HomeMovies'Frozen 2' Review: Likes Cold Loneliness Over Warm Hugs

‘Frozen 2’ Review: Likes Cold Loneliness Over Warm Hugs

Frozen 2
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Credit where it is due: Disney could have assembly-lined Frozen 2 together in 18 months and dropped it not long after the first film’s 2013 release. They could have capitalized on the cultural phenomenon of their new entry into the princess canon, or on the fact that for six months, “Let It Go” covers were the biggest thing on the Internet, or on the hundreds of millions of dollars they earned in merchandising alone. They could have served up a story with all the catchy songs, forgettable villains and good vs. evil dynamics viewers could ask for. But they didn’t.

Instead, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee took their time to hone the script continuing the now-beloved characters’ journeys and did not release it until it resembled something they were both comfortable with and proud of. That shape, it turns out, is perhaps not the one many undoubtedly expected the sequel would take. Between the endearing character moments, stellar vocal performances, and show-stopping musical numbers, Frozen 2 takes some truly courageous steps to sacrifice the Frozen brand’s family-friendly tone and universal accessibility. In their place, the film favors a much darker, more metaphorical story that manages to both stay true to its characters and explore their inner workings.

The original Frozen was a self-effacing modernization of the Disney princess character tropes by way of an adventure about self-acceptance and the bond between sisters. The sequel interrogates this acceptance even more by diving into Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna’s (Kristen Bell) self-discovery.

Forced to flee from Arendelle by apparently hostile elemental spirits, Anna, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad) accompany Elsa to the enchanted forest, which call out to her put her on a search for answers about Elsa’s powers and their family’s past. From the second act onward, the film splits into two coinciding A-plots as the sisters’ goals divide. Both plots feature deeply consequential emotional arcs for the sisters and fundamentally alter the foundation of the Frozen story world.

By now, the Disney Animation Studios’ writing team has developed its storytelling and devastating emotional effects into such a science that commenting on it is entirely redundant. But even after the piles of tissues 2013’s Frozen left in its wake, audiences seeking another Arendellian emotional catharsis may get more than they bargained for.

Self-discovery is the theme that ties the two sisters’, and to a lesser extent, Kristoff’s, stories together and drives them toward their conclusion. Anna longs to stay by her sister’s side and save Arendelle but needs to learn self-reliance when she is without her loved ones. It is a lesson that can only be learned when she is pushed to the lowest point of her life (an emotional gut-punch that no one sees coming). The princess is forced into some harrowingly bleak emotional places and the accompanying musical track touches on a real tenderness both darker and more sensitive than Disney has conditioned its audience to expect.

Kristoff keeps the tricycle balanced with a B-plot about his relationship with Anna and how he thinks of it. Groff is finally allowed to sing more than just “Reindeers are Better than People” and comes away with one of the film’s most memorable songs. Unfortunately, he is relegated to as little screen time as Olaf without a concrete resolution or change. And his growth is stunted to devote more time to the two sisters.

Elsa, meanwhile, is given the most substantive and metaphorical arc as she faces an internal battle between her duty as both queen and sister and the desire for more that she fails to suppress the more it calls out to her. She looks both to save Arendelle and free the enchanted forest to help the Northuldra tribe and Arendellian soldiers who live there. But what she needs is to find the version of herself that will finally make her happy. Menzel gets two more incredible power-anthems to convey both Elsa’s struggle and her self-affirmation. Audiences once again watch Elsa gain increasing self-confidence as she unearths the fairly simple lost secrets about herself, her parents and her grandfather. But it is blatantly clear that the self-discovery and growth of confidence happening on screen is a Trojan horse for a more significant affirmation—one that the Disney overlords frustratingly do not bring themselves to permit the film to articulate.

It would be impossible for Disney to be so acutely aware of the cultural phenomenon Frozen created without in turn recognizing the icon Elsa and “Let It Go” became for the LGBT+ community. Though never textually stated, Elsa’s sexuality has been beyond dispute, and the studio could never have missed the petition tens of thousands signed calling on them to canonically confirm it. Frozen 2  was what many saw as the opportunity for Disney to have its first official LGBT+ princess. Instead, the film plunges its hand into that well of courage it found previously only for it to come out dry.

The film does everything it can to express Elsa’s sexuality as a subtext but never the text. It asks if a text can function as a rallying cry for a specific cause or ideal without explicitly including it, then presumes to answer that yes, it can. It implicitly writes a how-to guide for more studios to execute the cost-effective “not saying she is but definitely not saying she’s not” wishy-washy wink to the camera for years to come. These songs were never just about spirits, and neither is Elsa’s ultimate transformation. And the audience can see it.

Audiences deserve better, and the studio’s cowardice to stand for overt representation on one of its most profitable platforms is a disappointing but unsurprising continuance of the Disney norm. Despite the exceptional quality of the film overall, anyone with strong feelings about Elsa would be well within their rights to feel let down and rejected by her arc. The studio still has time to course-correct with the one-to-two additional films it leaves the door open for, but these fans will have to decide if they will voluntarily get their hopes up again. If the metaphor is enough, then Frozen II is easily worth the wait, but if not, it begs the question of who the original message of self-acceptance was primarily aimed at.

Frozen 2 had the difficult task of following up on what may have been the most influential animated film of all time. To its credit, it widely avoids the traps nearly every Disney sequel has fallen into. It both fleshes-out its characters and story world and leaves both different from how we found them. It challenges the fans of its predecessor, now six years older, with a story that threatens to take the happiness and closure they expected away from them. It even arguably leaves “Let It Go” in the dust with the new instant-classic musical tracks.

But the film also makes so many distinct choices as to the audience it wishes to acknowledge and court, that it may end up alienating a significant percentage of children, young adults, and parents seeking to escape into its world of magic and love. Time will tell how the demographics who catapulted Frozen into the pantheon of great Disney animation will deem the sequel. But those willing to dive into its metaphorical nature and emphasis on character development will surely be rewarded.

Frozen 2 is currently playing in theaters everywehre.



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