"Frozen II" Review

Title: Frozen II
Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Genre(s): Fantasy
Rated: PG (For action/peril and some thematic elements)

Early on in "Frozen II" Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) sings a song called "Into the Unknown."  She sings about a voice calling her for something grand.  She knows she has no reason to follow it (as everything in her life is perfect as is), but she can not resist the urge to literally step onto an edge and take a chance on herself.  I can not help but wonder if the inspiration for this wonderful song came from the creators fears about making a "Frozen II" in the first place?  After all, the first film was extremely successful.  Much more so than anyone could have possibly predicted.  Hailed as an instant classic and able to print dollar bills to this very day, it's a movie that even people who don't watch animated films have had to come face-to-face with at some point.  In my opinion, it was also a perfect film that said everything it needed to say and had a rare perfect ending.

Certainly you can sense the film makers are not only afraid of going back to the world and messing everything up, but they would be throwing away an eighty year tradition Walt Disney himself had to not produce sequels for his animated movies.  But oh that money must be calling, whispering in the executives ears "come.  You can make one more.  What could it hurt?"  As a result, the musical sequence of "Into the Unknown" struck me as an early indicator that this was a project in conflict from day one.  As the film went on, I'm not even sure if this was originally supposed to be a sequel to "Frozen" when it was originally envisioned.  Unlike the previous film, this one is heavy on world building and mythology mysteries.  It introduces us to a mystical forest that has sat near the castle for over thirty years.  It's been there so long I have to sadly stop and ask why no one dealt with it all this time (or stumbled across it in the first film)?

It appears to be have been sleeping all this time, minding it's own business, but during the aforementioned musical number Elsa accidentally wakes it up, and now they must investigate it to find out why it's trying to destroy their kingdom.  As you read this you might decide that this sounds like an interesting movie.  I would agree: it DOES sound like an interesting movie!  Had it been something else entirely, it very well may have been.  The film seems conflicted about what it wants to do with itself though.  For the mood of most of it is somber and bleak, which is a stark contrast from the previous film, which was bright and cheerful.  For that matter, I'm not convinced this movie should have been a musical.  On their own the songs are enjoyable (even great in some instances), but with the exception of one song near the end, most feel like they come out of nowhere and don't move the story forward as much as they should (particularly one song that felt like it came from the band Chicago).

Also, for a movie that wants to be taken seriously, it is strange that side character Olaf (Josh Gad) is given an extended role.  His presence is funny and I admit to finding much of his screen time amusing, I'm just not sure he should be playing a big role here.  While we're on the subject of forced humor, a side plot about Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) trying to propose to longtime girlfriend Anna (Kristen Bell) is a little too obvious to gain enjoyment from.  Yet I continued to watch, hoping the film makers would pull this all together, and I am sorry to report they came very close to doing so in the third act, which focuses on the biggest strength of the first film: the bond the two sisters shared.  The movie even starts making some strong statements about loss, change, and moving forward in a world that will never stay the same (no matter how comfortable you want to be).  Had the film makers had faith in their own vision they might have landed this thing.

Alas, in order to see their themes through to the end they'd have to do something drastic, and the film pulls back so much (most likely to leave things open for a "Frozen III") that they not only fail to land the plane, they crash it into the side of a mountain.  It was so frustrating to see since the existence of this movie throws away with the idea that Disney would only rarely break a long tradition of not making sequels to animated films (direct-to-video stuff not withstanding), but then fail to be the innovative sequel this could have been.  I have no doubt this movie will make money.  I have no doubt millions will love the songs.  Disney is sure to sell a LOT of Olaf dolls this holiday season!  Yet the movie is (and I hate to use the term) a very lukewarm experience.  It somehow manages to feel wholly different while very much the same.  Which is not to say it's poorly made.  The animation is breathtaking at times (particularly one heavily advertised scene involving the ocean), and as long as the music is stuck in my head I must remind people how great the soundtrack is.

In the end though the film only seems interested in playing magic tricks with emotions rather than head for payoffs that are spiritually rewarding (no matter how potentially devastating). If given the chance to meet Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck one of these days, I'm going to ask them if "Frozen II" was really a movie they wanted to make, or was it supposed to be something else entirely before Disney mandated a sequel.  They might not be able to tell me, but it's a question worth asking at this point.  Taking this and "Ralph Breaks the Internet" into account, I am fearful that Disney is on the verge of destroying their own animated legacy.  From this point on their animators should be free to explore new concepts and ideas, and contribute to the wonderful legacy this studio has given the world.  Not going back to the well because it's easy money.  I know some would say Disney making an original film wasn't a guaranteed billion dollar film.  I know that...but something original could be.  Just ask the original "Frozen."

Parents, there are some suggestive jokes and some violence, but nothing above average for Disney. Recommended for ages 8 and up.