Frozen II is an exceptionally weird movie, angrily wrestling the title of “weirdest modern Disney film” from Ralph Breaks the Internet before that movie could even get comfortable with its new crown. That doesn’t mean it’s a good movie, because it’s hard to tell, but it is a very interesting one, filled with a lot of heavy themes that are wonderfully too complex for the core audience that’s going to see this opening weekend (the kids in my screening were not laughing or having fun), and while it doesn’t tie these themes together with its barely-there narrative as strongly as I would have liked, there is enough good here that it doesn’t much matter if the overall movie is lesser than the sum of its parts, because the sum is large.
Three years after sisterly love saved the kingdom of Arendelle and Santino Fontana’s lovely performance as the douchebag Hans was written out of the series, everything is normal and everyone is happy, except for Queen Elsa herself. She starts hearing a voice coming from a far-off forest shrouded in mist, and reluctantly taking along Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf, they set out on another adventure. For the most part, that’s where the plot of Frozen II ends. Those mysterious trailers, filled almost entirely with footage not in the final film, were mostly mysterious about the film’s plot because there really isn’t all that much to it. The focus of Frozen II is on the characters and ideas, and how those two things clash against each other with righteous fury. The internal logic just isn’t there from the original, and with magic being a much stronger focal point, things like spatial awareness and setting up defined rules becomes much more important. The world, in becoming bigger, feels much quieter and smaller. There aren’t the fun side-characters that help us limp through exposition like in the first film, and aside from the ending, there’s not much adventure to this adventure.
Which is what makes Frozen II a hard film to write about. That’s the point. Sure, there’s no real adventure, and yeah, it’s a lot less fun to watch, but that’s because the movie is instead interested in political allegories and the ramifications of what its characters do. A lot of time is spent on the hurt and confusion left in the wake of Elsa’s spells of running off to find herself on her own, and seeing characters allowed to be angry for honest, human reasons in these films is always so exciting. A lot of the film’s themes are really exciting, not the least of which is “the right thing to do has a price”. While I could complain (and I am, technically, in a roundabout way) about the resolution to some of these themes, as they have a lot more potential to be conflicting and difficult than they end up being, it’s still a Disney film, even if the thing it’s the least good at is being a Disney film.
As a film without a plot, there’s no real villain to speak of, and the lack of the ticking clock from the first film sucks a lot of the drama out. Films can succeed without these things, sure, but they’re so ingrained in basic screenwriting technique that it can be really disorienting to see the film try and walk, shakily and stumbling, without them. As well, the movie isn’t really all that funny, and the songs are almost uniformly emotional laments. Even Olaf’s song is all about trying to pass off existential dread and idealizing maturity, so the jokes there are undercut by this very real sadness; the only song that feels at home with the first film is Kristoff’s song just because Jonathan Groff is so good at hamming it up that it’s impossible not to laugh.
While the songs are dour, they’re not bad at all. As a lover of musical theater, hearing Groff, Idina Menzel, and Josh Gad do what they do best is an absolute treat, and Kristen Bell has improved since the first film to now stand tall alongside her Broadway co-stars. Also heavily improved was the animation, where simple physics and facial structures look about as good as they can look in this art style, conveying emotion and weight expertly. So much of Frozen II is a blast that when it’s not in a song or getting weirdly into emotional pains, the film slags and grinds to a halt, especially because the more normal moments are not good enough at being familiar and fun to remedy the inevitable confusion and disappointment that a lot of families will feel walking out.
This is a very clever film, probably more clever than it has any right to be, and it knows that. It’s not smug, but it is proud, showcasing its risks and self-imposed limitations with a beaming smile. With that, it’s hard to recommend, because lovers of the first film won’t find the repeated formula they’re looking for, and haters of the first film won’t have any interest in coming back to this world in the first place. That probably makes the decisions in Frozen II the wrong ones, as it will be a markedly less successful film than the first. I do quite like some wrong decisions from time to time, though.