From the holiday season of the year 2013, to a good portion of the following year 2014, many parents around the world were at the mercy of a certain song coming out of their children’s mouths. The sheer popularity of that song would push its character singer and the film she stars in, into a frontline promotional franchise for Disney the way its acquired subsidiaries Marvel or “Star Wars” could be. “Frozen,” the Disney animated film that year, introduced Princess Anna and her cool big sister Queen Elsa, arguably the most awesome Disney “Princess” nowadays to the point that her other appearances brief (“Ralph Breaks the Internet”) and long (“Kingdom Hearts 3”) were equally appreciated.
So it seemed natural at the time for the creative team to begin work on a sequel to “Frozen,” even as they sneaked in two animated shorts showing the further adventures of the Royals of Arendelle for other feature-length films. There is of course a meaty plot element for the follow-up to tackle, that being the origin of Elsa’s ice powers. When the first trailers for “Frozen II” began showing since last year, the darker, serious atmosphere became very intriguing for viewers. Was the payoff worth it? Let us review.
As is important for a sequel to an original one-shot, retaining the creative team and principal cast is paramount to an attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle once more. Directors Chris Buck and Pearl Lee are back; so too are the musical masterminds behind the ear-wormy “Let It Go,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. And of course, all the voice cast that still matter after the events of the first “Frozen” have returned for another go: Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff) and Josh Gad (Olaf) have a new epic quest to go on after “Frozen Fever” and “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.”
Some three years after the events of the first film, Elsa suddenly begins hearing a mysterious singing voice that starts disturbing her waking and sleeping hours. As a consequence her powers, believed fully under control since “Frozen,” begin acting up and attracting the attention of other elemental forces to her kingdom. Advice from the spiritual trolls led by Grand Pabbie (Ciaran Hinds) spurs Elsa, accompanied by Anna, Kristoff and Sven, to travel north towards an enchanted forest that was told to the Royal sisters as a bedtime story by their departed parents. There, the secret origins of Elsa’s powers wait.
While we got the implication that from the two animation shorts the “Frozen” characters seem to have kept to a status quo (Kristoff is dating Anna, Elsa is ruling as Arendelle’s beloved magical queen, Olaf and Sven the reindeer are comic relief). But in the sequel, the cast is actually experiencing a tug-of-war of feelings about keeping their quiet and now-happy lives as before, or daring to do something different for tomorrow. That plays into Elsa’s inner conflict about finding the source of the mystery voice (tying into the trolls’ quest) or staying with her family. The cataclysmic implication to Arendelle forces her hand though.
The trailers have done their best to sell the dark atmosphere that hangs over parts of “Frozen II,” and it can be said that the shadowed portions of the story are just as advertised and more so. Elsa and Anna get a crash course in their recent family history, and all the closeted skeletons that might imply. Speaking of Elsa, her determination to get to the bottom of her magical mystery could see renewed conflict between her and Anna. But as already demonstrated in the first film, love is important. How it works this time is what viewers will discover.
The serious tone of the film also reflects on the visuals and character designs. While there is no eternal winter engulfing the kingdom, there will still be points in time, particularly in the enchanted forest, where Elsa and her party will be shaded in gloom, as the elements of nature in general make their presence felt, from a dancing fire, massive giants made of stone, and a dark and stormy sea, all featured in the trailers and figuring splendidly into the narrative. Elsa, Anna and more have never looked any better in their grand adventure.
With regards to the soundtrack, while the Lopezes manage to deliver some top-of-the-line new songs that have the potential to stay in one’s head, none of the new numbers have yet to prove itself a successor to “Let It Go.” But Broadway-level belters such as “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” courtesy of Idina Menzel come closest to achieving new ear-worm status. Only time will tell how long they will replay with audiences. Groff also gets his groove on with the wackily anachronistic (music-wise) “Lost in the Woods” can steal the show for a time.
All in all, “Frozen II” admirably does its job in delving into the questions left from viewing the 2013 original, and wrapping it all up in a magical and very emotional conclusion, for the moment. Whether or not Disney is convinced to make a trilogy out of Elsa and Anna of Arendelle, we can rest assured that, even if the crown of “Let It Go” and everything connected to it may remain unchallenged, that this sequel is an organic continuation of the story, leaving us wanting more but content to see where all end up.
Image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter