If it took six years for Frozen’s breakout ballad “Let It Go” to finally leave your head, prepare for some bad news. The music from Frozen 2, once again written by the original’s Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is even more infectious than in the first movie. Absolute bangers like “Into the Unknown” make full use of Idina Menzel’s belt, while Evan Rachel Wood’s eerie “All is Found” sets up the story’s essential mystery.
The movie itself may not stick like the soundtrack. Frozen 2 further explores the kingdom of Arendelle, dives deeper into the magic of its world, and raises the stakes for the relationship between Arendelle’s orphaned sibling princesses, Anna and Elsa. The emotional swell of the fantasy sequel is up to par with the first, but some of the comedic relief grates on adult sensibilities, and the ending doesn’t hit hard. It’s all just a little safe.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for Frozen 2]
Like the original, Frozen 2 opens with a prologue from Anna and Elsa’s childhood, which carves out more backstory for the fantasy world. In the form of a bedtime story, the girls learn that north of Arendelle lies an enchanted forest inhabited by magical spirits and a people called the Northuldra. Once upon a time, Anna and Elsa’s grandfather built a dam for the Northulrda, but they turned against the Arendellians, starting a war that upset the local nature spirits. Access to the forest is now blocked by magical fog.
It’s a clunky info-dump, but hey, at the end of the day, this is a movie primarily targeted at children. The movie has other moments where magical events of the present and past are delineated in an easy-to-follow way, but Frozen 2 still deals in heavier themes. This is a movie about confronting the truth about the past, rectifying past wrongs, and realizing that people change.
In the present day, three years after the end of Frozen, the core cast of characters has mostly settled into a comfortable life. While Anna (Kristen Bell), her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and the living snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) are pretty content with the way things are, a catchy song about the impermanent nature of all things hints at the changes to come. Though Elsa (Idina Menzel) is queen now, she’s still uncomfortable in the role, and a mysterious voice beckons her from beyond, leading her to accidentally awaken the spirits of the four elements. To calm the magical forces, Troll leader Pabbie (Ciarán Hinds) tells Elsa and Anna that they need to find the truth of what happened the day their grandfather built the dam, and off to adventure the main quartet go.
Frozen 2 focuses on the sisters, in a noticeably different way than the original film. Frozen was ultimately about sisterhood, but Anna and Elsa spent most of the film apart, and navigating separate problems. The sequel, by contrast, keeps them together for most of the movie, exploring different parts of their relationship. Sometimes they argue because of clashing motivations — Elsa wants to fix what’s wrong, no matter the cost, whereas Anna’s main focus is keeping her loved ones safe. But their connection feels more genuine now. Anna knows Elsa isn’t feeling well whenever Elsa puts on their mother’s shawl, while Elsa knows how to cheer Anna up when she’s feeling defeated. The closeness of their relationship — and the tension whenever that closeness is threatened — becomes the movie’s emotional crux.
As for the other characters, Kristoff gets a subplot where he continuously messes up his planned marriage proposal to Anna, while Olaf contemplates the experience of aging. Both arcs have high and low points, including their own songs. Olaf’s “When I Am Older” is an infectious earworm that actually moves the plot along slightly. Kristoff’s comedically overwrought power ballad “Lost in the Woods” shows off Jonathan Groff’s pipes in the style of an ’80s music video, with closeups of Kristoff’s face superimposed onto shots of him singing. The number would be absolutely hilarious if it didn’t stall the movie for three minutes.
The side plots are the burst of energy the movie needs, as when Kristoff quickly befriends a Northulrda man who also has a special connection with reindeer, or Olaf commenting about the complexity of thought that comes with aging. At other times, the leaps between slapstick and grandeur are tonally jarring. Kristoff and Anna’s inability to hold a conversation that doesn’t devolve into exaggerated insecurity doesn’t exactly speak to the strength of their relationship. A scene where Olaf reenacts the events of the original Frozen feels a little like Disney patting itself on the back for its success six years ago.
Disney’s CGI animation has come a long way in those six years, and visually, Frozen 2 fully takes advantage of the studio’s abilities. The enchanted forest is gorgeous, from the lush autumn colors to the tendrils of purple magical fire. The individual freckles on Anna and Elsa’s faces are visible, and so are the little irregularities of Kristoff’s skin. Their hair looks real. The bottom sphere of Olaf’s snowman body, glimmers with intricate crystal patterns. As the movie dives deeper into magical lore, and Elsa tames the elements, treks across a stormy sea, and discovers a glimmering glacial fortress that rivals the ice palace she conjured in the first movie, the visuals are dazzling, surpassing the original.
The animation is richer, and so is the conflict. Frozen 2 follows in the path of last year’s Ralph Breaks the Internet by not having an actual villain. It’s not a bait-and-switch like the first Frozen, where a good guy turns out to be a bad one; the antagonists here are past prejudices and secrets, and the possible fallout of nature’s fury. Disney animated movies don’t necessarily shy away from heavier themes, but instead of representing evil through a moustache-twirling evil-doer, Frozen 2 builds tension around long-ago wrongdoings, and the solution involves atoning for them, even if that comes at a cost to Anna and Elsa’s current way of life.
But this is a Disney movie, and there are happy endings all around. Though the stakes seem high, the triumphs loom just as large, with Elsa racing across a fjord on a magical ice horse, her hair billowing in the wind. (Oh, to be a kid again, watching that scene wide-eyed in theaters!) At moments near the end of Frozen 2, as it becomes clear that Olaf’s warnings about change actually carry some weight, and Anna and Elsa might have different destinies, the movie, directed by the first film’s Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, implies that it won’t hold back on the emotional consequences. Ultimately, the message of Frozen 2 is about growing up and realizing that family members can love each other, and still have different paths.
Frozen 2’s emotional fallouts play out in a safe, contained way. The relationship consequences that loom over the final act of the film get smoothed over, without any real ramifications or poignant conclusions. The movie hints not only at a high-stakes transformation for Arendelle, but also for the relationship between the two sisters. They do transform, as Olaf so obviously hints they will, but the changes he warned don’t shake things up much at all.
The door is wide open for a Frozen 3, much to the joy of young kids with rooms full of Frozen merchandise. But next to the bittersweet conclusions of other family friendly sagas, like the How to Train Your Dragon franchise or the Toy Story movies, Frozen 2 melts away.
Frozen 2 comes out in theaters on Nov. 22.