Main cast: Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Josh Gad (Olaf), Sterling K Brown (Mattias), Evan Rachel Wood (Iduna), Alfred Molina (Agnarr), Martha Plimpton (Yelana), Jason Ritter (Ryder), and Rachel Matthews (Honeymaren)
Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
No, you’re not going to be given a chance to let things go, because Elsa and Anna are back. Already, both genuine and knock-off merchandises of those two Disney princesses are clogging every shelf of everything here, and perhaps it is a blessing that no song in this sequel as instantly catchy as that song. You know which song. Mind you, the songs this time around are actually much better, but none is as immediately infectious as that song.
Frozen II is unnecessary, it’s just a means to allow Disney to make even more money. There is really nothing here that constitutes must-see and must-know material, as this time around, Elsa and Anna plus their hangers-on the dude with the big nose, that annoying snowman, and that reindeer tag along on an adventure. Given that Elsa is this time around one of the cool kids rather than the underdog, she is immediately far less interesting. If anything, I’d argue that this is Anna’s story, as it dwells quite significantly on her serious abandonment issues.
The movie opens with young Elsa and Anna listening to their father’s story about he narrowly escaped with his life when he accompanied his father to a peace treaty with the Northuldra tribe who lives in the Enchanted Forest. The whole thing turns into a deadly fight, however, and when Agnarr came to, the spirits of the Enchanted Forest had sealed the whole place with a magical mist barrier to ensure that nobody will get in and cause trouble ever again. Then, their mother told the girls about the Ahtohallan, a magical singing river somewhere beyond the Enchanted Forest, where the waters contain memories and hence the answers to every question in the world.
Back in the present, Elsa begins hearing the Ahtohallan’s song, and realizes that she’s compelled to seek out that river and figure out what it wants with her. As she sings in Into the Unknown, she increasingly feels out of place among the good people of Arendelle, and a part of her believes that she can find a place where she truly belongs by seeking the river… but at the same time, she is afraid of jeopardizing the calm as well as her restored bond with her sister. The choice is taken from her, though, when she accidentally awakens the spirits of Enchanted Forest, which quickly cause enough mayhem in the kingdom and causing the people to evacuate the city. Since this is a cartoon, it makes perfect sense that both princesses seek out the Enchanted Forest, leaving no one with the authority to take over should both get eaten by a giant toad or something. What Elsa and Anna find will challenge everything they know about their family, their history, and their place in this world.
Now, let me put this out of the way first: I love this one far, far more than the movie that started it all. For one, scratch behind the surface, and it’s a darker movie through and through. Anna is seriously crippled by the fear of losing her sister, while Elsa is still slowly suffocating from a sense of never belonging anywhere. Kristoff loves Anna, but he will have to grapple with the fact that she will always put her sister over him. Even Olaf, now a sentient and living creature with permafrost thanks to Elsa, is grappling with new concepts such as emotions.
The songs this time around are far more sweeping and even melancholic, although true to the Disney formula, anything dark is quickly swept up by inspiring determination to overcome the darkness. Anna’s anthem The Next Right Thing is a gorgeous and striking example of this: it is a song for those who are spiritually broken. It is very easy to interpret the initial verses as Miss Perky Thang actually considering suicide as all seems lost to her. However, she soon, at first tentatively but later confidently, makes up her mind to keep going – one at a time, for now, with her prioritizing the next right thing to do as her next step to take. You know, as inspirational anthems go, this one isn’t bad at all. No, it’s glorious, and it’s one that I feel may be a balm to young kids grappling with a dark place in their minds.
These songs narrate a big bulk of the story, and oh my, my heart is shredded as a result. Okay, story-wise, this one is pretty mediocre, with Elsa’s abilities being a deus ex machina that solve every challenge thrown her way. The story itself is full of plot holes and relies quite a lot on lucky coincidences. However, and I’m still embarrassed to admit this, I have tears running down my cheeks during the last forty minutes or so of the whole thing. Through the songs, this movie does everything Terminator: Dark Fate and the recent Charlie’s Angels boasted of wanting to do only to fail miserably: to put in the forefront plucky, strong female central characters and celebrate their sisterhood in ways that feel so natural, real, and cathartic. I was annoyed by Anna, Kristoff, and especially Olaf in the previous movie, but here, I cry for their ups and downs because I am so caught up in their trials and tribulations. I cry both happy tears and tears of heartbreak in this movie, mind you, and I never do that while watching a cartoon… well, other than the first The Land Before Time, that is, but please don’t tell anyone.
If I do have a complaint, aside from the mediocre story, it’s that the story brings up the sisters’ inner demons, often in hauntingly poignant melodious ways, only to eventually sweep their issues aside for a hug and a happy ending. Yes, maybe it’s too much to expect deep character arcs in such a cartoon, and perhaps it’s enough that I have Show Yourself – the song in which Elsa gets an even more gorgeous gown and a rousing chorus that has me feeling all choked up inside. Even Olaf’s song When I Am Older is quite dark – it’s about a frightened person trying to rationalize the terrifying and often hurtful things in the world as things that will make sense and feel right when one is, well, older. In a way, it’s can be interpreted as a terrified child’s way of coping with abuse and worse, but hey, let’s look at the cute things on the screen and tell ourselves that this is a Disney cartoon, so the song surely isn’t that bleak. Right? But eventually, Olaf’s inner demons are also swept aside for a hug and a happy ending. There are no permanent mental scars here, after all.
Frozen II isn’t just so much darker and better than Frozen, it’s essentially a very somber adult fantasy of abandonment issues, codependent attachment, and a few more things that will likely fly over the heads of younger children. Elsa and Anna are two damaged sisters who need one another to be a whole person. There are also all those songs, those feels, and that heady light-headed, warm rush in me as I stagger out of the cinema – stunned that this movie, of all things, has left such an impact on me. I’m not embarrassed by this, but please stop me should I begin entertaining terrible ideas like dressing up as Elsa.