Disney returns to the Elsa-Anna pool of Frozen with the creatively titled Frozen II. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee reunite to tell the continued story of sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) and their seaside kingdom of Arendelle. They’re joined by their snowman creation Olaf (Josh Gad), and obnoxiously lovestruck Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), alongside his reindeer Sven. This spin of the wheel has Elsa being entranced by a mysterious song that’s coming from the direction of a mist-laden forest. Could this be the land where Elsa’s magical powers came from? Through song and dance the intrepid heroes will find out the mystery of Elsa and co.
Visually stunning and regularly entertaining, Frozen II is not without its faults. First up, the songs! They’re just ok, with the majority of them being fairly forgettable. There’s nary a “Let it Go” or “Let’s Build a Snowman”-esque tune in sight. Instead, the songs that litter the narrative work to further each characters personal growth, working more as monologues with music rather than power ballads. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t for a brief, off the cuff scoff at “Let it Go” that comes late in the film. I’m nitpicking here, but to have the main tune that made the first film such a brilliant time be treated like an annoyance makes me feel like the filmmakers were annoyed by much of what was in that success.
Which is both a blessing and a curse for Frozen II. This is quite a different film from Frozen. The majority of the changes are for the better – there’s less of a presence of the trolls, and there’s no major villain for the heroes to vanquish. But then on the negative side is a greater reliance on Kristoff to provide a frustratingly obnoxious love story. It was clear at the end of Frozen that Anna and Kristoff were destined to be together, and given this story takes place three years after that film, it becomes a major source of irritation to have Kristoff steal so much of the establishing plot to focus on his failed proposal attempts. His affection quickly stops being endearing and becomes annoying, with every single moment he’s on screen going on about how much he loves Anna. We get it dude, you’re in love, but read the room!
Once the first half is over and the plot is properly established, the film really takes flight, with the focus on Elsa being where the real joy is found. It’s exciting to watch her grow and come to realise the history of her powers. Elsa’s reconciliation with her past is truly interesting, and leads into the grander theme of Frozen II – reconciliation and reparations with first nations people, as well as addressing the effects of colonialism. I’m as surprised as you are that this is a story about the recognition of how monuments of colonialism (in this case, a dam) have had powerful effects on the way that nature works.
This is why the villain is less obvious than the previous film. Instead of being a man to vanquish, the villain is history and time, with the remnants of colonialism still causing harm on the world. Frozen II doesn’t suggest that we need to deconstruct everything to lead towards a positive future, but instead it suggests that including first nations people in the way society works, and allowing them to manage the land, would allow for a healthier, more fruitful world. As Australia burns, one just has to look at Bruce Pascoe’s essential book Dark Emu as proof that Australia’s first nations people managed the landscape with the act of firestick farming. If only we could take the lesson of acceptance and appreciating the traditional owners of the land and apply it to the real world.
I know that there are some who get angry when reviewers ‘politicise’ films, but when the politics is the text of a film like Frozen II, well, you can’t help but celebrate its achievement in weaving in this kind of narrative into a kids film. Even more impressive is the way that the ever joyous and exciting Olaf is used to assuage the growing anxiety that children around the world may have. Within the world of Frozen, Olaf is now three years old, and as he grows, he finds himself grappling with all manner of anxious thoughts. How does he reconcile with a changing world? How does he deal with trauma and tragedy? It’s Olaf’s song, “When I Am Older”, that is the most impactful song for me. As the traditional comic relief of the film, it’s nice to see this childlike conduit be used as an outlet for kids who are afraid of the future. I’m curious how a character like Olaf might be used to assist kids with comprehending and relating to peers like Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, Jean Hinchliffe, Xiye Bastida, and Vic Barrett. The world is changing dramatically, and I can only imagine what is going on in the mind of children around the world. I hope a film like Frozen II manages to ease their anxious minds just a little.
If all of this sounds really heavy and deep, well, it is, but Frozen II never wallows in the depression of a changing world. Instead, it provides a hopeful glimpse into a possible future, suggesting something that historians, scientists, and anthropologists have long advised: listen to indigenous people around the world, respect them and elevate their presence in the decisions in how society is run, and most importantly, dismantle the monuments of colonialism. Maybe in that regard it’s thankful that there are few memorable songs of the ilk of “Let It Go” in the mix, as it allows the deeper themes of the film to remain the memorable elements.
At the end of the day, you’ll have a good time, and you’ll be impressed by the visuals, and you may even shed a tear or three. Frozen II is a solid follow up to a brilliant film, managing to surpass the original in a lot of ways, while also being weaker in many other ways. You won’t be disappointed.
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad
Writer: Jennifer Lee, (based on a story by Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez)