The first Frozen movie, a record-breaking phenomenon for Disney Animation, will forever be remembered by Idina Menzel's adventurous ballad, "Let it Go". The song was, and in many ways still is, a massive hit, so of course the long-awaited sequel comes with a similarly ambitious follow-up anthem. "Into the Unknown" is a great song in its own right, and does well to set up the story of Frozen 2, much like its predecessor did for the original film. The problem with Frozen 2, however, is that it doesn't really follow the advice of its anthem, spending the majority of its time treading safe waters in an effort to recreate the magic of Frozen.
Frozen 2 begins with Elsa (Menzel) still in charge of Arendelle, doing pretty well in her role as queen of the kingdom. Everything else is going about as you'd expect — Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is still in love with Anna (Kristen Bell) and is hoping to propose to her soon, and Olaf (Josh Gad) is contemplating his existence. There's even a song called "Some Things Never Change," which, unsurprisingly, prompts everything to change as soon as it's over. Elsa begins hearing a voice out in the distance and abruptly decides to follow it, based on a story that her father told her when she and Anna were young kids. The core group of characters, Sven included, then proceed into the mythical Enchanted Forest in search of the truth about their past and the source of the mysterious voice.
The idea of a grand and somewhat dark adventure is a great direction for a Frozen sequel, because the magic of the original is something that's likely too hard to capture again. That didn't stop directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck from trying. The first hour or so of Frozen 2 is messy, inconsistent, nonsensical, and dull. The film wants so desperately to say, "Hey, remember how Frozen was good? This is good in the exact same way. Come on, we'll show you!" The narrative of Anna and Elsa's parents — the catalysts for the story — comes and goes with little to no explanation. Anna and Elsa are getting along just fine until everything suddenly changes and we're following them into the woods, with everyone but Elsa acting strangely excited about the journey. It moves from one piece to the next without ever telling you why, making it difficult to follow or, even more importantly, to care.
Up until Kristoff's long-awaited song right around the one-hour mark (which may be one of the best bits in the entire movie), Frozen 2 is a frustrating affair, made even more frustrating by the fact that you can see where it's heading and you are genuinely excited by it. The idea of the film, and the story that unfolds in the second half, is very good, it just takes a long time to get there. Frozen 2 works best when it isn't trying to be another Frozen.
The film itself is a lot like the journey of its two main characters. As Elsa tries to leave the realm of safety and travel into the unknown, Anna takes every opportunity to hold her sister back, or at least go with her, in order to keep her safe. Frozen 2 wants to be something completely unique and different from its predecessor, and it absolutely thrives when given the chance to do so. It just takes time for the creators to grant it that freedom.
Once that freedom is found, Frozen 2 becomes something infinitely better, allowing Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf to really experience growth and change. The film's finale is telegraphed and expected, but the third act journey to get there is made no less enjoyable by that. The songs in act three all feel more natural than they do early on in the film, the choices by each character all make sense, and the bond between the sisters is as real as ever before.
Frozen 2 is a tale of two halves. Fortunately for everyone, the better of those two halves comes second and leaves you feeling mostly fulfilled when walking out of the theater. None of it is nearly as warm or magical as the original Frozen, but there's a certain charm to be found in the bold and dark adventure late in the film that still makes it worth the journey.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Frozen 2 arrives in theaters on November 22nd.