Unless you have been living on a remote fjord somewhere, you’ve heard “Let It Go,” the earworm anthem that propelled the original Frozen from animated movie to cultural phenomenon. (If you’ve got small children in your life, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it a lot more than once). The “Let It Go” of Frozen II is called “Into the Unknown.” It’s another emotional ballad written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and performed by Idina Menzel. It has a catchy melody and soaring vocals; it’s guaranteed to entrance exhibitionist preschoolers looking for a new song to belt out at the top of their lungs.
Its lyrics, though, are curious. In the song, Queen Elsa of Arendelle (Menzel) speaks to a mysterious voice she hears calling her from the forests north of her home. She protests but ultimately confesses that she longs to go there and meet whoever is waiting for her. And so she does, along with her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and their friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (Josh Gad). But very little about any of this feels like a journey into the unknown, right down to the fact that it’s obviously been created as this sequel’s replacement for the original’s most popular song. This isn’t a dealbreaker; no one expects a sequel to take enormous creative risks — particularly one made by Disney as the follow-up to one of their most beloved animated features in the studio’s history. But it is interesting to note how many of Frozen II’s songs and subplots are about change and transformation while the film itself is a satisfying but very familiar retread of the first movie.
As before, the story hinges on the intense relationship between siblings Elsa — born with magical ice powers that make her prone to pushing people away — and Anna, who adores and trusts her sister implicitly despite her unpredictable abilities. Once again, there’s plenty of screwball antics between Anna and her beau Kristoff, now mostly centered on his flustered and repeatedly thwarted attempts to propose. Their magical snowman Olaf continues his goofy (and sometimes slightly annoying) sidekick banter. And on their journey into the mystical forest the group is once again separated, and must work to reunite and save Arendelle.
There are very few new characters of any consequence. In the forest, the Aredellians meet Lieutenant Mattias (Sterling K. Brown), a loyal member of the Arendelle army who has been trapped there for years. They also discover an extremely cute lizard that has supernatural fire powers, bringing Frozen’s adorable sidekick total to three. (The best of the bunch remains Sven, Kristoff’s loyal and amusingly expressive reindeer, and it’s really not even close.)
Not all of Frozen 2’s attempts to recreate the winning formula of the original movie work. The first film — directed, like this one, by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee — actually had some surprising plot twists, and played with audience’s expectations about Disney princess movies in smart ways. The sequel’s mysteries are all extremely obvious and unsatisfying; even little kids will figure out most of the forest’s secrets before Anna and Elsa do. There’s also a lot of talk about spirits and runes that’s needlessly convoluted, along with a magical island that’s full of ice and exposition, and everything that happens there is confusing and hard to follow.
Things go much more smoothly whenever Frozen 2 arrives at a new musical number. In addition to “Into the Unknown” there’s Olaf’s witty “When I Am Older,” about how the world looks so strange and bizarre to a child (and how it makes no sense to adults either) and Anna’s melancholy “The Next Right Thing,” which she sings to motivate her to keep going at the story’s darkest point. The best song of all may be Kristoff’s solo number “Lost in the Woods,” a playful spoof of ’80s power ballads. Parents will appreciate the care put into mimicking old music videos’ goofiest impulses.
Then there’s “Some Things Never Change,” which verbalizes the theme of transformation that runs through Frozen II. When I saw the first Frozen, I was married with no kids. Six years later, I have two daughters who have treated me (or subjected me, whatever) to approximately 400 viewings of Frozen and approximately 400,000 live renditions of “Let It Go.” It wasn’t until Frozen II began unfolding before me that it dawned on me how much I had unwillingly emotionally invested in these characters. Even with Frozen II’s problems, the ending affected me. Because some things do change. Even if they always remain Frozen.
-This is something that probably deserves its own separate post, but there are a shocking number of parallels between Frozen II and Annihilation, another film about a woman venturing in a mysterious forest populated by magical creatures and protected by an impenetrable barrier where she discovers things about herself as part of her transformation into a new person.
-The first karaoke bar in New York City to get “Lost in the Woods” makes a loyal customer out of me for life.
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