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Review: Frozen II

November 21, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

It’s a little hard to believe that six years have passed since Disney released Frozen into the world. When that film was coming out back in 2013, I don’t know if anyone really predicted that it would permeate the pop cultural landscape in the way that it did, fuelled by the popularity of the Oscar-winning power ballad “Let It Go,” which quickly became inescapable.

Now Disney is releasing a sequel to that film, Frozen II, which serves as a satisfying continuation of the story and sees the return of these beloved characters, while also delivering a solid selection of new songs. Because a good deal of the first film’s fan base has grown up a bit since 2013, this is also a darker, more mature film that isn’t afraid of being thematically heavier.

The story begins with Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) hearing a siren call that starts guiding her towards an enchanted forest to the north of Arendelle, a place that her parents King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) and Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) used to tell her and sister Anna (Kristen Bell) stories about when they were kids. This sets Elsa and Anna on a journey together outside their kingdom, joined by Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer sidekick Sven, and the talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), where they find the forest engulfed in mist, and encounter an Indigenous tribe known as the Northuldra, leading to discoveries about the source of Elsa’s magical powers.

Jennifer Lee, who returns to co-direct the film with Chris Buck and also once again wrote the screenplay, has crafted a sequel that, while it doesn’t necessarily surpass the original, does an excellent job of aging it up to offer a satisfying and emotionally resonant continuation of the story for fans who have grown with the first film. In its own way, this is Disney exploring themes of colonialism and coming to terms with your ancestral past, with a good deal of the plot concerning the plight of the fictional Northuldra tribe, who are inspired by Scandinavia’s Indigenous Sámi people. Disney has gone to great lengths to ensure that the representation is respectful and authentic, even signing a contract with the Sámi.

If these sound like weighty themes, that’s because they are, and Frozen II is mainly about expanding the mythology of the first film and going deeper into this world. There is no central villain, and the bulk of the narrative focuses on each of the characters reaching maturity and learning to accept the changes that happen as we grow up and discover more about the world around us. It’s very much a sequel in this way, feeling like a continuation of a larger story rather than a standalone adventure, which is fine because nary a soul who goes to see this one won’t have already seen the first film.

The animation is stunning, and the film has a more muted autumn colour palette that, in its own way, is just as gorgeous as the snow and ice of the first film. Every colourful leaf and every drop of water, liquid or frozen, that is seen onscreen is a visual wonder to behold. There are also a good deal of humorous moments to go along with the more dramatic storyline, and most of the jokes hit their mark. Kristoff keeps trying to find the perfect time to propose to Anna in a running gag that keeps paying off, and Olaf steals every scene, including a hilarious sequence in which he acts out the events of the first film.

The musical numbers are also one of the main highlights of Frozen II, as they were in the first film. The Oscar-winning songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez is back, and while there is no single track here that is bound to take the world by storm like “Let It Go,” this sequel’s soundtrack is consistently rock-solid and features a few showstoppers of its own. One of the most surprising things about the original is that Broadway star Jonathan Groff wasn’t given a full song, and they have remedied that here with the track “Lost in the Woods,” a hugely appealing ‘80s-inspired pop ballad.

The very catchy track “Into the Unknown” – which is being pushed as the film’s main single, à la “Let It Go” – makes full use of Idina Menzel’s incredible vocal range, as does the excellent “Show Yourself,” which plays over a stunning, transformative sequence for Elsa and might be my favourite of the new songs. Anna gets her own showcase number in the emotional track “The Next Right Thing,” and Olaf’s amusing solo number “When I Am Older” is essentially this film’s “In Summer.” The early ensemble number “Some Things Never Change” is also a very enjoyable tune.

Like many people, I loved the first Frozen, and I left the theatre feeling thoroughly satisfied after Frozen II. While this sequel captures some of the same feeling as the first film, it also feels tonally distinct from its predecessor. It’s a darker and at times more subdued film, which is fitting because it’s telling a story about accepting change. I found the narrative to be engaging, and I like how the characters continue to develop over the course of the film. The animation is often breathtaking to look at, and I think the new songs are all quite good. All of these things together make Frozen II another winner in my book.

Frozen II opens tonight in theatres across Canada.

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