Frozen 2 review – watchable sequel with direct-to-video vibes

The sequel to Disney's beloved animated film is pleasant enough but lacks the musical power of the original

There was a time when a sequel to a film in the “Disney Animated Canon” might have been considered uncouth, even blasphemous. Indeed, until Wreck-It Ralph returned to break the internet in 2018, the only real time the House of Mouse dared to follow up one of its features theatrically was with The Rescuers Down Under, a film designed to cash in on a brief American obsession with everything Australian in the early ’90s (thanks for that, Crocodile Dundee). But this is the era of the indomitable franchise, and so Frozen – the studio’s second highest-grossing animated film ever and a merchandising behemoth – was always destined for a sequel.

Be wary of a follow up that opens with a retcon, though, an act that usually signals the writers couldn’t figure out a way to move the story forwards without first looking backwards – in this case conjuring a narrative thread that was never intended in the first outing. Frozen 2 is that sort of film: our adventure begins in flashback, with sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) being recounted a bedtime story by their father in the years preceding their parents’ ultimately deaths. It’s a tale of an enchanted forest, ruled by four spirits – earth, air, fire and water – in which the King recalls an incident where he was saved by a mysterious force during a battle in his youth. Back in the present, ice-powered Queen Elsa – since having let it all go – is struggling to feel like she belongs. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), meanwhile, is worried he’s drifting from Anna, who herself is occupied with concern for her sister. When Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling her from afar, the gang unite for a dangerous mission into the wilderness to discover its source – one which will result in some uncomfortable truths about Arendelle’s past.

There’s no question that this is a beautifully-animated film, but it’s also one that feels comprised of far too many random elements – invisible spirits, comical lizards, warring tribes, earth giants, ancient runes – that never come together in any satisfying or meaningful way. It might sound glib to call this film a feature-length fetch quest, but that’s essentially the case, with just enough laughs, in-jokes, and exciting set-pieces to hold your attention for its 103 minute runtime. Whilst Frozen offered a few clever subversions on the tired Disney Princess format, Frozen 2 seems more content to luxuriate in the sequel-by-the-numbers approach, lacking the narrative momentum of the original or the guts to properly explore the themes of colonialism it lightly touches on. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee don’t do justice to their secondary characters, either: Kristoff, especially, is given little to do and disappears for much of a film that is always watchable but never feels at ease with itself, featuring a plot “twist” so obvious you know it’s coming before it’s even hinted it.

As for the songs? Peppy opener “Some Things Never Change” comes closest to delivering the earwormy charms of the first film’s now iconic tunes, but the rest are lacking the memorable hooks you’d expect from a sequel of this kind. The songs in the first Frozen always felt properly tied to the characters’ journeys, but here they are deployed almost arbitrarily, as though composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez couldn’t quite figure out what to pen them about. If characters in musicals should burst into song because their emotions have become too much for mere words, the characters in Frozen 2 simply sing because they are characters in Frozen 2.

★★★☆☆

By: Tom Barnard

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