Disney’s Frozen 2 contains just about everything supposedly needed to replicate the massive, once-in-a-generation success story of the original Frozen released six years ago. It has the same directors, the same voice cast, the same songwriters, and even the same release date minus one week.
The characters look virtually unchanged, the animation shows almost no signs of deviation (good or bad), and in many ways, the film doubles down on its values from the original, namely the emphasis on Anna and Elsa’s unique, sisterly bond. Yet despite all of these rational filmmaking decisions, Frozen 2 practically melts in its attempt to recapture the surprise factor of this series.
The story picks up not too long after the first, or perhaps long enough to ensure a satisfying status quo has been reached by the main cast, now a tight-nit group of friends with no real conflict to drive a new and interesting plot. Such contrivances arrive in the form of an elemental onslaught, as forces of nature begin racking the kingdom of Arendelle.
As this happens, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) begins to hear a mysterious tune, straight out of the call heard in Moana, and she ventures “into the unknown” (as the new power ballad beckons) with her friends and sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) following at her side. From there, Frozen 2 is a role-playing video game plot of sorts, involving mystical runes, side quests, and even blank-facing NPC characters.
Elsa and Anna’s new adventure is packed with dense exposition and flat explanations concerning past events brushed over in the previous movie for reasons that become more and more obvious as the film goes on. It’s just not that interesting of a backstory compared to the simpler, more human tale about a young queen letting go of social restrictions on her identity. Frozen 2 pivots to a story about the same ruler bravely trying to save her kingdom and rediscover her independent femininity in the process, but while also learning to rely more on her powerless sister. A good idea for a sequel, but this conflict ultimately leads to a manufactured execution lacking of sharp conviction on behalf of either character.
Normally, films of this nature can do just fine without a primary antagonist, but that doesn’t mean it’s an inherent virtue to go without. Frozen 2 trades the sort of menace that would have heightened the stakes for whimpering, guileless action beats in which vague powers present themselves as mere nuisances. The darkest elements of the film are revealed more through flashbacks and hearsay repeated back to us and rarely shown in thrilling fashion. Gone are the fresh subversions of Frozen, which questioned the “true love” narratives Disney Animation helped establish with their own classic animated films. Frozen 2 has plenty of long-winded answers to extraneous trivia questions from the first film, but none of these revelations are nearly as imaginative as the questions themselves (a common Disney trend these days with films like 2017’s Beauty and the Beast).
Sure, we might wonder for a moment how Elsa got her powers in the first place, or what really happened to her and Anna’s parents. But basing an entire sequel around digging up the skeletons of the past ignores what truly made the original enticing and perhaps even timeless. In the film’s search for unclaimed resolution, it only manages to serve up a convoluted story with numb mythology that children will likely fast-forward through in order to rewatch the funny scenes with Olaf.
On that note, one thing Frozen 2 does get right over the original is its sense of humor. Olaf the snowman (voiced by Josh Gad) is a bit more consistently entertaining here as a fact-flinging avatar of endless optimism in the face of cartoonish peril. Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) is given a trope-filled proposal subplot that never goes anywhere fulfilling, but it at least provides the character with an excuse to belt out a throwback rock ballad of his own in what is probably the film’s only inspired musical number, if only because it’s primarily engineered for laughs.
Frozen 2 is the type of film you only need to see once if you’re really all that curious or in love with the first film, and even then, it’s helpful not to think too hard about the events of the third act, because the implications are absolutely absurd and in betrayal of common sense or what we’ve come to understand about these characters at this point.
Despite having six years to release this sequel, the filmmakers apparently committed to an early draft without fully gut-testing the material and whether or not it would cohere in any meaningful way as hopefully intended. The result is a pandering and mostly lifeless misfire with only a handful of redeeming qualities to be had along the way. For a film designating its story to be about a journey into the unknown, Frozen 2 is jarringly predictable, painstakingly toothless, and self-defeating in its mad dash to the end credits.