Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; produced by Peter Del Vecho
After dangerous and exciting adventures, Queen Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) and her sister, Princess Anna (voice of Kristen Bell), have spent several years in quiet contentment with their people in the Kingdom of Arendelle. But as Anna contemplates the inconstancy of things in life, Elsa begins hearing a magical voice, a voice that becomes a summons she can’t resist. She, Anna, the latter’s boyfriend, Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff), and Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) go in search of the voice’s origin. What they find will change all of them.
It’s perhaps a movie cliche that sequels are never as good as the originals, and this is the case with Frozen II. One of the problems is that originals, whether movies, books or vocal recordings, are often made after years of preparation, honing stories, phrases, sounds, and getting everything just right. Sequels are distributed as soon as something can be slapped together that will be finished enough to draw a paying crowd.
Frozen II is not as bad as that. It is, in fact, not bad at all - but neither is it very good. Something that is missing here appears to be direction - not the kind that determines who says what when, but the kind that keeps a story on its appropriate path. With the initial song, the subject of which is inevitable change, a viewer expects that to be the theme; the movie ends with that sentiment. But in between, it meanders. Other story elements are introduced: a secret from the Arendelle Royal Family’s past; Kristoff’s attempt to propose to Anna; nature-spirits; a little fire-lizard (salamander?) whose flames cause some excitement but are essentially a waste of five minutes of the film… Some of these aspects of the story go nowhere.
Aside from aimless sub-plots, there are features of the writing that are not consistent, such as Elsa’s encounters with the nature-spirits. These sometimes take the form of an angry ocean, at other times a horse made of ice; likewise they are variable in their reaction to Elsa, sometimes seeming to help her and other times hindering her, eventually even freezing her. How was that last action accomplished, given Elsa’s powers, we don’t learn. And the origin of the mysterious voice is pretty much a shaggy dog story: was Elsa being called? Was the entity behind the voice conscious? Was its intent to bring Elsa to her destination?
As well, details are not as thoroughly considered as in the first movie. Now, Arendelle seems to comprise little more than the town of that name. Elsa is queen but when she travels, she has to borrow a peasant’s cart. Knowledge of the setting’s background seems scanty compared to the preceding film.
The songs are forgettable. There is usually one blockbuster, a memorable tune, an instance of great singing, in a musical. There is nothing of the sort here, though Kristoff’s lament regarding his love for Anna sticks in the mind for odd reasons. Out of place compared to the other show-tunes, it is a 1980s-style song, in which the back-up chorus is supplied by reindeer. I have no idea whether it was meant to be taken seriously or not.
The animation remains first-rate. There are a number of scenes in which the facial expressions of the characters are very realistic, even if the faces themselves remain the exaggerated forms of cartoons. In particular, there is a moment when Elsa is contemplating a raging sea, and the viewer knows exactly what she is thinking, despite the absence of words, or even of motion in her countenance.
Despite the number of negative paragraphs overwhelming the positive in this review, Frozen II was perfectly watchable; certainly it’s better than most animated fare offered these days. But it could have been much better. Its principal fault is a lazy story and uncertain themes. Frozen deserved either a much better sequel – or none at all.