Frozen II is out, six years after the first film. Elsa and Anna’s new storyline is an appreciated attempt to portray the growth of both characters and audience, though Disney’s safe narrative choices often raise questions on the company’s future. Frozen‘s sequel is yet another example of Disney’s struggle to move forward from its glorious past.
There’s that magic moment, right after you take a seat at the movie theatre, careful not to drop the candies of the child seated next to you, when the lights dim and you realize that you are there all alone. In that moment, you’re asking yourself what you’re expecting from the movie that’s about to begin. At times, a multitude of vivid images follow one another, while at other times all you can see is the black screen staring back at you. That’s the case with Frozen II: you really have no idea what to expect because it’s a sequel that you weren’t expecting in the first place. Are you waiting for a follow-up to Elsa and Anna’s story? Perhaps you’re only here to hear Olaf’s gags. Maybe you’re tired of ‘Let it Go’ and you’re here to sing along to some new songs. Or is it because your little cousin dragged you to this?
Frozen II was unpredictable in so many ways. First of all, we didn’t know we needed it – did we? Secondly, it’s a total disruption from the first film – we could even call it a denaturation of the core narrative. Let’s start from its premises. The sequel’s aim is to explain the things left unclear in the first movie. Like, why does Queen Elsa have special magical powers? What really happened to Elsa and Anna’s parents? What’s the story of Arendelle? Through a couple of dodges, the viewer is transported back to the past, to the very foundation of the kingdom of Arendelle, and at the same time, somewhere distant from it.
It all starts when Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) – now a beloved magical regnant who’s perfectly able to control her powers – begins to hear a distant chant, inaudible to anyone else, which she interprets as a cry for help. This event takes the two sisters by surprise. Elsa and Anna (Kristen Bell) were blithely enjoying their youth at court, playing charades every Friday night with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) – who’s currently in a relationship with the Princess – the reindeer Sven, and the unforgettable witty snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). After yet another occurrence of the magic call, a sort of spell is cast on Arendelle, forcing its inhabitants to evacuate the kingdom. This becomes the pretext for Elsa to take off for a journey in search for answers to Arendelle’s curse and also to her own, simply by following the voice’s direction. Disobeying the Queen’s orders to guard the kingdom in her absence, Anna and the rest of the gang cannot help but follow her and engage in a bizarre and dark adventure which will take them to The Enchanted Forest. Secrets about the origins of Arendelle will be uncovered, and they won’t be easy to hear.
Forget about a consequential sequel: the only subject matters worth investigating on are those regarding the past, and the screenwriters are fully aware of this. Is it reason enough to continue with the narrative, though? Were it the third sequel of a saga, it would have been completely understandable: you need some context to mentally place characters who are moving around their fictional world. But it’s not ok for all this to happen in the second film. By definition, the second movie needs to move the narrative forward, to explore new subsequent storylines that the first film brings out. Elsa and Anna’s story is an immensely complex one, one full of starting points, which cannot have in any way drained out. It only needed a boost forward.
There is one thing, however, that does move forward. That is, the characters’ growth process. Queen Elsa and Princess Anna now look more mature, and it’s not to be taken for granted in an animated movie. We had already seen this with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, witnessing Princess Aurora blooming into a young woman and ruler, and Frozen II makes no exception. The two girls aren’t playing with dolls and snowmen anymore, they are ruling over a kingdom and taking their minds off it by playing charades once a week. Elsa is often caught with nostalgia; she sighs over a faraway dimension where she can freely release her powers. That’s why she decides to follow the chant: she believes there’s a different life out there in the woods waiting for her.
However, the most impressive growth of all is Olaf’s. Now a full-fledged anthropomorphic being, he seems to suffer from an existential crisis. When he sings “When I Am Older”, he painfully claims that he has no certainties in his life, and no ideas regarding the future. And the same goes for Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). Madly in love with Anna, for the entire movie he’s looking for the right occasion to propose to her. In “Into the Woods” (yes, Kristoff has finally been given a solo!), he desperately sings “who am I, if I am not your guy?”.
Frozen II has been defined as a “dark movie”, but what’s gloomy about it is not so much the plot as it is the characters’ psyche. Because of this, the songs have heartfelt and sharp lyrics, but their melody is not as catchy as it was in the ones from the first movie. Wasn’t it the whole point of the first Frozen? If you see them subsequently, you won’t recognize them as belonging to the same narrative (or should we call it franchise?). The aesthetics are unrecognizable and so is the fil rouge that should keep the two movies together.
Disney’s nostalgia philosophy has begun to permeate its movies, and it has sincerely worn us out. It’s a painful process to witness, especially now, surrounded as we are by novelties. We expect brand new stories from Disney, and not forced exhumes via infinite and unnecessary sequels and remakes. Frozen II is a well told tale, but its fault is contingent, and lies in the machine that runs it.
Frozen II is now playing in cinemas worldwide.