As the inevitable sequel to the cultural phenomenon that put Disney back at the top, ‘Frozen II’ had a lot of marks to check. Not only did it have to match up to the reputation of it’s predecessor, critically and financially but it also had to grow with it’s audience. This November 19th, the first ‘Frozen’ will have become seven years old putting a big six-year difference between the two movies. Twelve year-olds who sat down to watch the first movie are studying at University or College by now which is pretty insane when you think about it. That being said, despite becoming the highest grossing animated film of all time, it still had a number of struggles behind-the-scenes which held it back from becoming the perfect sequel.
In my original review, I wrote that the movie had a lot of unrealized potential. That being said, it didn’t stop me from watching it two more times in cinemas and again on digital. While it was a huge success at the time, it never gained the same level of popularity that the first movie did, despite having a better soundtrack and a more engaging story. The last time I watched this movie, I left feeling immensely disappointed. Then came the excellent docu-series, ‘Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2’ on Disney+. I binged it all in one day and I loved every second of it. The amount of love, care and passion put into this movie was made clear by this miniseries. It did however show the many struggles the movie faced in terms of plot. They were making crucial plot decisions at the last minute. They didn’t even put a match to the mysterious voice until the last few months of production, in fact ‘Show Yourself’ was nearly cut many times throughout the process. It’s this honesty which really grabbed my attention. Having seen the movie after the miniseries with all of this new information about the process really did alter my experience for the better.
With it’s dark fantasy setting, Disney Animation returns to old ground, even more so with CGI animation. The Enchanted Forest gives a gorgeous, updated throwback to Disney Animation from the 60’s like ‘The Sword in the Stone’ and although it came out in 1959, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as well. The stunning scene where Elsa runs on the ocean and fights the Nokk whom she eventually tames is also a return to that dark fantasy that Disney loved to use in the 50’s and 60’s. It really is a treat to see Disney Animation return to that style and modernizing it for today’s audience. My favourite scene in terms of background and atmosphere is the scene where Elsa and Anna find their parents’ ship. The grey background makes their colourful costumes pop and it really catches my attention each time. On that note, it did feel odd that they wouldn’t use these woods to their full potential. There is this layer of claustrophobia added because no one can get out of these woods and they never make it feel like that. The movie never plays around with that idea and so the audience doesn’t feel the added tension.
The movie’s decision to take place during the fall makes a lot of sense as Autumn is the time of year which involves the most change. It makes sense to put these characters in an autumnal setting and put them through massive changes. That being said, it never happens. The plot reveals itself to be the true villain of the movie because when you look back on it, the movie had no idea what to do with it’s characters besides Elsa and to a certain point, Anna.. I have seen the movie five times at this point and while I enjoyed seeing these characters again, they had no bigger purpose to the story. Anna figures out how to live as someone who isn’t just Elsa’s sister. Kristoff is literally here for about ten minutes. They tease some character development for Olaf but they never go through with it. He claims to get angry and that’s pretty much it. What’s frustrating about it is that they enter the enchanted forest and Olaf ominously claims how this experience will transform them all and it never really happens for anyone but Elsa. Yes, this is her movie but there is so much they could have done with the others. What about Kristoff’s childhood or his parents? What if Olaf developed new mature feelings?
The only character who benefits from this story is Elsa which makes sense since she is the main character this time. Audiences all over the world praised the first movie for twisting the ‘true love’s kiss’ trope and making it come from familial love instead of romantic love. However the reveal that Elsa herself is the one that she has been waiting for is such a modern and important message that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Yes, we do have Disney characters who defy needing a love interest like Merida and Mulan but Elsa is the first that preaches the lesson of self-acceptance and self-love. Her journey didn’t end with ‘Let It Go’, it began and with ‘Show Yourself’ she found the freedom that she was seeking all this time. The song itself is a stunning emotional ballad which I would go so far as to say that it’s one of Disney’s best songs ever.
Breaking up Anna and Elsa in the start of third act and then reuniting them at the end was really effective. Seeing them together at the end makes the audience realize how much they’ve gone through. Elsa’s ethereal white dress symbolizes her newfound freedom and self-acceptance and Anna’s dark outfit acknowledges the darkness she had to endure to become the strong person that she is now. Her worst fears became realized when she lost Elsa and Olaf but she put her right foot forward and did the next right thing. It was quite bold of them to give Anna that arc especially since she is such an uplifting and positive character. Obviously grief is something everyone has to go through eventually but I have to praise the movie for sticking the nail in with how she dealt with it. Even though they are now apart physically, they are the people they were destined to become. Their love is stronger than ever and it only reinforces the message of the first movie.
While I can say that ‘Frozen II’ does have some problems holding it back, I can also say that it’s ideas and ambition truly make it stand out. The creativity put into this movie from being inspired by the dark fantasy from 60’s Disney animation to the amount of care put into costumes and visuals make this one of Disney’s best looking movies. The message of self-acceptance and being strong enough to keep going are refreshing in the sense that they don’t revolve around romance. The struggles this movie had to face from matching up to an intimidating reputation to connecting with the fans is something no previous Disney Animation project has had to face. Despite being a sequel, ‘Frozen II’ is uncharted territory for Disney and that’s what makes it is such a fascinating project.
‘Frozen II’ is available to stream on Disney+ and also available to purchase in physical form.