Do you want to build a snowman — again?
Never one to let it go, Disney returned to the ice-covered well of one its most surprising releases, 2013’s “Frozen,” for a new adventure that wears its values on its sleeve — but ultimately lacks the courage to follow through with them in the end.
“Frozen II” could be considered a bit late to the part — releasing six years after the initial surprise hit that unexpectedly grossed more than $1 billion earlier in the decade. Still, Anna and Elsa’s latest adventure is sure to entertain those who were young children when the original came out — and who are now almost certainly teenagers — perhaps more than a new generation of children. This new, darker and more mature installment has grown with its original fanbase and offers a more refined story that ditches the troupes — however subverted they may have been in the original — for a more nuanced tale.
“Frozen II” lacks a central villain or a dashing prince to save the day — or steal it, in the case of Prince Hans. These are two staples of Disney princess movies that have been established since the days of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” But times are changing, and Anna and Elsa don’t need strong men in order to save them. They have each other. It’s a progressive ideal that is at the heart of “Frozen II,” and continues the ideals set forth in the original film.
The sequel also features a different theme — one of commentary on the nature of colonialism and the mythology that can be established on a foundation of lives in a short amount of time. The movie begins with a bedtime story about how the people of Arendelle came together with the native peoples of Northuldra in the north to host a joint celebration of partnership between them. If you think that sounds a little like Thanksgiving, you’re not wrong. But the celebration soon turned into a battle — one that angered the four spirits of the land and locked the survivors behind a magical wall of mist for 34 years. It’s of little surprise that the movie doesn’t even try to hide that the battle was started by the grandfather of Elsa and Anna in order to take their lands.
While the political commentary is extremely on the nose, joke characters Olaf and Sven, along with Kristoff, provide enough comic relief and visual gags in order to keep young children entertained. The continued elements of female empowerment and love between Anna and Elsa are obvious enough to leave a positive impression on those same children and to reinforce the messages of the original movie for older children who grew up watching “Frozen.”
Visually, the movie is a work of art and easily one of the best looking CG animated movies ever released. It still doesn’t quite capture the magic of a traditional hand-drawn animated feature, but the visuals are still spectacular. The use of colors of the autumn leaves against the dying forests later in the film pop off the screen with a poignant beauty. Animated sequences along the river and oceans are equally impressive. The graphics are a feast for the eyes and even reason alone to go see it on the big screen.
One of the biggest selling points of “Frozen” was its famous song, “Let it Go” by Elsa voice actor Idina Menzel. None of the songs — of which there are more and so often crammed in that they affect the pacing — manage to capture even half of that magic. Menzel gives her best with a pair of songs, “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself,” that are obviously positioned as successors. But they’re missing that spark. The best song of the film — “All is Found,” a loving message from mother to daughter — isn’t even from Menzel, but rather Evan Rachel Wood.
Some may be put off by the obvious political commentary of “Frozen II,” but it’s wrapped up in a very entertaining adventure package with the main heroes on a quest to save Arendelle. The biggest issue with “Frozen II” is how it doesn’t follow through with its political message. Colonialism is bad and the lies used to justify those actions can be damaging, but no one suffers in this movie. The stakes simply aren’t there — essentially creating a toothless analogy that goes nowhere. Some movies don’t need storybook endings.
Still, “Frozen II” is another well-crafted Disney adventure that actually surpasses the original movie in many ways. While it might not feature the zeitgeist musical number of the original, the sequel is a much better film that is more than just a showpiece for a song. “Frozen II” is an enjoyable film that tries to do more than just subvert tropes; it tries to educate as much as entertain — even if it falls short on the former.