Disney has a complicated history with sequels.
Lest we never forget the Direct-To-DVD onslaught of the late 1990’s/early 2000s. A period that cursed the world with “The Blues Brother 2000” equivalent of animated sequels. Disney whored out not only their contemporary films but delved deep into the Disney Vault to pimp out classics like Cinderella (multiple times), The Jungle Book, and even Bambi. Almost all were plagued with lazy writing and low-quality animation. Pretty depressing for those of us who grew up idolizing Walt Disney and all his works.
Luckily, especially if you include the Pixar films, things changed for the better over recent years. “The Incredible 2,” “Ralph Breaks The Internet,” and even “Cars 3,” were all welcome editions to their franchise, expanding the worlds and characters on which they were based. This is most evident in the film that many consider the pinnacle of animated sequels, “Toy Story 3.” A sequel so masterfully told and emotionally engaging that it is not only one of the best films of the series, it is also one of the best film sequels ever.
In 2013 Disney graced the world with “Frozen” the story of two sisters – one who just happens to possess the power to turn things into ice with her hands. And, if you have a child between the ages of 6 and 13, you have probably had more of your fill of “Frozen” princess costumes, merchandise and the random belting out of “Let It Go” than you can take. The film not only swept American households, but it also raked in over $1.25 billion worldwide. With success like that, the idea of a sequel seemed like a given, especially in the current reboot/live-action remake climate.
“Frozen 2,” picks up a few years after the original where all in Arendelle. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is ruling the kingdom with the help of her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell). Of course, the rest of the crew is still here including the lovable, goofy snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who is set on proposing to her, and Sven, his reindeer sidekick.
Everything seems to be going as well as you could expect until Elsa hears a voice calling from the direction of the forest. As typically happens, no one else can hear the voice, which sets Elsa off on a mission to find its source. While in pursuit of the voice, Elsa accidentally unlocks some mysterious powers that put her, her friends and all of Arendelle in danger.
As a fan of the original, I wish I could say that Frozen 2 blew me away, but honestly, for the most part, it felt like a car in need of a tune-up. At times it excels smoothly, then it feels like it is working too hard, at others, it sputters along. All the pieces are there, wonderful musical performances, the beloved characters, and incredible visuals. The weakest flaw- the plot itself. The first half of the film is mainly filler, trying too hard to be a “Frozen” film instead of telling an engaging story of its own. We revisit characters in an attempt to recreate the moments of magic the original delivered.
Too much of we see feels hollow and inauthentic. For example, when Olaf sings about the wisdom gained from getting older (in the same vein as to the original’s much superior “Summer) it carries all the weight of a DVD extra (remember those?) It is enjoyable while you watch while not adding much to the story. Its sole purpose for existence seems to be to fill the obligatory, silly Olaf song hole in the film.
Another example is the song, “Lost In the Woods” featuring Kristoff in a shot for shot recreation of an 80’s power ballad. While the execution is spot-on, capturing the feel of music videos of that era, it doesn’t add much to the film, and ultimately, could have been cut. Sadly, that is the territory where a lot of this film falls – reeking of a calculated, board room decision-making process instead of the passionate storytelling that allowed the first film to connect with so many people. Fun and entertaining, but a time filler more than anything.
Much of the film’s foreshadowing is high school freshman writing class level painfully obvious. There’s so much telegraphing Samuel Morse wanted a writing credit. (ba-dum-bum-ching!) When Olaf, out of nowhere, mentions that “water has memory,” you can rest assured that it would be a central part of the rest of the film. Typically mentioning that would be against my spoiler-free rule, but it is so darn obvious even the 6-year olds in the theater were rolling their eyes. And it isn’t an isolated incident. Several times throughout the film it felt like if the phrase “pay attention to this part” flashed on the screen that it would have been more smoothly handled than the foreshadowing in the script.
I wish I could say the flaws in the storytelling ended there… (spoiler alert) they didn’t. Political messages, major character development reveals, their pasts and their fates, unnecessary deaths and less than subtle callbacks to the original film fall victim to the clunky writing.
Skipping right to the second half point and building from there would have made for a much stronger film without losing much, if any, pertinent information. Doing so would allow for the often crowded film to tell the story at a more natural pace. As is, there is too much going on, jerking the viewer around from one storyline to another, hindering true emotional connection and resonance.
More importantly, starting at the midway point would have given the relationship between Anna and Elsa room to breathe and be explored in a more meaningful, mature way. The demographic audience for this sequel is mainly comprised of children who watched the original and waited six years for the follow up. As those years passed the audience grew up and matured. “Frozen 2” didn’t. Much of what we learn is force-fed to us. We don’t get a substantive exploration of the sisters’ relationship or even them as individuals – that would have been welcome. Instead, it seems time has frozen.
Although it may sound like it, I did not hate this film. There is actually is plenty to like about it. As always, revisiting familiar characters is a lot of fun and you simply cannot deny the behind-the-scenes talent and technical excellence on display: the acting, the incredible singing, the script’s witty humor, the cinematography, the glorious CGI worlds – all are quite praiseworthy. But, unless a director can seamlessly combine all those elements to elevate the material to the next level then the new toy luster wears off shortly after the credits roll. As a followup to such a beloved film, Frozen 2 didn’t warm me nearly as much as I had hoped.