An Improvement on the Original that Takes Audiences on an Exciting Journey “Into the Unknownnnnn!!!”
About the Film
Winter is coming and Frozen is back. If you have kids or have ever been down the kid’s section of Walmart lately, then perhaps Frozen never truly went away. Coming six years after the massively successful original, Frozen 2 flurries into theaters this week. The film walks on thin ice with the challenge of recapturing the magic of the first, while also presenting a story that is fresh and doesn’t leave audiences bored or cold. Well, take your concerns and doubts and “let them go,” because Frozen 2 is more than up to the challenge, presenting a story that—while perhaps not as novel—is an improvement upon the original.
Frozen 2 is missing the showstopping moment of the original’s “Let it Go” (although “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” come close). To make up for this, however, the movie offers a more epic and engaging story that feels larger scale without ever sacrificing the personal core of its main characters. A lot of smart decisions were made by the film makers this time. For example, Olaf—Frozen’s scene-stealing comic relief character— is now “older” and “mature.” This change in his character (not unlike baby Groot in the MCU) opens up endless new comedic possibilities without having him become tiresome or retread the first film (there is a “storytelling” scene that is probably the hardest I’ve laughed in a movie theater in 2019. It is hysterical).
One of the byproducts of the more mature and nuanced story, is that the film is darker than the first. The story touches on topics like loneliness, grief, death, betrayal, and even murder. That is not to say that Frozen 2 is Game of Thrones or anything, but parents of younger children should be aware (my children are 5 and were okay with the film despite not understanding all the plot details). Overall, however, Frozen 2 is everything fans of the original would want, while offering enough new elements to pull in some ones.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
Sexuality: None. Despite the controversy of the first Frozen and the trending hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, the film—thankfully—does not touch on Elsa’s sexuality in any way.
Violence: None on-screen. An act of murder is implied, as is the moment of Elsa and Anna’s parents, death but nothing beyond what is typical for a regular Disney flick.
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
As the Frozen gang enter the magical forest, the lovable Olaf remarks that forests are a place of transformation (although he confesses that he has no idea what that means!). True to the snowman’s word, each of the characters undergo character transformations by the time they return to Arendelle. While the first Frozen was largely about “letting it go” and accepting who you are, this movie is about going “Into the Unknown” to become who you are meant to be or could become. Each of the main characters—even Olaf—navigate this transformation in unique and interesting ways.
One of the strengths of the film is that it does not present a singular vision of the transformation. Elsa remains every bit the feminist icon—strong, independent, not held down by a man. Anna, on the other hand, remains emotional, a little naïve, and love struck. Yet, both sisters are established as strong women. Kristoff demonstrates both sides, as he is both strong as an emotional support for Anna, while also as a reindeer-riding protector. In other words, Frozen 2 offers a positive message to grow and become a better version of yourself, without forcing a single answer to what that should look like.
2. Doing the Next Right Thing
Another recurrent theme is to always press forward and “do the next right thing.” The message is—perhaps unsurprisingly—put into song, with the powerful lyrics: “So I’ll walk though this night, stumbling blindly toward the light, and do the next right thing.” This is not a “Christian film” but, as the Baptist preachers say, “That’ll preach!” The message is important for kids, but many of the parents accompanying them will be challenged by it as well.
In the end, Frozen 2 does what few Disney sequels have managed—improve upon the original. It is a testament to the intelligence of the storytellers that they understood what made the original special and what could be left behind. The sister bond and dynamic—the heart of the original—remains the driving force of Frozen 2, but the decision to set the story in the magical forest and away from Arendelle allows the relationship to play out in new ways. Having the primary “love story” of the film center on siblings rather than on romantic love (although there is that too) is as refreshing here as it was with the first Frozen.
Frozen was an inexplicable phenomenon that exploded and transcended into the pop-culture zeitgeist in a way that few films—animated or live action—have or ever will. Expectations that Frozen 2 will recreate that success are unrealistic. Frozen 2 is a not a film that is going to transform pop-culture or become an all-time classic—but it is a great film, and that’s all it needed to be. Now excuse me while I try to figure out how to get these songs out of my head.
Recommendation: See it in theaters.