Early into Frozen 2 — the sequel to the 2013 hit Disney animated musical film — one of the two leads in Elsa (Idina Menzel) sings: “I’ve had my adventure, I don’t need something new. I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you.” Those lyrics are part of “Into the Unknown”, a solo with a wordless appearance for the Norwegian singer Aurora that comes closest to the earworm success of “Let It Go”, but they can also be read as a reference to the film’s existence in the first place. Outside of the fact that the original made over a billion dollars and became the biggest animated movie of all time upon its release, why did Disney make Frozen 2? And does it have a bigger purpose than to simply refuel Disney’s merchandising efforts?
The short, easy answer: not really. The original Frozen took on fairy-tale conventions — among them, a gullible Anna (Kristen Bell) as she quickly fell in love with Hans, who turned out to be not “Prince Charming” but the villain — and gave them a modern spin. What made it even more interesting was that Disney itself has been responsible for most of those fairy-tales. It almost felt like the studio was having a laugh at its own expense. Almost. And others construed “Let It Go” to have pro-LGBT undertones, which led fans to speculate if Elsa would be Disney’s first lesbian princess. But Frozen 2 neither re-defies fairy tales nor goes further with Elsa’s unexplored sexuality. It plays it safe.
That doesn’t mean Frozen 2 — from returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, working off a script by Lee — has nothing to say. But its new themes, which have to do with environmentalism, indigenous people, historical wrongs, and supportive male partners, though important on their own, aren’t delivered with the same conviction and style of the 2013 original. Its messaging lacks the emotional resonance that was at the heart of Frozen, and ultimately, feels half-baked. And in being more mature, Frozen 2 is aimed at the kids who grew up with the first one, which means parents will likely need to do more explaining to the younger ones, as seemed to be the case at the India premiere.
Frozen 2 begins with a flashback to Elsa and Anna’s childhood, where their parents — King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) and Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) — essentially set up the building blocks of the sequel, involving an enchanted forest that was enveloped in an impenetrable fog after the four forest spirits were enraged for reasons not entirely clear. Thirty-four years later and a little over three years since the events of the original film, everything is fine and dandy in the kingdom of Arendelle. As further proof, the cast croons how “Some Things Never Change”. Except Elsa is being pulled to a mysterious voice only she can hear, which is all the more alluring given the title of Queen has never really been her true desire.
In her attempts to reach out via song — this is where “Into the Unknown” comes in — Elsa accidentally awakens the enchanted forest spirits, which in turn take out their anger on Arendelle, putting her people out of a home. Now, Elsa has no option but to journey north towards said forest. Anna protests because she’s concerned for her sister, but she — and her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and the talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) — eventually tag along. It’s here that Frozen 2 properly kicks into gear, with the makers getting the opportunity to showcase new locales and magical elements, as they make use of autumn’s range of colours, Nordic folklore, and salamanders to bring it to life.
Narratively, Frozen 2 is fairly predictable, either because it hints too strongly or because its twists aren’t original at all. And in filling in gaps and addressing held-over queries, it ends up revisiting what it sort of tackled already in the first film: family bonds. It doesn’t know how to add to what has come before, and hence it can’t provide the character growth that a sequel demands. The more interesting family thread is the one that deals with the sins of the past. Its message is progressive as it should be, but the need to have a happy ending gets in the way. Other characters suffer too. Kristoff has no role in the plot, so he’s ruled out of Frozen 2 midway, and Olaf’s concerns about growing up are never brought home.
For what it’s worth, those two — Olaf and Kristoff — are responsible for some of the biggest laughs in Frozen 2. (At the India premiere, the younger ones hollered the most at Olaf’s inquisitiveness and obliviousness, and Elsa’s showcase of her near-limitless powers.) Though most of Olaf’s comedic lines will likely be too on-the-nose for adults, a standout moment for Gad is his breathless recap of the events of the original. Speaking of self-aware humour, Elsa admits she too can’t stand “Let It Go”, the closest Frozen 2 comes to a fourth wall-breaking moment. With Kristoff, the highlight is “Lost in the Woods”, a power ballad that channels ‘80s glam rock and is replete with every music video cliché you can dream of. It’s deliberately cheesy and campy, and it’s a hoot.
But those delightful scenes aren’t enough to lift up a sequel that simply isn’t as inspired as the original in both forms of writing: the story or the songs. (Wife-husband duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez return as the songwriters, and they also played a part on the former too this time around.) Sure, Frozen 2 had bigger boots to fill since no one at Disney expected Frozen to become the hit that it did. But director Buck and writer-director Lee are unable to spin a new yarn that has the same staying power as Olaf in permafrost. In the end, it ends up being a film that has lots to show but little to say, a common critique for films today that are trying to cash in.
Of course, if Frozen 2 ends up making a billion dollars as well on the back of the original’s success, Disney will no doubt want a third entry somewhere down the line. But — to paraphrase Elsa — I’ve had my adventure and I’m afraid of what Disney risks if it follows the money.
Frozen 2 is out November 22 in cinemas in India in English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.