It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a decade since the first “Frozen” film hit theaters. I believe I saw that film twice: once with my BFF and another time with the man who would eventually become my boyfriend. It was a delightful film and complete in its telling of two sisters from the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. It didn’t need a sequel.
The film was a smash hit and created “Frozen” fever among little girls and the parents who had to listen to “Let It Go” on a loop. The film went on to make over a billion dollars.
And now, it’s happening again. Seriously, there were little girls dressed up for the sequel showing I went to this past weekend. The film debuted with $350 million worldwide and likely will compete with its predecessor financially.
“Frozen 2” takes us back to Arendelle. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is queen and no longer hiding in the shadows. Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (Josh Gad) are right by her side. They even have a family game night. The kingdom’s citizens are happy, and all seems well until Elsa begins hearing a siren song. To make matters worse, Elsa is beginning to feel something is missing in her life.
Eventually, the whole gang sets off to find the source of the voice in an enchanted forest that’s at the heart of Arendelle’s entire history. It’s a whole thing that is really too long and/or complicated to include here.
The first “Frozen” film had crazy catchy songs and taught little girls to embrace the quirks that make them different. Elsa had spent her entire life hiding who she was, but by the film’s end her individuality was celebrated. Even better, non-romantic love proved to the most powerful type there is.
“Frozen 2” builds upon those ideas but in a new way. Individuality and non-romantic love are once again celebrated, but in a completely inventive way. The film may be a sequel but it smartly avoids being a simple retread. The songs are bigger, and each character is developed in organic, thoughtful ways.
Anna and Elsa had agency in the first outing, but they oftentimes exerted that power in moments of narrative self-awareness. These moments of inversion and subversion drew attention to themselves — like Elsa melting Anna’s frozen heart, instead of her male suitor(s).
The creative team is much more sly and subtle this time out. One of the moments I’ve heard most praised from people is “Lost in the Woods,” a little ditty sung by Groff. He sings it like an ’80s pop ballad, but the animation team takes this sequence to the next level. Kristoff flips his hair and sings into a pine cone, then the animators begin to make it look like an ’80s music video with references visually to Chicago and Queen.
While “Lost in the Woods” is a fun number that clearly goes for broke, it’s an interesting moment for several reasons. No. 1: It’s clearly an inversion of the Disney formula in which a girl pines over a man in an emotional ballad. No. 2: It’s an example of a boy expressing himself in a positive, productive way. It’s a huge moment bolstered by two later moments where Kristoff, who has been left behind while Anna and Elsa have their adventures, reacts to Anna’s decisions.
The first happens when he rescues Anna from a stampede and says: “I’m here. What do you need?” He’s not there to argue or pick a fight about her choice. He’s offering Anna his support and telling her that he trusts her. The second moment is when Anna apologizes for decisions that she thinks hurt his feelings, and he responds, “My love isn’t that fragile.” Kristoff’s response is a declaration of true love, one without ego or pride. Anna is his equal, and she can’t make him feel like less of a person for doing what she feels is right.
Elsa and Anna are both given powerful numbers of a different sort. Menzel could sing the phone book, if she wanted, and I’d listen. “Into the Unknown” gives her a chance to show off her vocal chops, while “Show Yourself” is an emotional number that leaves the audience with goosebumps. Anna’s big moment comes when she feels all is lost. “The Next Right Thing” comes at the film’s darkest moment, and it’s heartbreaking.
“Frozen 2” is a much darker film than its predecessor. It’s also beautiful and moving and something to be celebrated.