‘Frozen II’ expands, doesn’t improve franchise

Images courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

3/10 I never made time for Frozen in November 2013. It’d come a bit out of nowhere, and I sort of pretended it hadn’t had the success that it had. Glancing over it on Disney+ before its long-awaited sequel six years later, I’m struck by how poorly integrated the animation is and how strangely the whole thing is structured – the infamous “Let it Go” number, which seems like a big, triumphant second-act closer, comes 35 minutes into the movie and feels like the end of an entirely different story.

The media phenomenon is much bigger and much better than the core movie, which isn’t a surprising or a necessarily bad thing, but now they’ve finally got around to a sequel, and whether or not the movie is any good is at issue again. It’s not.

In Frozen II, three years after the coronation of Queen Elsa of Arendelle (Idina Menzel), the kingdom is roughed up by untamed elemental forces. Elsa is called to the veiled forests to the north to tame the raging elements. She’s joined by her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and their enchanted pet snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), all of whom seem to be primarily driven by insecurity about being too far from Elsa – or in Olaf’s case, an existential dread of aging. They all go north and whine about it in song.

Frozen II is very noticeably aimed at long-term fans of the franchise. It feels kind of weird to have long-term fans of a franchise that’s only two movies in, but Frozen isn’t just its movies. It started with the 2013 smash-hit, and that’s bloomed into shorts and Broadway and Disney on-ice shows. It’s the new multimedia model, where a franchise’s overall media presence is more important than any given medium – certainly not a truly new thing, but Frozen has newly refined it for the ‘10s. I just now watched Frozen and then went straight into the sequel, but that’s the opposite of the typical experience here. For many, this was their first movie in the theaters, or first that they remember, and they’re the fans that have kept these characters relevant offscreen for the past six years.

It comes out as Frozen II having a lot of reverence for Frozen in the sort of ways you see long-displaced reboots having reverence for prior media from decades ago. The entire script is a gong-show of jokes mocking Anna for being so ready to agree to marry in the first movie. At one point, the entire story stops so Olaf can reenact the first film, as if we don’t remember – and who’s to say we do? For most viewers, it was six years ago.

This also comes out in the noticeable aging of Olaf and Kristoff as characters. Olaf, who has been enchanted to never melt and survived several summers despite being made of snow, has developed significant existential anxiety about aging, played out in his song, “When I’m Older.” Kristoff has now been with Anna long enough that it’s reasonable for her to marry him, and that’s now his entire presence, moping about the perfect proposal while having no impact on the plot.

The forest inhabitants are strongly coded as American Indian, and Elsa’s main goal ends up being to expose the historical lies in Arendelle about who started their war with them. It’s a dicey narrative to release over Thanksgiving weekend, and fits right in to Disney’s recent historical trend of acknowledging racial justice issues in their movies without actually addressing them.

Writer/director Jennifer Lee doesn’t seem to have known what to do with him, or anyone else for that matter. Elsa is driven by a desire to protect her people, but everyone else seems to be driven by worry, and all the songs are driven by worry as well. Characters spend less time actually being on the hero’s journey and more time singing about how anxious it makes them. #endthestigma and all that, I guess, but I’d like more interesting characters in my movies.

Most of the movie’s jokes are ripping on Anna for being so willing to marry someone she didn’t really know in the first movie, but many of the characters making those jokes in Frozen II demonstrate the same immaturity. They jump to conclusions about each other just as easily as she did about Hans, and then they have an entire song about it.

In most musicals, musical numbers are actually doing the business of the plot – confrontations, act shifts, plot-pushing decisions, declarations of love – and when they are solo acts about a lead character’s internality, they at least make some sort of decision or enumerate a firm motivation during the song. In the Frozen franchise, it’s just about their feelings. My first go watching the first movie, I found myself fast-forwarding through the songs, mostly because I was late for work, but partially because whenever characters are singing, nothing important is happening. I wanted to fast-forward through Frozen II as well.

This sequel will certainly serve its purpose. It’s claimed a couple of Thanksgiving weekend records and already vaulted into No. 12 on the year in domestic grosses, and will likely trickle up that list in the coming weeks with no real competition until Star Wars Dec. 20. This is a positive franchise, and it’s a good thing that it exists. But the movies themselves are just not great.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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