Five years, 1.2 billion dollars and countless hours on the radio later, “Frozen” might very well be the most successful of Disney’s newest princess films, or animated films period. Something about it caused both rapturous applause and seething contempt from equal parties across the globe. So, of course here comes “Frozen 2,” except there’s just one tiny little thing about this sequel: it is nothing at all like the first.
To delve too much into exactly how and why it’s so different would be to wade into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that Directors Chris Buck (“Tarzan,” “Surf’s Up”) and Jennifer Lee (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph”) and their Co-writers Marc E. Smith (“Zootopia”), Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Coco,” “Winnie the Pooh (2011)”) and Robert Lopez (“Coco,” “The Book of Mormon”) have taken these characters far outside of the princess film realm and into the depths of pure fantasy.
There are mysteries and secrets abound in “Frozen 2” and most are actually pulled off quite well. Some are woven into the world in such interesting and detailed ways that one would be hard pressed to believe that this sequel wasn’t always a part of the plans. There’s danger, mystery, death, secrecy and fantastical spirits that make this seem more like a take on a Tolkien story than the past eras of Disney.
It’s all the better for it, as the personal journeys of Elsa, Anna and the rest are taken to new depths. Olaf says it best in a very on the nose, albeit funny, line “I hear that forests are places of transformation. I can’t wait to see how this place transforms each of us.”
Elsa, voiced again by Idina Menzel (“Glee,” “Wicked”), goes on some pretty harrowing escapades here, and the animation accompanying them is as gorgeous as Menzel’s performance. Her vocals are truly incredible, and the songs and emotional work she’s given are stunning. Kristen Bell (“The Good Place,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) as Anna has, unfortunately, once again be relegated to a more comedic role, but the film gives her infinitely more things to do here than in the first film, especially in the second half.
If anyone gets the short end of the stick, it’s Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon,” “Murder on the Orient Express”) as Olaf and Jonathan Groff (“Looking,” “Mindhunter”) as Christoph. Both do fine jobs and Gad’s solo song is once again the comedic highlight, but their side stories don’t really have an impact on the overall film and disappear by the time the action and dramatics heat up.
Speaking of heat, the film introduces numerous other elemental effects to the plot, and it results in a colorful and jaw-droppingly beautiful film. Yes, the typical CG backgrounds and landscapes have a painted beauty to them, but there’s also an abundance of 2D animation effects. Numerous scenes have backgrounds that fade to black, while characters belt out songs with 2D effects traipsing across the screen in front of them. It’s a sight to behold, and by the time Elsa is galloping across oceans with sapphire colored lights across the sky, it remains a visual feast for the ages.
One might have concerns over the overall direction of the story, though not necessarily bad ones. The tone is much darker than before, dealing with multiple deaths and symbols of grief. The film’s key moral, the idea that the past can be contextualized and fixed without destroying what it built afterwards, is heavy and important. However, like “Cars 3” a few years back, these themes are so heavy, and the film is so much closer to a typical fantasy adventure that one might wonder if kids might actually like it.
Don’t worry, it still contains a litany of songs, again provided by Lopez and Anderson-Lopez, and while none of them have the earworm lyrics of the first, they’re more thematically relevant and grander. Yes, “Let It Go” will never leave the public consciousness, but when Elsa belts out “Show Yourself” while diving deeper into a mysterious island as a storm rages around her, your mind will quickly let the past songs go.
With a more serious, fantasy adventure tone, even more great songs, gorgeous 2D and 3D animation and a cast of voice actors that continues to be excellent, as well as a story that is far more mysterious than it initially appears, “Frozen 2” lives up to and might actually be better than its just fine original. A wondrous and joyous mystery awaits. 4/5