Few movies seemed more likely to be made than Frozen 2. When Frozen was released in 2013, it’s hard to imagine that even Disney expected it to be the hit it turned out to be, the highest grossing animated film of all time (well, until the remake of The Lion King, at least) and a true cultural phenomenon led by the undeniable power of Idina Menzel’s central ballad “Let it Go.” Disney loves a sequel even when it isn’t the most successful example of an art form in history, but they especially love a sequel when it is. So yes, Frozen 2 was made to the surprise of absolutely no one. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return to the chair, with Lee once again providing the screenplay and EGOT winner Robert Lopez and his partner Kristen Anderson-Lopez writing a new set of songs.
This time around, Elsa (Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are still living their happy lives in Arendelle, with Elsa running the country and Anna living happily ever after with her beau Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). Everything seems hunky dory until Elsa begins hearing a mysterious voice singing that no one else seems to acknowledge. The source of the singing seems to be a mysterious and magical forest cloaked in an impenetrable mist that happened to be the setting of a story their father Agnarr (Alfred Molina) used to tell them as children. His father had formed an alliance with the denizens of the forest, only for them to attack the Arendelle forces seemingly out of nowhere, killing all but the young Agnarr. In the present day, Elsa, Anna and their loved ones must venture into the forest and uncover the truth behind what happened there.
It’s clear that Lee, Buck and Disney are perfectly happy to double down on everything that made Frozen such a success. Menzel has two big ballads this time around, both of them clearly positioned to be the next “Let it Go,” and Olaf is just as irreverent and relentlessly cheery as ever. In general, not much has happened to the status quo since the end of the first film, stewarding the franchise forward without having to upset the younger viewers who made the first film the smash hit it was. There are some interesting aspects to the story, namely how it plays with time in an almost Annihilation-esque way, but those moments are fleeting at best. The music is...okay? Nothing is as powerful as “Let it Go” or “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” nothing as earwormy as “Frozen Heart.” It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not particularly memorable either. That in itself is a microcosm of Frozen 2 as a whole, to be honest.
There are some moments that successfully recapture the energy of the first film. Frozen 2 is rather unsurprisingly at its best when it focuses in on what made the first in the series so charming, namely the relationship between its central sisters, orphans who grew apart only to grow stronger together, a far more important development than the standard Disney princess romance plot. That was there, of course, but served more as a distraction and and red herring compared to what really mattered. Frozen 2 explores that aspect of the story more deeply, specifically honing in on Elsa’s isolation even as she surrounds herself with loved ones. That tinge of self-destruction and martyrdom is still in place, but it manifests in different ways. Elsa remains the most intriguing character of the bunch, and the movie is all the better for it when she’s the focus. Menzel gets plenty of opportunities to make use of her stellar voice (even if the song quality is a clear step down), as is to be expected. Anna, on the other hand, always saw herself as a reflection of the relationships she has (which made her estrangement from her sister so painful in the first film), and here that causes her to get a bit lost at times.
There’s definitely some diminishing returns when it comes to the rest of the cast as well, especially when it comes to Olaf. At the outset, he takes on a pointedly existentialist bent, cheerily asking what it all means and flirting with almost depressive tendencies. That’s not unlike Forky, the breakout character from Toy Story 4, but where much of that film was about his desire to discover what it means to be a sentient being, Olaf drops the approach about as quickly as he brought it up. Gad is practically insufferable about halfway through the film, and when the intrepid group is inevitably split up as they work toward the film’s climax, you treasure when he’s off screen and dread when he returns. Kristoff spends most of the film messing up various attempts to propose to Anna and little more. He was certainly more of a force in the first film.
There are other questionable choices, especially one particularly bizarre tonal shift in the middle of the film, but more often than not, Frozen 2 is just sort of...there. Disney as a company has always played it safe and zealously guarded their intellectual property by refusing to take chances. That’s painfully clear with Frozen 2, the sort of film that feels like a band trying to get out of their record contract by recording and releasing the most perfunctory final album. Frozen 2 seems designed to avoid moving the needle in any real way positively or negatively, and in that sense it succeeds, but the result is a movie barely worth much of any thought at all. The more of a cultural juggernaut Disney becomes, the more we’ll see movies like this, happy to toe the line, nothing more and nothing less. And they’ll make billions upon billions of dollars in the process.
Ain’t life grand?