The last time Disney’s animation studios were on form as fine as they have been in recent years, back in those Renaissance days of the nineties, a sequel to a hit like Frozen would have landed direct to DVD, latterly destined for some bargain bucket. While, these days, the equivalent might be direct to streaming, such was the global impact of Frozen that only a big screen return will do. Praise be for that. Whatever your expectations, Frozen II exceeds them. This is a fabulously matured, wry and beautifully rendered sequel from a production team whose care for their characters is evident in every millisecond of the final piece. A triumph worthy of that rare group of sequels to improve on prior instalments.
Picking up three years in the wake of happily ever after, Frozen II finds its cast and company enjoying much the same ball game of bliss as in the story’s intermediate shorts: Frozen Fever and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Some things, after all, never change. Except when they do. Not only do Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kirsten Bell) display a transition to maturity, their clothes more practical and emotions of greater development, gorgeous cinematography by Tracy Scott Beattie and Mohit Kallianpur bathes autumnally inclined animation with the foreshadowing light of change.
Much in the vein of James Bobin’s Muppets Most Wanted, there’s a knowing air of progression throughout Frozen II, with Josh Gad’s ceaselessly positive snowman Olaf – he who likes warm hugs – going so far as to thaw the fourth wall with the line ‘you all look a little bit older’. It’s a smart move by writer-director Jennifer Lee to take the John Lassiter lead in ageing her characters and narrative in line with the original audience. Those six year olds who adored the naivety of Frozen years ago are now entering their own unknown and have surely outgrown their past selves. This is the continuation of their heritage.
When Elsa, Queen of Arendelle, hears the calls of a siren from afar (hauntingly performed by Norwegian singer Aurora), her urge to answer inadvertently awakens the elemental spirits of air, fire, earth and water, long since angered by a past war between Arendelle and their Northuldra neighbours. With Arendelle in grave danger, an emboldened Elsa – still wary of her role in a world otherwise devoid of the icy magic alive within her – must venture unto the enchanted forrest to save her kingdom, her friends and family. In tow, Anna, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf bring love, loyalty, compassion and comic wisdom along for an adventure that savours the benefits of a far less predictable plot than before and script with ample time for character and relationship development. Of equal advantage: Frozen continues to excel in offering youngsters exceptional role models and a pleasing scarcity of black and white villainy.
Also evolved from the first film is a soundtrack more Sondheim in signature than the familiar Disney trajectory. There’s a sweet lullaby, gorgeously vocalised by Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood, running through the whole, while Lee finds room too for a rather brilliant eighties pop video number midway through for Jonathan Groff. The film’s centrepiece belter – Into the Unknown – is no Let it Go, on comparisons of addictive elation alone, but proves equally satisfying as a means of progressing Elsa’s personal journey. It is impressive just how valid Frozen II feels as a warranted sequel, where it would be all too easy for Lee and co-director Chris Buck to cash in. Here is a film so wise in formation that one can’t help but feel it was always intended. Lee’s eloquent script answers questions left open before that didn’t obviously need answering but still are deeply rewarding in resolution. Why does Elsa have her powers and where were her parents heading in their fateful final voyage? It’s all here.
Beyond the exquisite storytelling, Frozen II unveils superior animation to its already strong predecessor, making fine use of a terrific sense of kinetic energy. This is in the sweep of the leaves in the wind and transgresses to the subtle shifting momentum of each moss-soaked rock of the film’s impressive giants. Said elementals are integral also to many of the film’s key themes. In addition to lyricist duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s interweaving of prepubescent empowerment and anxiety within plot advancing numbers, an awareness of our planet’s precarious climate condition weighs heavy on proceedings. ‘And with the dawn, what comes then,’ sings Anna as all seems lost, ‘when it’s clear that everything will never be the same again?’ Extraordinary stuff.