Guys. I’m really scared. I think this might be it.
I mean, I know we’ve had our share of close calls and near misses, but I can’t shake the feeling that this really is the big one. This is finally how it all ends.
I mean seriously, I am concerned. Have you heard about Raya and the Last Dragon? It’s the next canon movie, due for release in November of this year, which feels like a long time because we’re all doing jail time right now and time passes slower on the inside but it’s also really not that far away. And after that?
There are no officially announced Disney canon movies after Raya. And, while I’ll be the first to admit I’m not as plugged into the Disney fandom as I used to be I can’t say that I’m sensing a lot of hype for Raya. Plus, c’mon Disney. You’re really going to make a CGI Dragon movie? That’s, like, Dreamworks’ one thing that they still do well and you’re going to try to take it from them? For shame.
I mean, you don’t see Dreamworks trying to copy your movies. Ahem.
So it’s starting to feel like the Disney canon’s in trouble. Maybe that’s just me jumping the gun. Admittedly, not everyone feels the way I do about Wreck It Ralph 2. And maybe I’m just letting my impressions be coloured by the Disney company’s drift away from “movie company” to “Lexcorp-esque colossus of super-villainy”. Because I am all kinds of outraged about that. I mean, not enough to cancel my Disney + subscription or alter my spending habits in any way. But outraged enough to loudly proclaim how outraged I am on the internet? Oh yes. I am willing to be the hero this world needs.
But anyway Frozen 2. Usually before diving into a review I’ll give some background as to how the movie came about but how about we cut the shit? I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you how one morning Jennifer Lee shot bold upright in bed, struck with the inspiration for the next chapter of the Arrendelle saga that simply had to be told. We’re all grownups here (I hope, otherwise I really should lay of the cussin’). Frozen gifted the Disney company a fortune, and that fortune wanted a little brother or sister. A movie makes a certain amount of money, and a sequel is no longer optional. That’s why James Cameron is still threatening to smite the Earth with Avatar 2. And look, maybe it’s fine. Getting a bunch of talented people in a room and hoping the lightning strikes twice isn’t the craziest way to make a good movie. Maybe there is room for the story to go. Maybe Olaf’s character does need further exploration. Maybe the worst is behind us.
The movie begins by helpfully reminding me that I loved the music from the first film and getting me in the mood with a bit of the old “Na na na HEY ya na” which still sounds a bit like a schoolboy’s taunt but works nonetheless. We begin with a flashback to Anna and Elsa’s childhood, specifically right before Elsa accidentally gave her little sister a near-terminal brain freeze. Much as I loved the original, one area where I felt it was maybe a little lacking compared to the rest of the Redemption Era movies was in the animation. Not bad, obviously. Self-evidentally very, very good. But missing that breathtaking quality of something like Moana or Tangled. In this area (and pretty much only this area), Frozen 2 is a step up. There are some absolutely stunning shots, probably helped by the fact the autumnal setting gives the animators more of a colour palette to work from. The character animation is also just flawless. I mean, I kinda feel that’s redundant of me to say after reviewing 58 of these frickin’ things. Yeah, I know. News just in: The most accomplished animation house in history that’s been leading the field in technical excellence more or less continuously since the nineteen thirties did not suddenly forget how to do this shit. But since I will be saying some not particularly gentlemanly things about this flick further down the line let’s put that out front. Visually, it’s the mutt’s nuts. Although I do get that same feeling I did from Zootopia that I find the characters so visually appealing because Disney have worked out an algorithim to brute force my brain with precision calculated cuteness and I have literally no choice in the matter.
Anyway, King Agnarr puts the kids to bed by telling them the story of an enchanted forest that was guarded by the spirits of Earth, Fire, Water and
Smooth Jazz Air. The forest was home to the Northuldra, a tribe who gave off the distinct impression of painting with all the colours of the wind. Agnarr tells the girls that his father, King Runeard, built a dam for the Northuldra to “strengthen their water” and as a gesture of friendship (you wanna strengthen someone’s water, that’s what liquor’s for, just sayin’). Everything seemed to be going great, but then the Northuldrans suddenly attacked the Arrendellians and King Runeard was killed. The battle angered the spirits who basically broke up the fight like ancient elemental bouncers and then caused a great mist to descend on the forest, preventing anyone from entering. Agnarr was knocked unconscious and rescued by some mysterious person and returned to Arrendelle as its new king. Agnarr says that he wishes he knew who the person who rescued him was (he does, the lying bastich), and says that they have to be vigilant in case the forest spirits awaken again. Elsa asks her parents if they think the forest will re-awaken and Iduna says that “only Atahallan knows”, explaining that Atahallen is a mystical river that okay time out. Time out.
Frozen 2 represents a milestone in the Disney canon. This is the first of those movies where, after I’d seen it, someone asked me to describe the plot and I couldn’t do it. It was like I was describing a dream: “…um, Elsa and Anna go on a quest and there’s some…spirits? And a magic river? And Elsa thinks she’s meeting her girlfriend who’s the river but it turns out she’s being catfished by her mother’s ghost? And Anna almost destroys Arrendelle but Elsa saves it…there was a dam and some giants…”
This might be the plottiest of all the Disney canon movies, with a huge dollop of world-building and a mystery plot of all things. So there’s problem one. What are two kinds of movies that don’t typically benefit from elaborate, tricksy plots and tons of exposition? Children’s movies and musicals, a Venn diagram in which you will find Frozen 2 right at the point where the two circles are frenching.
Secondly…okay, so you want to switch genres and make Frozen’s sequel a Lord of the Rings-esque epic fantasy? Well, how can I put this politely, Disney? You need to up your game. The movie dumps a whole load of bland, cliché concepts on us and expects us to be invested enough to mentally compartmentalise this stuff. Fellowship of the Ring practically holds you down in its first fifteens minutes and reads you the sourcebook but it holds your interest because it makes you want to know about Sauron and Mordor and Isildur and Magic Rings and the Fish-Eating Cave Midgets Who Love Them. Frozen’s new fantasy status quo is overly complicated but it’s also unforgiveably bland. The Northuldra are dull, the elemental spirts are derivative and at least two could be cut without effecting the plot one whit. And there’s an unmistakeable stench of artificiality about the whole plot, of characters going somewhere or doing something for no better reason than that’s what the script needs them to do.
Well anyway, Iduna sings our first song All is Found, a sweet, simple little lullaby, and we time skip forward to after the first movie. Elsa is now queen of Arrendelle and handling it about as well as a freak banished to the attic for most of her life would. She’s also started hearing a strange voice singing to her which is always fun to know about your absolute monarch with superpowers. Meanwhile, Olaf is enjoying his new permafrost which Elsa gave him because the flurry he got at the end of the first movie was too much hassle to animate. So here’s a question for you. Where do you go with Olaf? What is left to explore with this character. Well, they decided to make him obsessed with death.
Yeah, Gravity Falls has been my corona virus binging buddy. Actually, this is not a bad concept at all. Olaf is a snow man who has lived long past his typical life expectancy so the idea that he’s become fixated on the idea of impermanence and nothing lasting forever makes a lot of sense. It’s one of a myriad of little things in the movie that I like in isolation but doesn’t really tie together into any kind of greater whole. Anyway, Anna is just loving life at the moment. The gates are open, she’s got her boyfriend and her sister and her little possessed snow-puppet it’s all good. Anna just wants things to say the way they are, as she sings in Some Things Never Change in which all our main characters get a chance to reiterate that everything is just so gosh darn great and surely no nebulous threat lurks on the horizon to threaten their happiness? This is my least favourite song in the movie. Not technically bad, but really saccharine and bland, like a Eurovision entry trying to get as many votes by being as generic and inoffensive as possible.
Kristoff is planning on proposing to Anna after the gang’s nightly game of charades. The charades game shows off what I think is one of the movie’s greatest strengths; the character animation. The “acting” in this scene is just flawless. Everything about Elsa’s body language perfectly conveys something quite complex; Elsa is happy and surrounded by people that she loves and trusts but she’s still naturally shy and awkward in her own skin. That’s two seemingly contradictory things the animators have to convey but it’s done so, so well. Helping matter is that Idina Menzel is somehow even better in the part than she was last time. There are so many little acting moments that I just love; the soft, mumbled “thank you” she gives to Sven during the game of charades, the defensive little “which I don’t!” in Into the Unknown, she is phenomenal in this. You can tell she knows this character inside and out.
Elsa hears the strange voice again and she leaves the game abruptly, causing Anna to run after her and blow up Kristoff’s plan to propose to her after the game of charades. Sigh. Kristoff. Dude. See this?
That’s the Great Blasket island off the coast of County Kerry. I took the future Ms Mouse there, sang her a song I’d written for her as we sat on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and then asked her if she’d be my wife.
I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you, you need to up your fucking game.
Okay, so because most of my criticisms will be on the script, how about we say something nice about the writing? While the plot’s a mess, many of the individual scenes are actually really nicely written. The scene where Anna follows Elsa to make sure she’s okay shows a good example of how short, seemingly everyday lines of dialogue can nonetheless clearly establish (or in this case, re-establish) character.
ANNA: Something’s wrong?
ELSA: (looking up, worried) With you?
Really simple, right? But with that one line of dialogue Elsa’s core character trait is established: she always puts other people first. Elsa convinces Anna that everything’s fine and they go to sleep. Elsa wakes up in the night and hears the mysterious voice calling to her again. This brings us to Into the Unknown.
Which, in my completely uncontroversial opinion, is even better than Let it Go.
Simply put, it’s a banger. I love the build up, those strings darkly humming in the background, raising and raising the tension until we get that final, ecstatic moment of release.
If I had to pick one reason why I love Disney movies it’s moments like this. Ariel on the rock singing her soul out, Notre Dame cathedral towering gloriously over the Parisian clouds and here. Elsa calling out across the fjords to a mysterious voice, summoning her to adventure. I love this so much. I love the animation, I love Idina Menzel’s singing as well as her acting. I still contend that she’s the best performer of songs in the whole Disney canon. I mean, there may have been better singers, and almost certainly better actors, but no one who can act this well while they are singing. And I love the Panic in the Disco Version. This song, quite frankly, is tops with me. Unfortunately, some damfool put a movie after it.
Suddenly, the town is attacked by freak weather and everyone is forced to evacuate. Elsa tells Anna that she accidentally awakened the elemental forces of the Enchanted Forest, an intuitive leap of deductive reasoning that would do Adam West proud. Pabbie and the trolls arrive and gives some obscure mumbo jumbo about the past not being what it seems and that unless they can appease the spirits there is no future for Arrendelle. Elsa says that she can feel that the voice that called her is good and resolves to go alone, and Anna resolves to go alone with her and Kristoff and Sven and Olaf and Reggie and Jughead and Hot Dog and the gang’s all here. They leave the trolls to rule over Arrendelle like a dodgy sub-reddit and head out to the Enchanted Forest which is surrounded by a wall of mist.
As beautiful as the imagery is, the wall makes the movie feel like a lazily designed video game, the kind of barrier they throw up to stop you wandering off the map. The mist parts at Elsa’s touch and they explore the Enchanted Forest. The find the dam still standing and Kristoff notes that it’s a good thing too, because if the dam broke everything on the fjord would be washed away, including Arrendelle.
Meanwhile, Olaf has wandered off to have his superflous comedy song that will advance the plot not one iota but what, we’re not going to give Josh Gad a song? When I Am Older isn’t terrible, but it definitely feels like a poor man’s In Summer.
It’s around this point that the movie just dumps a whole metric shit ton of STUFF on our heads and hopes we can sort it all out. The gang are attacked by the wind spirit and Elsa uses her ice powers against it which forms ice sculptures because fuck you, that’s why.
One of these ice sculptures is of a young boy (who they immediately recognise as their father) being saved by a young Northuldran woman (who they utterly fail to recognise as their mother). They then come across the Northuldra and the surviving Arrendelian soldiers and at first it seems like they’re still in a state of war but later we see the Arrendelians hanging out in the Northuldran camp like they’re all one big happy family so who even knows?
It’s not all bad. The scene where Olaf recounts the entire plot of the first movie is genuinely funny, and I do like Sterling K Brown as Mattias, the leader of the Arrendellians. He has a really nice scene where he asks Anna if the girlfriend he left behind in Arrendelle ever married and she says no and he smiles and then suddenly his face falls and he replies “Oh. Why don’t I feel better about that?”. Watching him go from “She waited for me!” to “Oh shit. She waited for me.” is lovely and again, another example of a single line of dialogue strongly establishing a character.
We also meet the fire spirit, which is just a repainted Pascal and the kind of extraneous Happy Meal bait I thought Disney had grown out of.
Well, if everyone else is falling back into old bad habits why can’t I?
The Northuldra recognise Anna’s scarf, which belonged to her mother and the sisters realise that Iduna was the Northuldra girl that saved Agnarr. Why Agnarr never told the girls that when there was no reason to keep it a secret and it would also make for the kind of mind-blowing twist that just makes a bed time story, who can say?
Elsa resolves to head North to Atahallan with Olaf and Anna, and they just kinda forget about Kristoff and leave him behind. Ouch.
This leads to Lost in the Woods, a faux-cheesy eighties hair metal track where Jonathan Groff finally gets a proper song to himself (look, I love Reindeers are Better than People but it’s not exactly Do You Hear the People Sing).
So here’s the thing, Frozen was a musical. Frozen 2 is a movie with songs. In a good musical, every song ideally should end with the setting having been established (“Little town, it’s a quiet village”) or the plot having been advanced (“Is simply why I’ll, be king undisputed respected, saluted…”), or a character having made a pivotal decision that effects the direction of the story (“Watch and you’ll see! One day I’ll be! Part of your world!”). Now obviously, that’s a rule very few musicals observe totally. Under the Sea is a highlight of Little Mermaid but it doesn’t really perform any service to the story other than to distract Sebastien so that Ariel can slip away. But if the songs consistently serve as interruptions to the story rather than organic parts of it, then it’s not really a musical, any more than a house full of hyenas can be called a zoo. and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the songs that do actually advance the plot; Into the Unknown, Show Yourself and The Next Right Thing are the songs that seem to have been the best received.
So Elsa, Anna and Olaf find the ship that their parents were lost on. On dry land. Where it was apparently washed up. From the bottom of the ocean. Maybe it just magically became bouyant again. Wood is notoriously capricious. Anyway, they find the ship’s black box (I am not kidding) where they find where their parents were going, to Atahallan. To find the source of Elsa’s magic. Elsa uses her magic to see her parents last moments because Bambi was almost eighty years ago and there’s a new generation of kids that need traumatising.
Realising that the journey to Atahallan is dangerous, Elsa tries to protect Anna by pushing her and Olaf down a mountain in an ice sleigh so that they almost drown in a river and then nearly get crushed by rock monster (I said “tries”). Anna is understandably pissed and she and Olaf try to find their way through a dark cave.
Trying to cross the dark sea, Elsa encounters the Nøkk, a water horse that is actually a creature from Scandinavian folklore and not just a shallow excuse to give Princess Elsa a magical horsie sold seperately. She tames the Nøkk using her ice powers which by this point have been established to have more applications than the goddamned sonic screwdriver and rides to Atahallan. She sings Show Yourself, where Elsa finally comes to a joyous realisation about the truth of her lesbia…
So Elsa uses her magic to perform her greatest feat feat; actually explaining the damn plot and learns that, much like pretty much every historical figure born before 1970, her grandfather Rudeard was actually a bastard who built the dam to weaken the Northuldra, attacked their leader unprovoked and was almost certainly a rapist. I mean, they don’t say that, but balance of probability and all that. Learning the truth shocks Elsa to her core and freezes her heart, but she manages to get a message to Anna using, get this, her ice powers. Guys, I’m starting to think that what Elsa has is less “ice powers” and more “fucking omnipotence”.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Frozen movie without one moment of pure, pitch black hopelessness. I said in my review of the original that Do You Want to Build a Snowman is abut the death of hope, but Do The Next Right Thing is about soldiering on and doing what’s right even after all hope is lost. Anna’s just lost her sister, and with Elsa seemingly dead Olaf dies too, right before her eyes, bringing Anna to a state of total despair which the movie renders with a stunning, painterly beauty.
I love this song, not really for the melody but for the poignant, elegiac lyrics and Kirsten Bell’s heart-breaking performance. Anna decides that the only way to set things right is to destroy the dam, freeing the river and and destroying Arrendelle in the process as a way of atoning for the kingdom’s crimes against the Northuldra.
With Kristoff’s help she lures the giants to the dam and they destroy it, which sends a massive tidal wave hurtling towards Arrendelle. With the river freed, the elemental spirts thaw Elsa and she uses her ice powers to stop the tidal wave and save the kingdom.
Reunited, Elsa reveals that she is fifth elemental spirt so she’s going to stay in the Enchanted Forest now and cedes the throne to Anna, the woman who almost destroyed the kingdom so that’s going to make for an awkward coronation.
And of course Elsa is able to restore Olaf because she is basically icy Jesus at this point.
If Frozen was a sumptuous banquet, Frozen 2 is a box of chocolates. There’s lots of gorgeous little bits. An awesome song here, a sumptuous shot there, a fantastic little moment of character animation and a funny line whither and whence. But it’s not a cohesive whole and eating it all in one go is not a meal. It’ll just leave you feeling over-stuffed and a little queasy.
Bumps up from “Wow” to “WOW”.
Much as I love Elsa and Anna, they lose a few points here from being trapped in an unsatisfying story.
I went back and forth as to whether Rudeard even counts as a villain given that he’s been dead half a century by the time the movie starts. But then I thought “Mouse, do you want this movie to get a good score?” “No, Mouse” I replied. “No I do not.”
Supporting Characters: 05/20
Okay, movie? WHEN THE GODDAMNED WIND IS A CHARACTER YOU HAVE TOO MANY CHARACTERS.
Has the best song in either movie, but more uneven overall.
FINAL SCORE: 61%
NEXT UPDATE: 30 April 2020
NEXT TIME: What’s up, danger?