If, somehow, you missed the 2013 megahit “Frozen,” and are unsure if you’ll be able to understand its sequel, worry no longer. In one of the new film’s best scenes Olaf the motor-mouthed snowman (Josh Gad) recaps the events of the original movie in a madcap and extremely high energy sequence that fills in all the gaps for the uninitiated.
The new film opens with Anna and Elsa (voiced as kids by Hadley Gannaway and Mattea Conforti), princesses of Arendelle and heiresses to the throne, hearing the story of how their father Agnarr (Alfred Molina) became king. It’s a grim fairy tale about an unprovoked attack by the Northuldra people, a battle that resulted in the death of their grandfather. Agnarr escaped but the enchanted forest, home to the Northuldra, became enshrouded by a magical mist, sealing it off from the rest of the world.
Cut to years later. Elsa, (Idina Menzel) is now Queen, a cryokinetic with the awesome power to manifest ice and snow. From her perch in Arendelle’s castle she hears a mysterious signal coming from the enchanted forest. Convinced she has woken the spirits that live within, she hightails it to the magical land to find the source of the voice. Along for the ride are Anna (Kristen Bell), her beau Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and the chatty snowman Olaf. “Did you know and enchanted forest is a place of transformation?” says Olaf. “I don’t know what that means but I can’t wait to see what it does to each one of us.”
On the journey into the woods Elsa and Anna not only meet the forest’s denizens—Earth Giants, fire toads and a tribe of people who have been trapped in the timberland since the terrible battle—but also learn the truth about their shared family history. When they aren’t warbling a raft of new power pop ballads by the Oscar-winning Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the sisters must make a decision that could affect the lives of everyone in Arendelle.
“Frozen 2” doesn’t have the same kind of icy wonder the original gave audiences but even as a warmed-over sequel it impresses. Advances in CGI animation allow for an even more cinematic approach than the original. Elsa riding an ice horse is into a raging sea is a stand-out image in a movie filled with fantasy sequences and fun character realization. It is pure eye candy that should entrance young viewers. Adults may get a laugh out of “Lost in the Woods,” a duet between Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven that mimics 1980s power pop music videos.
The plot, an overly complicated story involving primeval forces, stymied marriage proposals and family secrets, feels over-stuffed and occasionally meandering but it does contain good messages for kids. In their travels to the north country Elsa and Anna learn the importance of the primal forcers of air, fire, water and earth in a subplot laden with ideas of respecting indigenous people, environmentalism and doing what is right for everyone.
Ultimately the success of “Frozen 2” boils down to the characters and the songs. Olaf has the most fun with his outing “When I Am Older,” but it’s Menzel’s powerhouse vocals on “Into the Unknown” that provide the film’s emotional high point. It’s also the closest thing to a “Let it Go” style number on the soundtrack.
Olaf, Sven and Kristoff are solid supporting characters but it’s Elsa and Anna who make the biggest impression. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee maintain and double down on the first film’s sense of empowerment. These are women who can look after themselves, who are self-sufficient and that re-modelling of the Disney princess tradition is a big part of the franchise’s appeal.
“Frozen 2” is a worthy follow-up to the original even if it feels simultaneously bursting at the seams with plot and visuals and less ambitious.