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Frozen II Movie Review

Frozen II (2019) movie poster Frozen II

Theatrical Release: November 22, 2019 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee / Writers: Jennifer Lee (story & screenplay); Chris Buck, Marc E. Smith (story); Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez (story & original songs)

Voice Cast: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Josh Gad (Olaf), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Sterling K. Brown (Mattias), Evan Rachel Wood (Iduna), Alfred Molina (Agnarr), Martha Plimpton (Yelena), Jason Ritter (Ryder), Rachel Matthews (Honeymaren), Jeremy Sisto (King Runeard), Ciaran Hinds (Pabbie), Alan Tudyk (Guard, Northuldra Leader, Arendellian Soldier, Duke of Weselton), Hadley Gannaway (Young Anna), Mattea Conforti (Young Elsa), Aurora (The Voice), Santino Fontana (Hans), Libby Stubenrauch (Young Anna), Eva Bella (Young Elsa)

Songs: "All Is Found", "Some Things Never Change", "Into the Unknown", "When I Am Older", "Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People (cont.)", "Lost in the Woods", "Show Yourself", "The Next Right Thing", "Into the Unknown (Panic! at the Disco Version)", "All Is Found (Kacey Musgraves Version)", "Lost in the Woods (Weezer Version)", "Vuelie"

 

Walt Disney Animation Studios has been making features for theaters for over eighty years. In that time, they've given us very few sequels. A couple of the largely forgotten 1940s wartime anthology works can be considered kindred if not true sequels.
In 1990, they gave us their first bona fide sequel to, of all things, The Rescuers. And at the turn of the millennium, Fantasia 2000 tried to make good on Walt's vision for that concert feature to be periodically updated. Sequels to Disney's animated classics, produced in abundance in the 1990s and 2000s, were the work of DisneyToon Studios. They generally went straight to video and are not part of the storied WDAS canon.

Things at Disney are different during Bob Iger's prosperous tenure. The recently launched streaming service Disney+ provides a clear visual representation of what Iger has been doing since succeeding Michael Eisner as chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005. With Iger, it's all about brands and in getting the most value from them. A look at the box office numbers shows the strategy has been paying off wildly, leaving all the other studios to try to catch up to Disney's web of lucrative Marvel movies and annual stream of Star Wars releases. Even Pixar, a studio that for years preached the power of originality, has given us more sequels/prequels than original films this decade. Meanwhile, the Disney animated catalog has also fueled an immensely profitable brand of live-action and "live-action" remakes, like this year's Aladdin and The Lion King.

This week, WDAS releases their second sequel in as many years. It's important to recognize the timing, though. Like last November's Ralph Breaks the Internet, Frozen II arrives exactly six years after its predecessor. Animated movies take a while to make, but they don't take six years, especially not when their principal characters have already been designed, developed, digitized, and cast. When they take half a dozen years (which is nothing compared to the gaps in Pixar's Toy Story, Incredibles, Monsters, and Finding franchises), it means that the creators have paced themselves and waited to make sure they had a follow-up story worth telling. There is no doubt that a Frozen sequel released in 2015 or 2016 would have been hugely successful commercially, whether or not it was any good. After all, with over $1.2 billion earned, the original Frozen (2013) was the all-time top-grossing animated film worldwide until Jon Favreau's photorealistic Lion King remake recently passed it.

Had the first Frozen come during Disney's '90s Renaissance of Broadway-styled animated musicals, it clearly would have inspired a quick, cheap, direct-to-video sequel on the order of The Return of Jafar, Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Enchanted Christmas, and Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. Fortunately, Frozen only felt like the '90s Renaissance works. Although many adults, myself included, might not have understood what about it resonated with audiences everywhere above and beyond other modern/traditional Disney fairy tales such as Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and the predominantly live-action Enchanted, the fact is Frozen emerged as the landmark musical fantasy of its generation.

The Frozen gang -- Sven, Olaf, Kristoff, Elsa, and Anna -- returns in Disney's "Frozen II."

By waiting six years to give us this sequel, Disney risked fans aging out of their target audience. Girls who were just seven and eight when the original was released are now teenagers. But, it seems safe to say, most of those teenagers won't be too proud to return to the icy universe that won them over again and again.

Frozen II opens with royal siblings Anna and Elsa as inseparable children who hear from their father King Agnarr (voiced by Alfred Molina, inexplicably replacing Maurice LaMarche) a tale of an enchanted forest that he encountered in his youth which disappeared into the fog and has never been seen again. If you think that place might figure into this sequel's plot, you're absolutely right.

In the present day, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) and Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) are besties and they spend their nights playing charades with Anna's boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and their magical, talkative snowman friend Olaf (Josh Gad). While Kristoff is trying to find the courage and ideal timing to propose to Anna, Elsa is hearing musical distress calls from off in the distance.

The film initially prioritizes characters over story, letting viewers reacclimate themselves to these personalities in the autumnal musical number "Some Things Never Change", which allows the increasingly sentient Olaf to ponder life's impermanence.

Alas, our principal foursome and Kristoff's beloved reindeer Sven must venture into the unknown to see what is summoning Elsa and if she has just doomed the kingdom of Arendelle. It's no spoiler to tell you it's the forest of the prologue, home to some leisurely conflict between two peoples and, more importantly, ample opportunities for some Elsa and Anna self-discovery.

Anna reassures the increasingly nervous Olaf by holding his hand (and entire arm, in fact).

Virtually all of the key personnel from the original film return here, including Jennifer Lee, since promoted to CCO of WDAS, as director and screenwriter; Chris Buck, again credited with directing and story; producer Peter Del Vecho; score composer Christophe Beck; and songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who this time also take story credits. It's clear that all of these individuals hold pride and respect for this immensely popular world they have created.
Unlike the recent Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, no one is back just for a big payday (although they've undoubtedly all earned those), but because this is something they enjoyed creating and are here relishing the opportunity to expand.

As someone who was not particularly enamored with the original film, I find it easy to declare this sequel every bit as good as and maybe even slightly better than its predecessor. Those with higher regard for the first will be more difficult to win over, but I can't imagine them being disappointed here. (Then again, the enthusiasm Ralph Breaks had for the internet wasn't completely mutual.)

Visually, Frozen II shows marked improvement over the first film. We cannot forget that Disney's transition from its signature hand-drawn tradition to computer animation was not a quick and easy one. Chicken Little (2005) and Bolt (2008) are two of the worst-regarded entries in the studio's now 59-deep canon and, developed separately but retroactively added Dinosaur (2000) is downright hated by many. By 2010's Tangled, Disney showed they could comfortably and tastefully mesh their classic storytelling sensibilities with the technology with which Pixar had revolutionized the medium. Still, the original Frozen's environments did not have the complexity or appeal of the ones presented in Frozen II.

The new songs by the Lopezes, who were involved in the original film's inevitable stage adaptation that opened on Broadway last year, serve the plot but with fun, playful, and often rhyming lyrics. Kristoff gets a surprising amount of spotlight, as he gets to perform an updated version of "Reindeer(s) are Better Than People" and then goes full rock ballad on "Lost in the Woods", which is a bit of a head-scratcher. The music never causes the film to lose sight of the sister story it's telling. That story is reasonably engaging and clearly more full of original ideas than it had to be. Still, it's somewhat telling that the biggest laugh in the movie is a sharply-edited sequence in which Olaf performs a spirited, one-snowman retelling of the original film's events to new characters. But the fatigue and redundancy of, say, later Shrek sequels definitely do not yet creep into this franchise.

Elsa sprinkles a dash of her magic on the most adorable new character introduced in "Frozen II."

Despite the six-year gap, Frozen II seems poised to dominate the box office again. It seemed so stupid when Disney started renaming their princess movies with gender-neutral adjectives like Tangled and Brave and hiding the fact that their musicals were, well, musical. But the company now largely seems incapable of faltering commercially, as a look at the year's top box office draws both domestically and worldwide illustrates.

Less certain are Frozen II's chances at winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar like its predecessor, which was the first WDAS release to take home that honor. Disney is pretending their Lion King remake isn't animated, campaigning it only for Visual Effects and other technical categories (and -- good luck! -- acting ones too), which eliminates one box office behemoth from competition. That still leaves us with Toy Story 4, which most agree is not up to that series' gold standard
and therefore has no chance of cracking the Best Picture race and running away with Best Animated Feature like Toy Story 3 did. But it's tough to think of a more commendable release than these Disney and Pixar crowdpleasers.

Laika's Missing Link completely bombed in theaters. DreamWorks' third How to Train Your Dragon was well-received critically, but is that enough to get more than the nominations the first two had to settle for? The Academy has been oddly immune to the Lego movies' charms and this step-down sequel underperformed. Could this be the unprecedented year that an under-the-radar foreign cartoon swoops in and takes the prize? The closest we've had to that happening before was when the second award went to Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away and that film was a cultural phenomenon met with rave reviews the world over. There doesn't appear to be anything close to that on the way, making this year's race the most open one in years.

Even if things don't pan out in Best Animated Feature for Frozen II, the film will likely still snag a Best Original Song nomination and Disney is making it easy for voters to pick by only submitting "Into the Unknown", which is performed in the film by Menzel and Norwegian pop star Aurora (who supplies "The Voice" that beckons Elsa) and covered in the end credits by Panic! at the Disco. Even there, though, the movie will face in-house competition from Aladdin, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Abominable Judy
Frozen (2013) Tangled The Princess and the Frog Brave Ralph Breaks the Internet

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Reviewed November 17, 2019.



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