfelt themes,

4. Showstopping songs we’re still singing

I think time has proven that we will forgive a lot of story miscues in Disney films if these four elements are present and working at their best.

The question now becomes: does Frozen 2 hit the same notes? We know it’s going to be a box office success and probably smash all kinds of records, but is it a worthy sequel and a worthwhile adventure to go on this Thanksgiving?

SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen the film!

Frozen 2 takes major narrative risks, expands the world of Arendelle and its magic, and sends its characters on a journey that attempts to grapple with some pretty powerful themes along the way. Similar to its new song, it also takes its characters and audience “Into the Unknown”.

While entertaining, much of the magic of the original Frozen is missing from this adventure, which tries to do too much, forgetting some of the simple notes that make Frozen, and animated films like it, resonate so strongly. Let’s look at each.

The Characters

With Frozen 2, all of our favorite characters are back, but in the opening song, “Some Things Never Change”, we basically learn, “they’re all older, nothing has really changed, and they’re about to experience some sort of transformation.” There’s a lot of missed moments here to show us what these characters have been up to since we last left them.

How has Elsa been doing as the queen of Arendelle?

What’s Anna’s role in Arendelle now that her sister is queen?

Who are these characters now, how have they grown, and what do they need/want?

Before we’ve ever had the chance to even get reacquainted with them, Elsa receives a call on the wind which sends our heroes into a journey north to the Enchanted Forrest. In doing so, they discover what the secrets of the past mean for the future of Arendelle and Elsa’s powers.

While I do like where Anna and Elsa end up as character at the end of the film, the path to getting there often feels rushed and confused.

A bright spot, of course, is Kristoff, who’s been trying so hard to support Anna in her goals, which is conveyed beautifully (and hilariously) in his song “Lost in the Woods”. About time we get a song for Jonathan Groff too. And who doesn’t love that Kristoff jumps in to help Anna in the final act by simply asking, “what do you need?” What more can I say except, I love that! That’s what a supporting role should look like, and it’s kind of nice to see it modeled from him not her.

And then there’s Olaf. Love him or hate him, the naïve and gullible snowman is just as annoying and delightful as ever. Olaf, as always, gets the most laughs from the kids in the audience because, as I’ve discovered, he is one. He’s an annoying, innocent, inquisitive, unpredictable four-year-old who chimes in when he shouldn’t and is oddly lovable even in his quirkiness.

I think sometimes we forget that animated movies aren’t made just for adults. They are written for kids too, and no character is written more for kids than Olaf.

The Songs

Let’s be honest. Idina Menzel could probably elevate any song on her voice own. She’s that good, and she doesn’t disappoint in her second turn as Elsa either.

The same is mostly true for the songwriting of Kristen-Andersen Lopez and Robert Lopez, who crafted a soundtrack even more ambitious and lyrically complex than anything we heard in the first film. Their duo, in partnership with composer Christophe Beck, were able incorporate even more of Scandinavian sounds into the score by bringing in the vocal talents of Norwegian singer Aurora to create the film’s primary motif, which is beautiful! The songs of Frozen 2, however, are probably not as catchy, memorable, or fun as any of the big numbers from the original, but they're still rock solid.

The songs are really good, and they often reflect and even advance their character’s storylines extremely well, but none of them, with the exception of maybe Elsa’s “Into the Unknown” and "Show Yourself" are outright showstoppers.

No song in Frozen 2 gets close to the iconic, play-on-repeat status of “Let it Go”, “In Summer”, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, “For the First Time in Forever”, or “Love is an Open Door,” which is too bad, because there is a LOT of great story being told in Frozen 2’s soundtrack and score.

The tone of this film and the themes it deals with are much more serious, and the songs feel this way too.

All in all, Frozen 2’s soundtrack, while really good, lacks some of the fun and charm of its predecessor, which might be good news for parents who won’t have to worry about another “Let it Go” playing on repeat in the car. However, this is bad news for the legacy of this particular film and whether or not its songs are remembered and still being sung years from now.

Revised (12/2): A week after writing this, guess who's singing "Show Yourself" more and more? This guy. So I guess we'll have to see, and I'll be happy to admit I'm wrong if they go on to become the next Disney hits.

The Spectacle

The animation of Frozen 2 is absolutely gorgeous as the characters explore more of the Scandinavian countryside on their journey to the Enchanted Forrest and lands of Northuldra. I'll say this much: the landscape, layout, and background of Frozen 2 are it's northern lights. Mesmerizing!

The filmmakers opened up the world of Frozen to show us more magic than just Elsa’s powers, however, there are often too many magical elements to keep up with or understand, and sometimes the animation utilized for these shots feels lackluster, shot against black rather than the 3-dimensional ice palace we remember from "Let it Go".

We never fully understood the extent of Elsa’s powers in the first film, but we were kind of okay with it because neither did she. Frozen was a story about Elsa finding out who she is, who she wants to be, and where she belongs. As she figured things out, so did we.

In Frozen 2, however, not only do Elsa’s powers evolve, there are new magical elements for Elsa and her friends to content with. From the four elements spirits (fire, wind, water, earth) to the way water somehow preserves memories and manifests them as ice sculptures… oh, and let’s not forget about the Enchanted Forrest, the mysterious Ahtohallan, and Elsa actually being the fifth spirit (whatever that means)… there’s just a lot of magic happening that never really gets explained or properly introduced. We just have to go with it, and sometimes it’s a struggle to keep up.

While much of the film and its new magic are visually stunning, I found myself trying to figure out what was happening, why things were happening, and where things were going.

Frozen 2 is surprisingly ambitious, not just in terms of story but spectacle, but it’s really confusing at times too, which is probably not what you expect (or want) from an animated film. I spent the better part of the day talking through the plot with my wife to try and lock down what actually happened and how all the magical elements actually worked and came together.

It would be one thing if the magic existed solely for visual spectacle. Magic, however, is so integral to the plot and journey its characters go on, not taking time to define or explain it impacts the whole movie.

Kids won’t care, of course, but there comes a point where sometimes less is more, and maybe less magic, or at the very least, more clarity, would help.

The Story

I wondered if Frozen 2 was going to continue the sister story, and in a lot of ways, it does. However, this is also a story about the sins of the past and how these characters attempt to reconcile and even fix the mistakes of those who came before them.

The prologue tells us about Anna and Elsa’s grandfather and Arendelle’s relationship with the magical, native lands of the north, known as Northuldra. Later in the film, we learn that Anna and Elsa’s grandfather, fearful of northern magic, actually tricked the people of Northuldra into building a dam (which someone weakened their use of magic) and attacked them without provocation. This act angered the four spirits and led them to trapping the people of Northuldra under a thick mist in the Enchanted Forrest. Calling out to Elsa, who we learn is not only the fifth spirit but the daughter of Arendelle (her father) and Northuldra (her mother), the spirits enter the story to see Elsa make things right.

Okay, so there’s a lot of plot mechanics here that get very confusing very quickly. I still have a LOT of questions about how events of the past really impacted the present narrative and its magic. That being said, the theme that Frozen 2 attempts to hit home is how Anna and Elsa must become a bridge between Arendelle and Northuldra, the past and the present, and the magical and non-magical world.

In Elsa’s search to uncover the origins of her powers (reflected in her song, “Show Yourself”), she learns the truth about the past and the injustices committed by her grandfather. It is Anna, however, who takes this knowledge and decides to do something about it (“The Next Right Thing”). Anna decides that she must destroy the dam her grandfather built, even if it also destroys Arendelle in the process, because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s a pretty heavy twist that could have led to a really powerful ending.

It’s true that Anna and Elsa had nothing to do with their grandfather’s actions. But how often do mistakes have consequences that last beyond our lifetime. Sometimes the sins of the past must be righted by the heroes of the present.

Unfortunately, because the magic of this backstory is so unclear, we’re not really sure how Anna and Elsa’s actions will actually right their grandfather’s wrongs. We’re not even fully sure what the damage he caused really looks like apart from a mist surrounding the Enchanted Forrest.

And instead of allowing Arendelle to actually be destroyed, the writers brought Elsa back in the nick of time to save the day. The themes they were setting up probably would have landed stronger had Arendelle perished and Anna and Elsa, acting as two sides of the bridge, helped build a new world together: Anna as the diplomatic queen of Arendelle, where she belongs; Elsa as the free spirited leader of the magical Northuldra, where she belongs.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers tried to have their cake and eat it too, introducing a very complicated (and eerily relevant) theme without fully committing to it. The result is an ending that weakens the point they were trying to make, which is too bad.

Sometimes less is more, and while I completely understand where they were going with this story and admire them for the effort and risks taken, I do feel that Frozen 2 might have been benefited from more simplicity and focus, instead of taking us too far into the unknown.

Frozen 2 is not a bad movie by any means. It just exceeds its grasp and often buries its promising elements in an avalanche of ambition.

Is Frozen 2 worth the journey? Absolutely. Just know that when all is said and done, you may not walk away feeling the same warm hugs you’re used to receiving from Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf.

Let me know your thoughts once you’ve seen. Is Frozen 2 the next great Disney classic or a melted snowball? You be the judge.

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Until Today, Storytellers and Seekers!