We saw a Frozen sequel coming before the first movie was even released. From the second “Let it Go” hit, way before it would reach over 600 million views on YouTube, we knew the inevitable would happen: That Disney would squeeze as much marketable content out of this franchise as humanly possible; that for the next decade, our sidewalks would be covered in an icy blue glitter every Halloween from legions of Elsa costumes; that the lonesome piano intro to “Let it Go” would worm its way into every vlogger’s song cover channels, into every kid’s birthday party.
So yes, Frozen II is here. Whether or not it’s as good as its predecessor (it’s not) doesn’t really matter to its legacy. It has all the elements for immortalization: plenty of costume changes for Disney to reproduce in cheap plastic and tulle; another car karaoke-ready solo ballad by Idina Menzel (“Into the Unknown”); the briefest amount of irrelevant romantic tension. It also loosely borrows the premise from previous intellectual properties like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Fifth Element.
In Frozen II, the four elements (or “spirits,” as they’re called by Disney) — water, air, earth, fire — appear to be imbalanced and angry. Elsa and Anna search for the fifth spirit — a being that’s supposed to be the bridge between the human world and the spirit world. Sound familiar?
The similarities end there (but to be fair, those are a lot of similarities). What’s left is a collection of storylines that definitely needed another round of workshopping. Frozen II feels both formulaic and haphazard. Each of the four main characters have a problem that they need to resolve. Elsa struggles to reconcile her royal responsibilities with her desire to follow a mysterious voice — a voice that might be able to explain her magic through a life-changing adventure. Anna wants to hold onto her newly formed family as tightly as possible, despite the landscape changing faster than she’d like. Kristoff fumbles nearly every proposal attempt to Anna. Olaf is just generally confused about life, and the concept of it (which makes sense because he was introduced to it rather recently).
Right from the outset, it’s very clear that these characters will find their happy endings, because it’s a Disney movie, and Disney movies aren’t as keen about leaving their characters dead or issues unresolved as other production companies find it progressively easier to do. That’s not necessarily an issue, because kid’s movies have, time and time again, used unsurprising storylines in interesting ways. We all knew Buzz and Woody were going to make it back to Andy in Toy Story. Everyone knew Nemo would eventually be found.
But Frozen II forgets that good storytelling doesn’t come from simple problem creation and resolution. These storylines end up competing with each other rather than complementing each other. Sometimes, they misunderstand their characters, and play out in unconvincing ways. Anna, while overshadowed by her big sister, has never expressed interest in becoming queen. And yet, that ends up being one of the big climactic finishes of the movie. Kristoff gets an entire subplot dedicated to proposing with a cheesy dramatic number. It’s completely unnecessary anguish given the bigger problems the characters have to contend with. Moreover, it’s just boring. The imbalanced storylines, combined with some inefficient world-building, make Frozen II more messy than intriguing.
What could’ve been really compelling about Frozen II was the question of reparations. Are we responsible for the mistakes of our ancestors, and what should we sacrifice in the process? Anna and Elsa are presented with a conundrum: Break a dam that’s damaging an enchanted forest’s way of living (how it’s damaging them is never explained) and flood Arendelle in the process. But arguably the most crucial part of the movie is packaged into a few minutes of fast-decision making, and Frozen II, expectedly, doesn’t follow through on the anticipated stakes of that choice: Elsa ends up saving Arendelle from the flood. It takes away from the truly agonizing morality of reparations — how making things right isn’t a self-serving process. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite.
Frozen II isn’t a bad movie. At the very least, Frozen II’s expansive world-building means that Disney really gets to flex with its visuals. Every action sequence is a spectacle of color and detail. You only have to watch a snippet to get a sense of what’s coming. But Frozen II still could’ve been much, much better — a disappointing prospect given that Disney will probably churn out a Frozen III, Frozen IV, Frozen V, etc… and every sequel always tends to be a little bit worse than its predecessor.
PG. Opens Nov. 22 in various theaters.
Grace Li covers arts and culture for SF Weekly. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.