I am very sad to say that Frozen II is forgettable. And in an era of post Zootopia, Moana, Tangled, Princess and the Frog, Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, the first Frozen, and so on, I’m afraid Frozen II joins the tier of lame Disney sequels. It’s above average for a Disney sequel, but that’s like saying losing your hand is better than losing your arm. They’re both pretty bad. Frozen II is not quite direct to DVD Disney sequel level, but if it wasn’t for the spellbinding animation and budget, it certainly would be. In fact, I’ll take Lion King 1 and 1/2 any day over Frozen II.
I thought Frozen II would be a dark and enthralling fantasy musical, and instead, I felt like I watched a 1 hour and 40 minute advertisement for:
DISNEY’S FROZEN II: THE SOON TO BE STAGE MUSICAL.
(PLEASE BUY OUR MERCH)
Yes, I’m afraid I was cautiously optimistic for Frozen II, despite enduring the now infamous Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (shudder) before being permitted to watch Coco, and all 5 years of overblown exposure to the original Frozen, which I am a fan of…and I was let down.
I’m not really sure I can sufficiently explain the plot of Frozen II. Essentially, the movie takes place 3 years after the first film, and explores the origins of Elsa’s ice powers. These stem from some magical forest north of Anna and Elsa’s kingdom of Arendelle. The forest has been blocked off by a mysterious fog for years and is cutoff from the rest of the world. Elsa hears a voice calling her towards the forest and decides to follow it, jump-starting the adventure. If you read that and are wondering “Who’s Elsa/Anna?” then I have bad news for you: You need to see the first Frozen. I’m not going to bother explaining a major movie that came out 5 years ago and got imprinted into everyone’s brains when kids everyone sang the songs, bought the merchandise, and re-watched the movie constantly.
You know, that reminds me. I always thought of the first Frozen as The NeverEnding Story of 2013; albeit a much better movie, but similar nonetheless. Both movies are fantasy films aimed at children dealing with self-identity, and each has a song that dominated the radio for weeks. And now, the cycle is complete, because both films have a mediocre sequel. And likely a third, one day.
Now then. I think I’d like to elaborate a bit more as to why I wasn’t a fan of the film, but that’s gonna require spoilers. So go ahead and skip to the last paragraph if you’re going in blind. Remember: Every movie is worth seeing at least once, even if it’s bad. It’ll probably give you something. Except any Illumination film besides the first Despicable Me.
I think Frozen II suffers from the following conditions:
Lack of stakes. Look, I know it’s a kid’s movie. I’m not asking for Anna to get beheaded or for Elsa’s new lizard pet to get eaten by a hawk. But when a movie meanders so much and essentially avoids underscoring an impending threat, then it’s hard to get engaged. And having a problem like “The kingdom will flood” as the only real stake in the film when you have a princess that can well, control ICE, it really isn’t hard to see a solution immediately. Along with that, there are not one, but two character fake out deaths (Elsa and Olaf) that absolutely no one bought for a minute. When Olaf “died” in Anna’s arms, not even the kids in the theater were crying. They knew that snowman would be back in 20 minutes, tops. I appreciate the thematic “water has memory” excuse for why he can return, but Olaf’s “death” felt like padding. Unless you are doing a fake out death that advances the plot, like Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring, you shouldn’t drag on the movie with it. And especially not do it twice. Which brings us to…
Lack of surprise. This movie thinks it has a lot of twists and turns in store for you. I mean, who wasn’t stunned in the first Frozen when Hans turned out to be villainous (probably because there were no clues)? So to jump on that, Frozen II decided to double down and really subvert expectations. The problem with that is that you can’t subvert things that are so painfully obvious. A voice is calling Elsa just as there is a need for a fifth element of nature? Gee, I wonder what that element could possibly be. The past isn’t what it seemed to be? I didn’t suspect anything was up, especially when dad couldn’t remember his tale in details at the start of the movie. Mom was from the mysterious new kingdom? I never would have guessed, and I’m very interested to see how a dead parent is going to impact the story! And as I mentioned before, those fake out deaths were completely pointless and hollow. Does this sound like a lot to take in? Confused? Great. Here’s the third point.
Overstuffed Story. There is a lot going on in Frozen II. And sadly, most of the threads with the exception of Elsa’s arc are fairly vapid. In fact, it is with no pleasure that I announce that Frozen II is responsible for what might be the worst subplot in a movie in 2019. And this was a year with Serenity. That subplot would be Kristoff’s proposal attempts towards Anna. Good. Lord. I wasn’t a fan of Kristoff in the first Frozen, as he felt a bit forced, but I could tolerate him. But when you decide to give Kristoff the most stereotypical and lame subplot to handle, and you also give him a very out of style REO Speedwagon-esque song, my patience doesn’t just wear thin. It crawls into a hole and dies, slowly, painfully…alone. The proposal subplot is very forced and unoriginal humor, has absolutely no stakes, and the film essentially just assumes the audience will root for it because Anna and Kristoff are already an assembled couple. And in this entire movie, they just bicker or are distracted, so when Kristoff finally proposes, the (already obvious) “yes” is completely flat. And on top of having to endure this abysmal attempt at fluffing up the story, we have to deal with Anna/Elsa’s relationship as sisters, Elsa’s magic origins, the real story behind the magic kingdom (no pun intended), Olaf “growing up”, finding a way to not flood Arendelle, the fifth magic element, etc. It’s too much at once, like having a nice steak with too many herbs and spices and then being served several other over seasoned steaks and being told it’s a 5 course meal. Then you demand to raise the stakes and instead, the waiters just lift them closer to your face. That pun was pretty forced. But hey, that’s point number four!
Shoehorning. Gotta sell that merchandise. That means new animal sidekicks, a lot of songs, and shout-outs to the first Frozen in case you missed out on the shopping. In fact, in what is actually the funniest/most expendable gag in the movie, Olaf recounts all of the events from the first film. It’s great, and I’m glad it’s in the movie, but it does get old fast, especially when Hans (treated like a bad ex and not an attempted murderer) gets several pointless mentions, the “Yoo-Hoo” guy gets a ludicrous amount of cameos, the trolls needlessly re-appear, and so on. And on top of that, Disney decided to double down on character traits the first Frozen had for its characters. That is, the most profitable ones. Olaf? He’s VERY cute now. No more dark humor, just cutesy. Anna? She’s VERY quirky and determined now. Kristoff? He’s VERY obsessed with reindeer now. Elsa? She’s VERY magical and independent now. It’s the worst kind of Disney brand “girl power” surface level feminism that is too timid to actually be bold, because mainstream audiences won’t accept it, and Disney could lose money. Again, that was a big problem with Kristoff for me in the first movie and especially now. There is no need for him.
Anyways, rant over. Let’s talk a little bit more about the good, I guess? Well, “Into the Unknown” is a good song, I suppose. Everyone’s voice acting is on point. The animation is a step up from the first. I appreciate the attempt to expand the world and mythos, even if it’s too much at once. I wasn’t particularly bored while watching it, I just wasn’t as engaged. I like Elsa’s story. And the new lizard is cute, even if he acts just like a dog, which Sven (the reindeer) already did. Whatever. It’s fine.
Alright, let’s just get into the meat of this thing and talk diversity now. As I said before, Kristoff is a serious detriment to Frozen and kind of serves as a representation of “woke” Disney. That is, Disney realizes they can’t be 1940s Disney anymore and have helpless women and racist designs, but they also realize they can’t (or rather, don’t want to) lose any chunk of their mainstream audiences, so their version of “representation” is the most bare minimum, if even that. Thankfully, I think Frozen II, and most modern Disney animated films, manage to be better than their live-action siblings. Anna and Elsa pass the Bechdel test, Elsa isn’t given a pointless love interest, a male and female director worked on this film (just like the first), and there’s nothing inherently offensive in these films. You really have to dig deep to be outraged, and I don’t think there’s anything that warrants a lecture from me about how Disney is tone deaf. Besides my deep resentment of Kristoff (which again: not the worst), I suppose Frozen II is another step in the right direction just as its predecessor was, if a bit of a clumsy step. It’s still a step. And we should encourage baby steps.
So, Frozen II. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s utterly forgettable and it certainly feels fluffed up and ready to get turned into a marketable stage musical. Frozen on Ice. There you go. Not a fan of forgettable movies, but I guess I’d take that over harmful or utterly boring movies.
Author: Rafael A. Sarmiento, originally published [12/10/2019] for Incluvie