To say the first “Frozen” (2013) was a cultural phenomenon is an understatement.
Not only did it win two Oscars for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”), it inspired a generation of kids to dress up as Elsa and Anna and dance around the living room following the bouncing ball of Disney singalongs. It was an instant classic that rivals the popularity of any Disney movie ever made.
Now, we get the highly anticipated sequel “Frozen II,” which is sure to please the kiddies and their parents with catchy tunes and wondrous animation, even if it makes the plot more complicated than it needs to be for its target audience.
The story picks up three years after the events of the first film as Elsa (Idina Menzel) hears a mysterious lullaby calling her from the north. She joins her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), snowman pal Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and trusty reindeer Sven to leave Arendelle on a journey to discover the kingdom’s messy past and the origin of Elsa’s supernatural powers.
What made the first film so great was its unique focus on sisterhood. After decades of Disney princesses battling evil stepsisters for the hand of Prince Charming, “Frozen” offered a powerful queen bonding with her sister. In “Frozen II,” the sisterly bond strains, pulling apart and coming back together like sisters often do, as they realize their own individual destinies.
I don’t think we appreciate how lucky we are to have Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel attached to these roles. Past Disney voices have shined in animated form (Jodi Benson’s Ariel, Paige O’Hara’s Belle, Linda Larkin’s Jasmine) but never broke through in other mediums. In “Frozen II,” we get the stars of “The Good Place” and “Wicked,” as Bell and Menzel voice the sisters with unrivaled charm laced with a wistfulness for childhood and anxiety to find their purpose.
Of course, the fan favorite remains Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon”), who provides comic relief as Olaf. Once again, he hilariously shape shifts with his snowball body, coal buttons and carrot nose. Unlike last time, his new favorite trick is to bounce around the screen with rapid-fire reenactments of previous events in order to catch new characters up to speed (exposition abounds).
New voices include Alfred Molina as King Agnarr and Evan Rachel Wood as Queen Iduna, the sisters’ parents in flashback. We also get Sterling K. Brown as Lt. Destin Mattias, who leads a group of soldiers trapped in the enchanted forest, and Martha Plimpton as Yelana, who leads a native tribe called the Northuldra.
The Northuldra tribe clearly stands in for Native Americans as indigenous people offering friendship to arriving colonists before being slaughtered. Combine these Thanksgiving themes with the royal ancestry elements of “Game of Thrones” and you get a somewhat convoluted plot that will impress astute parents but might be a little confusing to children as it superimposes ice-sculpture ghosts of the past.
Even if youngsters don’t fully grasp the plot intricacies, they’ll be dazzled by the visuals. Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return to create an animated world of sparkling snowflakes and majestic underwater horses swimming through crashing waves like the Chincoteague Pony Swim. At times, the real world melts away as characters sing against a surrealist backdrop of abstract designs.
Best of all, composer Christophe Beck reunites with Oscar-winning songwriting duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for another catchy soundtrack guaranteed to leave you humming as your family exits the movie theater.
The songbook kicks off with the haunting “All is Found,” sung by Wood in a flashback lullaby and later reprised in the end credits by defending Grammy champ Kacey Musgraves. Pay close attention to the lyrics for keys to unlock the plot with telling lines like a “river full of memory” and “in this river all is found.”
Next up is “Some Things Never Change,” a kumbaya moment for the cast to come together in the calm before the storm. It’s false hope as Anna laments, “You know, since we sang ‘Some Things Never Change,’ all that happens is change.”
The third song is the show stopper as Menzel gazes toward the horizon to belt “Into the Unknown.” It comes at the same story point as “Love is an Open Door,” but the message is more like Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go.” Disney is pushing this as the film’s signature song, reprised by Panic! at the Disco during the end credits.
Next, it’s Gad’s turn with Olaf’s “When I Am Older,” reflecting the questions posed by kids who have grown older since watching the first movie. Indeed, Olaf is more philosophical this time around, debating heady topics like the meaning of life and death. Either way, it’s not as memorable as “If You Want to Build a Snowman.”
From here, Groff gets his time to shine, reprising “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” from the original film, then launching into “Lost in the Woods,” which clearly sounds like a modern take on an ’80s rock ballad. Alternative ’90s fans will enjoy hearing it reprised by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer in the end credits.
The most underrated is “Show Yourself,” which Menzel sings as Elsa enters an icy lair that recalls Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. This is her soul-searching moment like “Let it Go,” as Elsa sings, “I’ve never felt so certain / All my life I’ve been torn / But I’m here for a reason / Could it be the reason I was born?”
It all culminates with Bell singing “The Next Right Thing,” a fitting finale considering it’s the moral of the story. Heed its wise advice: the past is past, the future is unwritten and all you can do is the next right thing in the present.
In a way, the film aims to do just that. It knows that it will never surpass the phenomenal original, nor does it try to. Like Anna, they’re letting go of the past, not worrying about future sequels, and instead just doing “the next right thing.”