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On Disney+: “Frozen II” melts down

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
2.5stars
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter
Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Release Date: Nov. 21, 2019

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved “Frozen.”

I knew this girl in passing and had heard that she was a “Frozen” fan, but I didn’t understand the severity of her fandom until I housesat for her parents one week. As her mom was giving me the pre-housesitting tour, I noticed her watching the film and saying every line verbatim before the characters did.

Such an incident is not unique but certainly telling when examining the greater influence of the “Frozen” franchise in general. While most films have their moment and evaporate into the culture ether, “Frozen” has endured.

I could theorize about why that is – it could be the characters, the music or the simple but powerful message of how “love melts a frozen heart”- but it would just be theory. If “Frozen” taught us anything, it is that you can, on occasion, capture lightning in a bottle.

But, if “Frozen II” teaches us anything, it’s that lightning never strikes in the same place twice.

The same creative team from the first “Frozen” has returned but with little of the original’s magic. You can almost see the flop sweat on everyone involved as they strain to make a new children’s classic.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

At times, they make “Frozen II” work out of sheer force. But beautiful animation, charming characters and solid songs can’t quite save the film from a story so muddled that I’m not really sure how to synopsize it.

I’m pretty sure it has something to do with elemental spirits- giants made out of stone, a horse made out of water, a lizard that can spontaneously combust etc. There’s also an enchanted forest and the whitest-looking “Native people” I have ever seen in a film. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is hearing voices that might be A) her ghost mom or b) early warning signs of schizophrenia.

Also, reindeer sing a Queen homage. “Why Queen?” you may ask. “Why not?” the filmmakers reply.

This “Why not?” school of filmmaking is the default for “Frozen II.” It’s as if directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck took every idea thrown around at a brainstorming session and squeezed them all into the movie.

The film is, to be frank, a muddled mess – so much so that it’s never entirely clear why anything is happening at any given time. It just is.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

The messaging of the film is equally confused as it trades the original film’s message of sisterly love for something about making reparations for past misdeeds. This could have been interesting- a deeper, more thoughtful princess movie – if Lee and Buck didn’t walk it back so that none of the characters had to face any consequences for those misdeeds.

The film ends on a note of “If you do the right thing, everything will work out in the end.” This is all very nice and appropriately fairy tale-ish, but, as anyone who has lived in the real world for five minutes knows, not realistic. Sometimes, there are consequences to your actions and the actions of others, and I think kids need to know that.

One advantage of the messy script is that it forces the audience to focus on the film’s smaller pleasures of which there are many. The film’s leading foursome – Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad- fully inhabit these characters and know what makes them tick. The animation and design- especially of the elemental spirits- is drop dead gorgeous.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are, if not up to “Frozen” quality, still catchy earworms. Menzel sings the hell out of “Into the Unknown”, a power ballad that I’m already seeing performed in high school and middle school concerts. Groff makes that ridiculous Queen number a comedic highlight. Bell and Gad also have their chances to shine.

In the battle of the unnecessary Disney sequels, I’m inclined to give this one a slight advantage over “Toy Story 4” since, unlike the “Toy Story” franchise, it feels like there are still stories to tell in this world. The magic, at least some of it, is still there.

If you’re searching for solid family entertainment, you could do much worse. But I also don’t see “Frozen II” resonating with young girls in the same way “Frozen” did. Those who grew up on the original may start to question why they loved this franchise in the first place.

So, yeah, “Frozen II” (rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements) could have been much worse. But it’s also enough of a hot mess to make you wish Disney would just “let it go” already.

About the author

Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves.  He can be reached at staticandscreen@gmail.com.

 

 

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Disney+

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