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Frozen II: Putting character development on ice

Disney’s sequels don’t exactly have the best track record. Ranging from cult classics to being totally derided, it is a common conception that Disney sequels cannot capture the magic of the first picture. This trend is unfortunately continued with the sequel to 2013’s major hit “Frozen”.

On its surface “Frozen II” seems like it should be the mold breaker. With gorgeous visuals, crisp animation, deeper mythology, and a more adult tone, one can see the effort put into trying to make this film match the original. Which makes it all the more confusing when “Frozen II” leaves viewers with the indifferent feeling of “been there, seen that”.

The most blatant flaw with the film seems to be in its storytelling. A boring and predictable story is possibly the greatest sin in filmmaking, and this is what “Frozen II” commits. Moments rarely feel fresh or exhilarating because they are clichés of the adventure/fantasy genre. What does entertain is normally the comedy (particularly the snowman, Olaf) and these moments are completely inconsequential to anything going on onscreen and do not even need to be in the film.

The movie tries to add a large amount of depth to its world with new legends, lands, tribes, and spirits. But these never come off as much more than paper-thin, derivative tropes that are expected in a higher-stakes fantasy story. This is partly due to the massive exposition dumps that periodically occur, rather than subtly integrating it throughout the narrative.

Then there are the songs. Some of these will likely be hummed by children for a few weeks, but none of them come close to the strikingly memorable numbers from the original. Most individuals who saw the 2013 film still know the rhythm of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “For The First Time in Forever,” “Let It Go,” and others. The most memorable song in “Frozen II” seems to be “Into the Unknown” which has none of the vitality of the former songs mentioned and is very surface level, providing little insight into the character singing it. This becomes a recurring trend with the rest of the musical numbers, with the possible exception of Anna’s “The Next Right Thing”—which ironically is the least memorable of the entire soundtrack, despite its thematic significance.

The first film was good because the small character stories filled in the larger fantasy-lite land. “Frozen II” dives headfirst into a heavy, unexplained fantasy world and relegates its characters to narrative archetypes with huge destinies. While they are entertaining with comedic and action appeal, they never come close to satisfying the appetites of anyone who even slightly prefers well-rounded characters that develop through trials and come to realizations along their journey.

For example, “Frozen” had Anna realizing that relationships are much more complicated than her sheltered mind initially believed, and by contrasting her against the manipulative Hans, her self-isolating sister, the naively blunt Olaf, and everyman Kristof, Anna grows into a more insightful individual. In “Frozen II” Elsa rides a magical spirit horse across water. Epic? Yes. Character development? Not at all.

It’s a shame that after six years of production, the film is still underwhelming. It is a classic case of style over substance. Yes, the cinematography is slick and awe-inspiring, but those extravagant images mean nothing when a meaningful story about lovable characters is traded for a bloated, fantastical tale that yields little consequences and scarce character growth.

There are moments, images, a song, and mystery there, but never enough to truly break the threshold of great filmmaking. Unlike so many of Disney’s other animated sequels, “Frozen II” demonstrates so much potential and craft; it just never brings those threads together in an effective way. It quickly becomes one of the most disappointing sequels of the last decade.

Loose Change:

  • One particular line of dialogue in a scene of “revelation” seems very tied to current day social issues. Why has this become the norm in most big studio movies?

  • Once the movie reaches its midpoint, the filmmakers decide to have Olaf take a few full minutes to recap the plot of the first film. After viewers stop laughing, they may begin to wonder what the intention of the scene was, if it had one at all. Then they may start to ponder how their nostalgia is being meticulously mined for Disney’s profit. Finally, the realization may set in that this ironically is the most entertaining part of the movie and the rest of the story becomes rather forgettable.

  • There is one admirable moment which connects a piece of the “Frozen” score with the narrative unfolding, simultaneously connecting the first movie to the second. It’s clever, but this film needed much more of those moments to have any sizable impact.

  • Mild spoilers: Kristof’s story would have been infinitely better if instead of spending the whole movie trying to propose to Anna in a bit, he gets rejected at the beginning and spends the rest of the runtime trying to figure out the best way to move forward.

  • This fantasy epic for pre-teens includes a song called “Lost in the Woods,” which is an 80’s music video parody. The artistic intention behind that choice is lost on this film reviewer.

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