Frozen II is a fine movie, inoffensive and existing for one purpose: to popularize on the success of the original Frozen film. The first one, released in 2013, became popular due to the breakout hit ‘Let It Go’, the sister dynamic between Elsa and Anna, and the fact that it is a well-made and enjoyable film.
The music is terrific, the snow coloured palettes are striking in their beauty, and the plot is engaging, like the very best children’s movies. However, the sequel only has one of those things, and that is the least important one.
Yes, Frozen II is a visually gorgeous film. Fusing autumn shades with bold wintery tones, there is plenty of colour that adorns the screen. But it is not enough, and the visual sophistication is not matched by the story or music.
A critique often sprouted about James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar is that the visuals outclass everything else. Whilst I’d argue that optical splendours are mesmerizing and difficult to do, (and shouldn’t be easily dismissed), Cameron’s world of Pandora was immersive and had a not-so-secret ingredient: tension.
Sadly, Frozen II does not even have a main villain. Although that is not always necessary, it is clear that the sequel could benefit from one. This is because a villain would have forced the characters, mainly the sisters, into making hard decisions.
Some may say that the ‘true’ villain of Frozen II is the environment, or Elsa and Anna’s heritage. Both are unsatisfying, not because they never physically manifest, but due to the film never giving us a reason to care. I believe Frozen II tried hard, maybe too hard, to create a satisfying and appeasing film. However, tension and conflict is crucial in storytelling.
People often presume that children’s media does not need conflict, or even worse, that it may upset the young audience. Both are wrong. Conflict makes for a rich story, but it also helps flesh out character motivations, and make that happy ending more sweet.
Looking back on the film, there are spats between Anna and Elsa, which are quickly resolved. Considering that the first film dealt more into their relationship, that isn’t a problem. Not every relationship needs conflict, and Disney does not necessarily bore you with happy and pleasant scenes. The dynamic between Anna and Kristoff is mostly comedic, and thus, a poor choice for conflict. We don’t expect Olaf either to become a source of strife.
That leaves few characters, and considering the sequel does not introduce many characters beyond the indigenous people, solving the conflict issue in Frozen II is difficult. Disney clearly wants to spend time on the journeys of the characters, and it is easy to interpret the lack of a villain as resulting in ‘more focus’ on the main characters.
Sadly, that is not the case. Elsa’s development feels weak, poorly baked in its potential. Every hot decision Anna makes is hardly controversial: she makes them with little resistance. It’s clear that at the end of the film, characters reach destinations that they didn’t venture at the beginning.
However, characters cannot progress purely on a ‘plot’ basis. We do not love the first Frozen film because of Elsa’s establishment of her powers, both regal and magical. No, we are drawn to Frozen because of Elsa’s anguish, how she develops, and her inner emotional world.
In Frozen II, Elsa and Anna lack an ‘inner core’ that is interesting. Whilst there are attempts at conflict, it is never convincing. No one objects to a Disney film having a happy ending, but there is a problem if the ending is not earned, or that the journey is not interesting.
One of the greatest strengths of fiction is that it invites you into the inner workings of characters. The first Frozen film takes advantage of that, but the sequel does not. There were so many potential stories that could have been told about Elsa and Anna, and it is disappointing that the sequel we got did not have the gravitas or magic of the original.
One way the sequel could’ve come close is by inserting tension. The end result of Elsa and Anna’s arc is interesting, and the audience loves the spend time with them. However, endings are only ever good if the journey matches them. There’s a cliche in movie review circles, saying that ‘the ending wasn’t earned.’
Although critics have different applications of that phrase, I believe an ending is ‘earned’ when there is tension and risk. Also, endings are earned when storytellers present quality writing, and play with audience perceptions. The sequel does some of that, but not enough.
That being said, Frozen II is not a bad film. The comedy is effective, but rarely overstays its welcome. The animated artistry is worth admiring, and although it does not save the film, it certainly adds alot to it.