Frozen II: They Tried

Given Frozen‘s smashing success, and Disney’s philosophy regarding capitalization of past successes, Frozen II was almost a mathematical inevitability. Now the deed’s done and the movie’s out. The good news is, they tried.

Frozen II strikes out into new territory. It expands its world with history and with mythology, though with the inadvertent effect of making Arendelle look … small. (It is a question for political scientists: Can it be a kingdom if it can all fit on a cliff?) Frozen II wisely preserves Anna’s and Elsa’s gains. Their relationship, though not entirely seamless, is fully restored. Even their parents – who, with such loving intentions, almost destroyed their daughter in the first movie – are softened in this second telling with the emphasis that they really did love. In this way, Frozen II provides a welcome kind of catharsis for its predecessor.

At the same time, it moves the characters onward from their ending-places of the last film. The movie’s first song invokes a theme of change and the whole story plays out in deep autumn, the imagery of change. The autumn setting also allows a refreshed, brighter palette beyond the white and blue that dominated the first film. Indeed, the film’s strongest element is its visual artistry. So much of the movie – from the fall grandeur to the exploding magic of Ahtohallan – is a pleasure to behold. Other sequences stand out for their excellence – Elsa’s unburial of Ahtohallan‘s secrets, Olaf’s hilarious retelling of Frozen, Anna’s moment of resolution in crisis.

There is real merit in these scattered elements of Frozen II. But the story never unites them into a comprehensible whole. (Fair warning: From here on in, this review is replete with spoilers – but you don’t care, do you?) Magic heaves through the story, but there is no making sense of its operations. The magic slingshots, at the convenience of plot, from being wild and heedless, like a force of nature, to being focused and merciful, like a benevolent deity. This incoherence muddles the whole story. If Ahtohallan calls Elsa, why does it attempt to kill her for answering the call? If the Enchanted Forest hates the dam to the point of destroying Arendelle, why does it never have a go at destroying the dam itself? How does a person become a spirit?

The movie makes a great point of uncovering a painful family secret. The pain is largely mitigated, however, by two factors: (1) The secret principally involves dead people nobody cares about; (2) It is inexplicable. The skeleton in the royal closet is that Elsa’s grandfather treacherously gave unto the Enchanted Forest people … a dam. As treacherous gifts go, this lacks imagination; not a lot of subtlety is possible with a dam. And this wasn’t some cheap, logs-on-rocks dam. It was a stone behemoth. It was the Hoover Dam of vaguely magical, vaguely Scandinavian kingdoms. Its nature as a dam was exceedingly obvious. It should not have taken any strenuous mental exertion to forecast the result of the dam being a dam. Yet only by magic and near-death is the shocking secret exposed: The dam was a Trojan horse in that it blocked the water. I thought about this too long, and now it’s funny.

But Frozen II was made for children, and no doubt they like it better than I do. Frozen II has flares of creativity and even a kind of emotional wisdom. Its confused plot and incoherent mythology leave it uneven. Taken altogether (as all things must be), the movie is all right. Probably it is even good, if you spare it close examination and just enjoy it.