Runtime: 103 Minutes
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Writer: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood
By Valerie Kalfrin
Six years after asking, “Do you want to build a snowman?” Elsa and Anna return in Disney’s “Frozen 2”, this time facing change and the fear of uncertainty.
That’s a more philosophical antagonist for the sisters of Frozen, which earned $1.3 billion worldwide, and a journey that doesn’t entirely feel necessary or without plot holes. But credit director Chris Buck and writer-director Jennifer Lee with crafting an ultimately satisfying story of more mature themes for an audience that’s grown out of the dress-up stage.
Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) do have several costume changes—which, forgive me, I couldn’t help but imagine coming soon to a store near you. But they also have some inner transformation to go with the swirling autumn leaves and fall scenery.
Queen Elsa still has the superpowers of ice and snow, along with a wistfulness and restlessness to explore the world beyond Arendelle. (The ice palace created during Frozen’s powerhouse anthem “Let It Go” feels like a stunning waste of real estate.) She kicks off “Frozen 2″’s adventure after she sings back to a siren’s song no one else seems to hear, inadvertently turning some elemental spirits from a secluded enchanted forest loose on the kingdom. She decides to venture into the forest’s mists to learn what they want and how to reconcile with them.
“Menzel’s greatest gifts are capturing Elsa’s tenderness and underlying melancholy. And Bell is a real standout, layers of depth and emotion to Anna that are truly heart-tugging.”
Naturally, her determined and often cheerful sister wants to tag along. Elsa worries for Anna’s safety, but Anna amusingly assures her that she survived her ex trying to kill her, climbed the north mountain, and overcame a frozen heart, so she can take care of herself just fine. Anna’s sweetheart Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer, Sven, and the sentient snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) accompany the pair.
The naive and energetic snowman now has “permafrost” instead of a little cloud of flurries keeping him alive, but like Elsa, he’s not the only one who wants to freeze moments that he adores. Kristoff’s whole subplot involves wanting to propose to Anna (the reindeer has better ideas about this than the hapless but goodhearted woodsman), but he worries that she’s outgrowing him. Anna, meanwhile, is afraid of losing Elsa as her powers evolve while Elsa fears messing up what she has and missing out on what she feels driven to know. It’s a complex relationship dynamic that again upends typical fairytale expectations, just like the original film had the sisters’ love for each other and not a “true love’s kiss” break a magic spell.
Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez give Broadway veteran Menzel two songs to show off her range this time around, but Menzel’s greatest gifts are capturing Elsa’s tenderness and underlying melancholy. And Bell is a real standout, layers of depth and emotion to Anna that are truly heart-tugging.
“Chris Buck and writer-director Jennifer Lee with crafting an ultimately satisfying story of more mature themes for an audience that’s grown out of the dress-up stage.”
The film ties together a message about respecting nature but also the beliefs of other people while it dips into some heavy themes of impermanence and loss. Olaf provides both poignancy and comic relief (his recap of the previous film’s events for some new characters ranks up there with Michael Peña’s exposition in “Ant-Man and the Wasp”). And the animation is lovely, with a forest that sparks with pink iridescent flames, a sea roiling from an untamed horse made of water, and new creatures that are irresistibly cute, like a salamander who eats Elsa’s snowflakes.
The overall story may leave older viewers puzzling about some plot aspects, but the idea that you have to do “the next right thing” when life throws you on a new path is worthwhile for all ages. So is how to hold on best to what you love and knowing when to let go.