‘Frozen II’ shows surprising depth

Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel in Frozen II (2019)

Frozen II (2019)

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

“Into the Unknown” is a certified banger, but “Frozen II” goes mostly into the known with a somewhat predictable follow-up to the 2013 animated hit. But where the story lacks, the character arcs more than make up for it.

Not long after the events of “Frozen,” Elsa (Idina Menzel) is struggling to settle into her role as Queen of Arendelle. She worries that she will let her people down, but she also dreams of leaving Arendelle for somewhere she isn’t such an outsider. When she starts hearing the haunting voice of the enchanted forest just north of the city, she knows it can only mean trouble. She and Anna’s (Kristen Bell) parents had warned them about the forest, which had long been shrouded in fog but could awaken at any moment. When Elsa can no longer ignore its siren call, she, Anna, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf (Josh Gad) venture into the unknown.

After holding out for more than a year, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally saw “Frozen” in late 2014. It had been so long since Disney had released a princess movie I had enjoyed (I had not—and still have not—seen “The Princess and the Frog” or “Tangled,” for the record), and “Frozen” did so many things right. It was modern, but also felt like a classic Disney story. And it didn’t waste any of its precious 102 minutes. “Frozen II,” on the other hand, takes a little while to get off the ground. Setting up the story for a much-anticipated sequel is never an enviable task, as excited audiences with high hopes sit in their seats and pay careful attention to those first few minutes. Once it gets going, “Frozen II” mostly takes us where we expect. Maybe your child will be surprised, but if you’ve seen a few Disney movies you can pretty much expect each twist along the way.

Kristen Bell and Josh Gad in Frozen II (2019)

“Frozen II” did follow in its predecessor’s footsteps in more ways than one, though. First, the songs are magical. I could see “Into the Unknown” follow in the footsteps of “Let It Go” by winning an Academy Award. Idina Menzel’s voice soars on the catchy track. Olaf sings a song that works very well with Josh Gad’s singing style—like something out of “The Book of Mormon,” but age-appropriate. Kristoff sings a power ballad in the vein of Extreme’s “More Than Words” or REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” And unlike in “Frozen,” where the bulk of the songs were found in the first half of the movie, these songs are spaced more evenly throughout.

Another way “Frozen II” honors the legacy of “Frozen” is in the way it treats its male lead. I was hugely impressed by how “Frozen II” used Kristoff to exemplify how to be a good man in 2019, without seeming overly preachy or (as others would say) “PC” about it. Kristoff might be more fully realized than any male character in a Disney princess movie has ever been. And Olaf has a big moment, too! “Frozen II” finally treats the hilarious sidekick as a real character…because he is. He may look inanimate, but he’s alive—I’m happy they finally treated him with the compassion he deserves. But certainly, “Frozen II” is about Elsa and Anna’s journey. As they confront family secrets and grapple with their own identities (Are we only the sum of our relationships with other people? If so, is that even a bad thing?), the sisters will encounter epic highs and perilous lows. Their characters’ journeys feel, at the same time, like the natural progression of their stories but also a real shift change from “Frozen.” The characters have convincingly matured, which is something you don’t often see in animated sequels. In many ways, “Frozen II” looks like just another cash-grab box office darling (though a very gorgeously animated one), an obvious next step after the first movie made so much money. But treating it that way may blind you to the ways “Frozen II” didn’t simply take the easy way out for a quick paycheck. There was a lot of care taken to do right by these characters. I appreciated it.

“Frozen II” takes its characters in a new direction. Sometimes, you can see the story coming from a mile away. But the way these events change the characters might surprise you.

7/10

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