Frozen 2. Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. Featuring Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and Josh Gad. Rating: 5 (out of 10)
I don’t know, I don’t know, What this movie is all about … (to the tune of “Let It Go”).
Admit it, you’ve had that song in your head intermittently for the past six years, so surely a few more lines won’t hurt. I could compose 10 verses dedicated to the quandary that is Frozen 2, whose splendiferous animation fails to conceal the fact that the plot has more holes than a snowball has flakes. But I’ll spare you the earworm.
We were all full of high hopes for the follow-up to the colossally successful – to the tune of more than $1.27 billion worldwide – first Frozen film, which told the tale of two sisters navigating family trauma, magical powers and first love with pluck, affection and some killer vocals. We were a theatre full of mini-Elsas and Annas in full costume, parents with kiddies too young to recall the first film, and that crucial target group: teens with fond memories of the first Frozen who could swing the barometer between relatively icy reception and full-scale smash on opening weekend.
The first third of the film doesn’t disappoint. Elsa (voiced again by Idina Menzel) sits on the throne of Arendelle while younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) supports her but mostly cavorts around town with snow-pal Olaf (Josh Gad) and boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). There are flashbacks to the sisters in full cuteness, where old information is reinforced (Anna always drooled in her sleep) and a new history is divulged. Anna and Elsa’s father King Adnarr (Alfred Molina) speaks of his childhood visit to an enchanted forest now shrouded in fog, a battle, and the native Northuldra tribe. Their mother (Evan Rachel Wood) sings of the river and island of Ahtohallan, where memories reside and if you go too far you could drown.
Wait, what? Things start to get murky and will get downright dark – literally and thematically – before film’s end. A journey that begins with impressive new panoramic vistas of an enchanted forest in autumn quickly becomes one that leads our heroines out to the raging Dark Sea and underwater, on black-sand beaches, in dark caves and to a kind of virtual palace with a killer drop that could freeze you forever. Giddy giggles turned into steady cries from young viewers who couldn’t keep up and thought Olaf was dead.
There’s simply far too much going on. A member of the Arendelle royal family turns out to have sinister intent toward the Indigenous Northuldra people (in a parallel to our history, the more prosperous Arendellians are shown enjoying a Thanksgiving-style feast). Elsa hears a mournful siren call that leads her to Earth spirits, Water spirits, Air and Fire spirits, all of whom seem to want to destroy the sisters and the town, which necessitates an evacuation.
In a fairy-tale twist, Kristoff has little to do but plan a wedding. Olaf’s new obsession with philosophy is tiresome, and new friends are introduced by name (Ryder and Honeymaren) but then disappear. And poor Matthias (Sterling K. Brown) has been trapped for 34 years and change. Those magical rock-moss trolls from the first film roll in for no clear purpose whatsoever, but they’re not part of the enchanted forest? Was Ahtohallan always magical, even though Elsa is the key? Clearly I’ve got to Let It Go.
Speaking of which, one agonizing talent show I attended when my daughter was in third grade featured five – FIVE – agonizing versions of “Let It Go.”
Credit songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who penned that Oscar-winner and several other infinitely sing-able ditties (“Do You Want To Build A Snowman,” “Love Is An Open Door,” “For The First Time In Forever”) in the first film. Their music for Frozen 2, however, is more complex and less memorable: “Into The Unknown” is more howling than singing, and Kristoff’s ode to ’80s music videos – while arguably the best scene in the film – isn’t likely to be featured in any school talent shows. Anna ends up singing “hello darkness, I’m ready to succumb” and “this grief has a gravity, it pulls me down.” Like much of the rest of the film, it’s a bummer.