Into the Unknown

Frozen II was bound to happen eventually. Since the Frozen franchise never truly ended after the first movie. There seemed to be something Frozen related every year until the sequel came out. There was the passable Cinderella released spring short Frozen Fever and misguided Coco released winter short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. There was an endless barrage of merchandise, dolls, LEGO, video games, and an entire half season of Once Upon a Time dedicated to Frozen. Plus children continuing to sing Frozen songs non-stop for 6 years. Sure other Walt Disney animated movies distracted them, but Frozen was always there. Since Ralph Breaks the Internet was also an unconventional theatrical sequel, I’m more convinced that it starts what I’ll temporarily call the sequel era.

Frozen II is the fifty-eighth animated Disney movie and the first to officially phase out computer animation pioneer John Lasseter. Replacing him with Frozen writer/director Jennifer Lee. Only time will tell if later projects can benefit from her input. Frozen II seems like it was only made to cash in on the massive success of Frozen, but Disney once again gave the “We only make sequels when the story is good” response. Now Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is practically irrelevant. Since the furthest they go is working in a very heavy amount of Scandinavian folklore. A lot of the production can actually be seen in the Disney+ documentary Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2. While Frozen II was obviously another billion dollar success, the lack of Best Animated Feature nomination is pretty telling of how the sequel is in comparison…

FROZEN 2

Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf travel into the unknown

Frozen II was a definite viewing experience regardless of how tired I might of been with Frozen. My brother and I never got tired of the first movie, but everyone should’ve let it go. Then I saw the stunning teaser trailer and was immediately sold on the idea of a Frozen II. The silent, serious tone definitely made it seem more grown up and sophisticated. In keeping with the seasonal change tradition, Frozen II now takes place during the fall. Snow isn’t seen half as much as falling leaves, pumpkins, and other parts of nature. The main goal for Frozen II was to answer questions left open in Frozen. Effectively taking away the mystery of the fairy tale. While at the same time having an obvious checklist of callbacks to keep fans happy. Once upon a time, Anna & Elsa’s parents told them all about their kingdom’s past. With a whole lot of exposition that’s bound to confuse kids.

Water, Earth, Fire, Air. Long ago, the Enchanted Forest was in harmony. Then, everything changed when Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe attacked each other. Only the fifth spirit, master of uniting all four spirits, could make things right, but when the forest needed it most, it placed itself under a curse. Several years passed as King Agnarr and Queen Iduna ruled after the King’s father perished in battle. And although the dam given by Arendelle remains in tact, it’s only a matter of time before the past catches up to them. But Anna & Elsa believe there’s more to the story than their parents are telling them. Since the King & Queen didn’t have names or A-list voice actors in their brief first appearance, Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood serve as replacements. Their mother continues the story by mentioning a place of answers called Ahtohallan. All this before the title is even shown.

I have no problem with Scandinavian folklore, but it’s just not necessary to get this deep in Norwegian culture. That’s not why people keep going back to Frozen. It’s characters like Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven. All of whom return with Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad never seeming to get a break from their roles. Alan Tudyk is a bit harder to spot. 3 years after Elsa’s coronation, she starts to hear a voice call out to her. Meanwhile, Anna enjoys the changes made to the kingdom and Olaf now has a whole existential bit about growing old. If there’s one thing Disney sequels always have to deal with, it’s having their wacky comic relief present for the entire movie. Olaf is tolerable, but his random educational facts and contemplations aren’t always funny. Once again a modern Disney (and/or Pixar) movie favors emotion over comedy. There’s way too much somber quiet moments, talking, and overall exposition.

Along with characters that they likely needed an excuse to keep relevant in the story. Kristoff has more to do sure, but his arc is just comically trying to propose to Anna and feeling bad when she keeps misreading everything. After a game of charades that acknowledges Frozen one of many times, Elsa gets distracted by the voice again. Anna tries to comfort Elsa, but she can’t shake the call to go into the unknown. With the four elements out of control in Arendelle, Grand Pappie rock troll returns to direct them to their next adventure. Righting the wrongs of the past and doing the next right thing to save the Enchanted Forest. Despite Elsa being the only one who should go on the journey, Anna wants to protect Elsa, Kristoff wants to protect Anna, and Olaf wants to tag along. Sven takes their sled to a magical barrier that engulfs the entire forest. As they enter, Olaf mentions water having memory. Which somehow reveals the past through Elsa’s ice powers. Call it magic or conventiant storytelling.

They also discover each elemental spirit has a physical form. Each one being hostile before it softens up. First they encounter the air spirit tornado that’s really just a leafy wind Olaf names Gale. Then they meet the Northuldra people who have been imprisoned for years with feuding Arendelle guards. So Olaf comically recaps all of the events of Frozen that we already know. Yelena leads the Sámi inspired Northuldra and Lieutenant Matthias leads the small Arendelle group. With Sterling K. Brown cast, Matthias becomes the only black man in Scandinavia. While other new characters like Ryder and his sister Honeymaren aren’t fleshed out nearly enough to get invested in them. Really it’s the fire spirit of pink flames that’s really an adorable salamander named Burni that’s worth talking about. Even if his only purpose is to be Elsa’s animal companion.

SPOILER ALERT! It’s then revealed that the Queen was really Northuldra and the one who saved the King’s life. Making that the reason why Elsa has powers. Kristoff is left with his reindeer as Anna, Elsa, and Olaf then discover the truth about where their parents were heading when their ship sank. The destination was Ahtohallan. Since it was the only place they could find answers about maintaining Elsa’s magic. So Elsa sends Anna & Olaf away as she intends to find it herself. Anna & Olaf encounter earth spirit rock giants and they find themselves lost in a cave. Meanwhile, Elsa is determined to cross the sea with the full force of her ice powers. Then she encounters the final water spirit known as Nøkk. A mythological water horse that Elsa tames in order to reach Ahtohallan. A glacier that reveals the mysterious voice to be the memory of her mother revealing Elsa to be the fifth spirit. She also finds more ice memories that showcase Frozen references yet again.

Despite the many references to Hans, Frozen II doesn’t have a villain since Disney keeps settling on complex themes that make everyone look bad. In this case, it’s Anna & Elsa’s grandfather who attacked the Northuldra out of fear of their magic and used the dam to cut off their resources. Elsa freezes, but not before getting the truth to Anna. Who watches as Olaf fades away in her arms. All alone, Anna realizes destroying the dam (and Arendelle with it) will right the wrong. Kristoff rides in to help as Anna leads the rock giants to the dam. Although it seems like Arendelle will face the consequences of the past, Elsa swoops in last minute to stop the flood. I’m definitely not the kind of person who thinks tearing things down fixes the past, but Frozen II is almost meaningless without it. Olaf doesn’t even stay melted since it’s enough just to traumatize kids with the possibility. Anna & Elsa find that they’re equally important and Kristoff finally proposes. In the end, it’s satisfying to see Anna crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa free with the Northuldra, and everyone living happily ever after.

Frozen II has such breathtaking animation that they had to stylize things a bit just to keep it from being too realistic. Water just gets more and more lifelike with every passing Disney movie. The spectacle of ice and snow may be smaller, but the Enchanted Forest is still very impressive. Characters remain the same, but now they have plenty of toy friendly costume changes. Anna & Elsa both let their hair down with more fall appropriate outfits. Elsa’s new signature is her all white dress that she creates after discovering herself. With Elsa continuing to not have a love interest and Anna as queen, they feel even less like official Disney Princesses. Maybe that’s why they still haven’t been inducted. Well the musical tradition continues at least. With 2 time Oscar winning married duo Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez forced to live up to their incredible Frozen soundtrack. Although the songs are high caliber with a Broadway feel, they ended up being seriously overproduced. The Frozen songs are extremely catchy and easy to learn. So much so that they incorporated the “hey-ya” choir into the sequel.

I literally forgot almost every Frozen II song after leaving the theater. They’re all either too long, complex, rambling, or frequent. “All is Found” is a fine Norwegian lullaby that doesn’t feel like opening song material. “Some Things Never Change” is catchy, if longer than it needs to be. “When I’m Older” is about as necessary as Olaf’s previous solo. Kristoff finally gets his own love solo with “Lost in the Woods.” A completely out of nowhere 80’s power ballad. Anna has a solo too with “The Next Right Thing.” A very slow, sad number that’s clearly trying to get awards attention. Just like Elsa’s second empowering solo “Show Yourself.” The only song to gain awards attention ended up being “Into the Unknown.” An obvious “Let it Go” clone that’s still the most catchy song in the movie. The notes leave you gasping for breath and the AURORA call makes it more memorable. Frozen II is a fine addition to the flurry of Frozen media, but nothing could possible live up to the impossible hype of the first movie.

92. Frozen II

Elsa meets the Nøkk

Preceded by: Frozen

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