2019, PG, 104 min. Directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Voices by Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Jeremy Sisto, Alfred Molina.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 22, 2019
“Into the Unknown” goes this sequel’s insta-anthem, but we’re in fairly familiar territory here. Frozen II revives and doubles down on the good (the easy tonal glides between dark and doofy, the earworm songcraft) and the bad (how the story is at once basic and too busy, that earworm songcraft) of its 2013 monster hit predecessor. Ice Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) may no longer be the burn this mother down bad bitch of the first film’s “Let It Go,” but she’s still pretty conflicted about where best she fits in – ruling her tiny Nordic kingdom of Arendelle, or following her icy bliss to the way north, where things are way weirder? A mysterious environmental crisis makes the decision for her, sending Elsa north on a quest to an enchanted forest with her spunky sister Anna (Bell) and Anna’s steady Kristoff (Groff), where they meet an imprisoned indigenous people, an ice horse, rock giants, and a tiny Toothless the dragon knockoff with plush toy ambitions.
The sweetly dopey snowman Olaf (Gad) goes along for the ride, too, and once again Oscar-winning songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez hand him the best song of the film – ”When I Am Older,” a Broadway hoofer cleverly smuggling lessons about mortality into a very peppy step. Alternately, the low point is “Lost in the Woods,” a confused power ballad that melting-pots its influences. Musically, it vibes Peter Cetera-like Eighties synth and electric guitars; visually, the cues are late Nineties boy band choreography and a throwaway Queen sight gag; lyrically, it’s numbingly straightforward, and so bereft of wit I wondered if I’d imagined the parody altogether, until the song’s reprisal in the credits, this time performed by Weezer, confirmed the joke. (The credits also smartly match doomy lullaby “All Is Found” to Kacey Musgraves, while Panic! at the Disco tackles “Into the Unknown” with theatre geek abandon.)
When the first trailer for Frozen II appeared, the Internet gasped and wondered if it was going to be too intense for kids. Personally, I think we don’t give kids enough credit. But sure – maybe eternally perky Kristen Bell cry-singing “Hello darkness/ I’m ready to succumb” is a bridge too far for some tiny humans. Thing is, the lesson of that song – a late, moving ballad about grief called “The Next Right Thing” – is that you pick yourself up off the floor. In the same vein is the way the script (credited to co-director Jennifer Lee) considers a historical wrong done against a people – the kind you don’t have to stretch your imagination far to find an analogy of in American history. What is notable is how the film gives children a framework, and the language, to process this act of violence, same as it does the pain of grief, the bitter rub of mortality. I don’t know if that sensitivity will translate to a gajillion more princess dresses sold, but as a teaching aid for kids – a tool for taking on more adult concerns – I found it surprisingly impactful.