Walt Disney Animation Studios has seen another incredible renaissance throughout the 2010’s. Despite a rather extended down period through the 2000’s, which saw Disney’s in-house animation arm completely overshadowed by fellow Disney subsidiary, Pixar, Disney’s in-house animation studio subsequently rebounded at the start of the decade with Tangled, and that success has been replicated by other recent Disney animation projects such as Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 as well. Arguably the biggest and most well-known success to come from Disney Animation’s 2010’s catalogue however is Frozen, a long-in-development adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen, which took over the world upon its theatrical debut in 2013, and has persisted as one of the most recognized modern Disney brands ever since.
Thus, the fact that Frozen was going to get a sequel was as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun, but thanks to the advancements and heightened standards of the modern era, Disney sequels are no longer relegated to the realm of direct-to-video cash-ins. As the surprisingly good Ralph Breaks the Internet proved last year, a Disney sequel can be something more now, perhaps even a production that genuinely aims to replicate and expand upon the appeal of its predecessor, rather than just double down on what’s already been done. To its credit as well, Frozen II manages to do that for the most part, expanding the world of the franchise well beyond Arendelle and the neighbouring lands, to explore an all-new storyline with all-new stakes, all-new threats, and all-new implications for co-lead, Elsa in particular!
There’s clearly a ton of effort put into blowing up the scale of Frozen’s world in Frozen II, but for all of this sequel’s heightened scope, the diminished novelty nonetheless prevents this follow-up from measuring up to the incredible legacy of its 2013 predecessor. That’s not to say that Frozen II is bad though. It’s still one of the better animated movies to hit theatres this year, despite being thoroughly outclassed by Pixar’s Toy Story 4 and Dreamworks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. As impressive and grand an adventure that Frozen II offers however, its contrived storytelling and inability to commit to its themes of addressing growth and change prevent it from truly achieving its full potential. Frozen fans will still love this sequel nonetheless, and will no doubt especially enjoy revisiting it when it inevitably comes to Disney+ in the future, though considering the sheer, positively obnoxious scope of the modern Frozen phenomenon, this follow-up is probably also going to disappoint people that are expecting another instant classic.
Frozen II brings back all of the previous movie’s established lead characters, and their respective voice actors, between Kristen Bell’s Anna, Idina Menzel’s Elsa, Josh Gad’s Olaf, and Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff. Antagonists from the original Frozen, such as the crooked Duke of Weselton, and the treacherous Prince Hans, don’t return for this sequel (at least not outside of a quick vision of archive footage later in the movie), but that’s fine, since it means that Frozen II can focus on inventing new obstacles and dangers. These dangers primarily come in the form of a beckoning for Elsa, namely toward the hidden Enchanted Forest, which has a surprising connection to Elsa’s and Anna’s family. After the founding magical elements of Arendelle destabilize as well, threatening the entire kingdom with destruction, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf have no choice but to journey to the Enchanted Forest, which will give Elsa the chance to discover where her icy powers may have originated from.
I can’t say much more than that without spoilers, but I will say that the reunion with the lead Frozen characters is pretty entertaining and exciting in this sequel. They’re once again very well-performed, especially when the actors are allowed to take advantage of the increase in storytelling scope, allowing them to stretch their characters’ depths and emotions to new and interesting heights. The veteran characters are also complemented by several worthy new additions, including Sterling K. Brown’s displaced Arendelle guard, Mattias, Evan Rachel Wood and Alfred Molina now voicing Elsa’s and Anna’s respective parents in this sequel, since they have more bearing on the storyline compared to the first movie, and The Goonies’ Martha Plimpton as Yelena, the leader of the magical Northuldra tribe, who carry the secrets that Elsa’s crew is looking to find and utilize to save Arendelle.
All of these personalities are great, even when Frozen II makes the surprising decision to not feature a centralized villain, despite the fact that its story premise and execution are outright begging for one. This is reflected in Frozen II’s desire to be more deep, introspective and mature than its predecessor was, focusing less on clear-cut bad guys, and more on a person-vs.-nature conflict that’s all about coming together to save a struggling world, and perhaps more than one! It’s an interesting, not to mention timely, approach for Frozen II’s ensemble cast, but disappointingly, when Frozen II gets an opportunity to really change up the dynamic of its core character ensemble, it frustratingly wimps out. This leaves a cast of characters that are 90% committed to exploring deep ideas and really pushing this sequel further, but that remaining 10% really hurts the lasting appeal behind the kind of themes that Frozen II attempts to examine, making for a sequel that sets out for plenty of ambition with its cast, but doesn’t end up fully realizing all of it.
Whereas the original Frozen felt very much like one of Disney’s usual fairy tale adaptations, even with its desire to switch up a few tropes, Frozen II goes in a rather different narrative direction, instead positioning itself as more of a serious-minded fantasy movie. In fact, at times this sequel even presents itself a bit like a role-playing video game, centering around a party of characters that go to a fantasy setting, and explore around it, finding secrets and macguffins, and helping out the local populace while on their quest. This does indeed help Frozen II avoid the feeling of being a cynical, rehashed sequel as well, allowing the previous movie to fully stand on its own, while the sequel takes the familiar Frozen characters on a very different journey, to achieve a very different goal.
On the surface, this results in a commendably ambitious sequel that’s full of interesting new creatures, magic and challenges. That said however, it’s unfortunately true that Frozen II’s weakest element is its storyline, which isn’t terrible by any means, but lacks the potent thematic power that the original Frozen seemed to have in spades. Even when this sequel tries to explore new ideas and new settings, it’s too often proceeded by Deus Ex Machina’s that transparently move the plot along, rather than any actual decision or agency employed by the characters. There are exceptions of course, namely a pretty exciting climax that finally does involve a decisive battle for the world of Frozen, but even then, the characters too often feel like spectators in their own adventure, having to act according to the whims of the spirits and magic around them, rather than actually having the means to do anything on their own terms.
This also ends up highlighting the biggest frustration with Frozen II’s narrative, specifically the fact that its final result feels annoyingly toothless, despite this sequel’s desire to explore the ideas behind change, maturity and new circumstances. In the end though, Frozen II ends up being overly glossy and thematically confused in its final execution, failing to provide much in the way of lasting consequences for the characters, even when all of Arendelle is seemingly at stake. There are so many missed opportunities for Frozen II to more earnestly switch up the status quo, and go all the way with its more mature-minded narrative. Despite that though, this does remain a movie that’s trying to be friendly to children, and a Disney movie on top of that, so you can imagine that Frozen II is only going to go so far in terms of the challenging ideas that it tries to explore. It’s a shame though, because Frozen II pulling its thematic punches in the eleventh hour, in favour of easy answers and the expected Hollywood ending, immediately dooms it to stay in the shadow of its more memorable predecessor, even if I imagine that Disney is the culprit here, more so than the writers, because Disney no doubt doesn’t want anything threatening a seemingly inevitable Frozen III.
Co-directing team, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee both return to share directing duties on Frozen II, and that’s ideal, since it allows this sequel to very authentically fit into the world and style of its predecessor. Both directors clearly have a lot of big ideas for this follow-up production too, stretching both the animation and the story foundation to impressive new heights, in an effort to create a world that honours the previous movie, but nonetheless tries to boldly forge a new path. In that respect, Frozen II does feel like it’s directed very similarly to previous Disney Animation sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, namely by trying to take the familiar protagonists, and place them into a much larger, more unpredictable world. Because of this, it still feels like this sequel is adhering to a formula, just a bit. Nonetheless, Buck and Lee still do everything they can to make sure that Frozen II never feels like it’s re-treading its predecessor.
To that end, the character and direction behind the Enchanted Forest has to uphold most of this sequel’s narrative, and it does manage to do this pretty well, on both counts. There’s a handful of really standout action scenes that noticeably push the boundaries of the storytelling beyond what the original Frozen strove for, and the song sequences are always nice to look at, even if the songs themselves aren’t quite as memorable as those in the original Frozen. Buck and Lee experiment with a lot of humour and narrative styles throughout this movie too, while pushing the tone to be a little more adult with the performances and the presentation, yet still keeping the visuals and characterization upbeat and fun, so children aren’t bored. There’s clearly a ton of effort put into making Frozen II stand out and never settle into a creative rut, so it’s always interesting to look at and listen to, even when the storytelling and songwriting aren’t quite as potent as what the original movie offered.
Considering that the musical suite was such a big part of the original Frozen, Frozen II obviously spares no expense to bring back the same composers. Christophe Beck once again oversees the movie’s score, which is another otherworldly, yet charming blend of spirited adventure and strange magic. Husband-and-wife team, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez also once again write and compose the lyrical songs throughout Frozen II, which are good, but certainly not on par with the original Frozen’s song selection. The best song from this sequel is likely, “Into the Unknown”, which is sung by Idina Menzel during a particular character-defining moment for Elsa, and it’s difficult to deny that this song is most trying to be positioned as the successor to, “Let it Go”, complete with a Panic at the Disco! cover that plays over this movie’s credits, and a guest stint in the new Just Dance 2020 video game. The thing is though, there is no replacing, “Let It Go”, which is an incredible capturing of lightning-in-a-bottle from a musical standpoint, so while you’ll enjoy the Frozen II’s songs in the moment, they won’t really stick out in your mind afterward.
The rest of the audio design in Frozen II does appear to kick things up a notch though, likely because of this sequel’s efforts to really blow up the scale of its world and narrative. The audio still isn’t too overbearing, even in premium formats like IMAX, likely because Disney doesn’t want to scare young children, but it’s still easy to get the sense that the audio is working hard to create a sense of heightened stakes. Despite the lack of a centralized villain, the more powerful magic and more otherworldly creatures in the Enchanted Forest do attempt to create a greater sense of danger than the more emotion-driven first movie did, and this does at least lead to a pretty impressive audio suite. Some may be taken off-guard by Frozen II suddenly appearing to want to position itself as a more gripping, serious-minded fantasy movie in contrast to its predecessor, but if you happen to have a taste for those sorts of movies, you’ll be pleased to see that this sequel is fully intent on trying to capitalize on its audio engineering, in order to feel more atmospheric and dangerous in equal measure.
Disney has spent most of this entire decade being on the bleeding edge of animated movie production, between their in-house animation studio, and their leading subsidiary animation outfit, Pixar. As per usual, Frozen II upholds this immense quality standard with an incredibly ambitious visual suite, one that truly dwarfs the already-impressive animation from the original Frozen! Now that the characters are going to a more unpredictable fantasy realm for this sequel, there’s more of a chance for Frozen II to flex different animation flourishes, creating entire creatures based around founding elements like fire and water. Even then though, Elsa’s icy powers, despite being a little more reined in for this follow-up at times (surprisingly), still look fantastic, as do the character models, environments and visual directing flourishes that are utilized for the musical moments, the humour and the action alike. As much as this past June’s Toy Story 4 was definitely a better movie than Frozen II, if Frozen II has one thing over Pixar’s latest sequel, it’s the fact that it’s pushing its animation a lot further, and trying for a much larger scope, which it consistently achieves to outstanding effect.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see Frozen II in 3D, since my screening was in a merely 2D IMAX format. I will say however that watching the movie in 2D didn’t feel like a huge loss, even if there were a few visual flourishes that definitely did feel like they were put together with 3D glasses in mind, especially during some of the song sequences. I will also say that the IMAX cut of Frozen II ended up being a bit disappointing, not really taking advantage of the larger screen real estate, nor the chance to really pump up the audio to impressive degrees. In this case, I imagine that the 3D is probably more worth it than the IMAX upgrade, so if you have the choice, I would stick with a standard theatre, but shell out for the 3D glasses if you have that option. Either way though, Frozen II stands alongside How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World as the most visually impressive and awe-inspiring animated movie of 2019, outpacing even the already-gorgeous original Frozen in terms of its amazing visual spectacle.
Frozen II is a great animated movie and a good sequel, but it’s also kind of a frustrating experience at times, because it clearly holds back with some of its artistic ambition. This follow-up looks gorgeous, sounds great, and is still a delight to experience, especially when we get another movie with the lovable Frozen leads, but it’s not all it could be, and definitely not all it deserved to be. If you loved the original Frozen, then you’ll still be satisfied with this sequel, but it’s also difficult to deny that Frozen II intentionally crippled its own themes of progression and change, which deftly ensured that it couldn’t possibly live up to its trope-challenging predecessor.
That being said, it’s nonetheless commendable that Frozen II tried so hard to separate itself from the original, which is a big deal, because a rehash of Frozen still would have made Disney a boatload of money. Frozen II did try to go the extra mile with its narrative though, despite Disney clearly intervening with the ending in particular, so as not to write the franchise into a corner when it comes time to make another sequel. This leaves Frozen II unwilling to explore some of its big thematic ideas to a fault, even if the adventure within it is still engaging and fun in the moment. Frozen II is thus still an entertaining spectacle for kids and adults alike, and while the original Frozen was definitely better and more fully-realized, Frozen II proves that there’s plenty of interesting new territory to explore in this world, beyond the foundation of its original fairy tale inspiration.
- The same lovable characters facing interesting new challenges
- Ambitious effort to increase the world's scope
- Stellar animation remains dazzling throughout
- Storytelling is less consistent and clever
- Songs are much less memorable