Disney’s coolest royalty returns for strong showing of sisterhood & girl power
Starring voices by Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad
Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
When it comes to Disney royalty, you can’t get much cooler than Elsa and Anna.
The plucky ice queen and her spunky little sis were, of course, the stars of 2013’s Frozen, the animated musical blockbuster that took home two Oscars and broke worldwide box-office records. It set off an earworm bomb with “Let It Go,” its soaring signature song. And its success has now led to Disney’s first-ever theatrical sequel to an animated “princess” film.
Even though it’s been six years, Frozen fans won’t have any trouble picking up the storyline. For one thing, the gang’s all here, just where we left them in their mythical, fjord-shore Scandinavian-like hamlet of Arendelle. Idina Menzel returns to voice the now young-adult Elsa, still dealing with her mystifying powers to create and control ice and snow. Her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) didn’t get any magical gifts, but she proves herself indispensable in other ways, as she did in the first movie.
And of course, there’s Olaf (Josh Gad), the goofball snowman, and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Anna’s loveably bumbling suitor.
When Elsa hears a haunting, song-like voice calling from the distant northlands—the forbidding, mist-shrouded Enchanted Forest—the group sets off to find out where it’s coming from, and why. Maybe it’s a clue to Elsa’s mysterious magical abilities. Maybe it will lead them to answers about what really happened to Elsa and Anna’s parents, said to have perished in a shipwreck. Maybe it will be an opportunity to right some long-time political, cultural and historical wrongs.
Maybe the journey will set up several big musical numbers!
The plot gets a little thick and tricky, especially for younger viewers, who may get somewhat antsy and bogged down in the slower parts and just want to see Elsa and Anna do their sisters-united thing, or belt another big song, or see something slap-sticky funny. Some of the moments can be dark and gloomy and confusing. “Why is she crying?” asked one tyke in a seat behind me to her mommy, during one particularly somber scene. “Where’s Olaf?”
But mostly, Frozen II certainly fills the bill, especially for fans who’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for a frosty follow-up. It’s big, even epic-feeling, especially once our travelers enter the Enchanted Forest, where they encounter powerful nature spirits, a race of indigenous people, a time warp and exotic creatures—including a tiny, cute, combustible salamander and towering “earth giants” the size of mountains.
Listen for a few new voices, including Evan Rachel Wood (taking over for Jennifer Lee as Elsa and Anna’s mother, Queen Iduna, from the first movie); Sterling K. Brown as a loyal Arendelle soldier; Martha Plimpton as the leader of the tribe the travelers encounter; and Jason Ritter as Ryder, a young tribesman who befriends Kristoff.
Returning Frozen directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee create some spectacular scenery and segments. Nudging the seasons just a bit, from winter to fall, gives the film’s pallet a striking new color shift—beyond ice and snow—to explore. You can tell there’s a lot of money on the screen, in expensive, extensive computer animation, like an impressive nighttime sequence when Elsa lights up a raging ocean with streaks and bursts of florescent colors to tame an elegant, translucent “water horse.” Or when Anna awakens the lumbering earth giants, taunts them into chasing her, hurling massive boulders—and doing exactly what she hoped they would do.
And not surprisingly, everyone gets a song. Just like in the original film, composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who also won an Oscar for the score for Disney’s acclaimed Coco) wrote seven new tunes for Frozen II. And while, alas, there’s probably not a new “Let It Go” singalong among them, all of the songs are expertly crafted, sturdy Disney-musical showpieces. Menzel, the Tony-nominated Broadway star from Rent, Wicked and If/Then, knocks anything she sings out of the park, so it’s no surprise Elsa is given some big, soaring ballads, like “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself.”
Anna/Bell belts out “The Next Right Thing,” another ballad, and everybody joins in on “Some Things Never Change,” a peppy Broadway-style opener which sets the stage for things to come, as does the soothing lullaby, “All is Found,” sung by Queen Iduna to her two young daughters.
But a true standout goes to Groff, as Kristoff, who sings “Lost in the Woods” as a campy, ’80s-video-style power anthem, compete with a background chorus of oohing and ahhing reindeer. Groff, also Tony-nominated for his Broadway work (he was King George III in Hamilton) and known for his starring role on TV’s Glee, delivers the goods while the intentionally cheesy visuals play like a clip of vintage Bryan Adams on MTV. Kids might giggle, but mom and dad will totally dig it. It’s a trippy Frozen II treat.
And Gad, who provides running comic relief as the hyperactive, babbling magical snowman Olaf, is a font of commentary on practically everything, including how he’s become more self-aware. Or, as he puts it, “the ever-increasing complexity of thought that comes with maturity.” (In one cluelessly cheeky moment, he offers a critique of Elsa’s singing. “She’s a bit pitchy,” he observes.) Olaf’s whimsical “When I Am Older” is also a highlight, in which he walks through a “haunted” section of the forest, and all sorts of boo-riffic oddities keep popping and poofing up around him.
While not quite as fresh as the original, Frozen II still stands tall with its own proto-feminist message of strong girl power and sisters doin’ it for themselves—and each other—in a fantasy fairy-tale world where magic is real, the past shapes the present, memories have power and “lands and people” can be “connected by love.”
It’s a message that little girls, in little Elsa crowns and little Anna dresses, will soak up like little sponges—and one that we all need to hear, no matter who’s doing the singing.
In theaters Friday, Nov. 22, 2019