Going back to the future with everyone’s favorite royal sisters in the lovely, satisfying “Part 2”
By Nora Lee Mandel
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Produced by Peter Del Vecho
Written by Jennifer Lee
Original Songs by and Robert Lopez
Original Score by Christophe Beck
Released by Disney
USA. 1 hr 43 mins. Rated PG
With the voices of: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Alfred Molina, Evan Rachel Wood, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, Jeremy Sisto, Ciarán Hinds and Alan Tudyk
Released: November 22, 2019
Frozen 2 is not a make-cash sequel, but a glorious “Part 2” of the full story of the two sisters beloved since 2013 by devoted fans of all ages, places, and genders. “Part 1” is the highest-grossing animated film of all time in the world - let alone what the revenue from the popular merchandise must bring in. While some multiplexes are scheduling “Part 2” to run on screens every half-hour to meet the ticket demand, the factories in China and elsewhere and retail store shelves already geared up for “Part 2”. None will be disappointed.
With the same creative team and voices that make the Far North setting of Arendelle and inhabitants, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, instantly recognizable, “Part 2”, set three years later, literally draws on the best of everyone’s talents to surge beyond those boundaries. The filmmakers further develop Elsa, with her power to create ice and snow, as mythic, and her sister Anna as a feisty fairy tale character. Neither is just content with “Happy Ever After”. Both are haunted by memories of their parents, King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) and Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood), especially her night-time lullaby “All Is Found,” telling of a river that holds all of the answers.
The lullaby morphs into a persistent voice (Norwegian singer Aurora) only Elsa can hear, and pulls her into a new anthem “Into the Unknown,” that Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez wrote specifically for Idina Menzel’s range and pipes: “Every day’s a little harder as I feel my power grow!/Don’t you know there’s a part of me that longs to go…/Into the unknown!” Spoiler alert: you’ll be going out of the theater holding out that last note, too – whatever language you see it in:
To follow the voice, Elsa needs her full powers and she rises to the challenge, with help from nature. Based on the four elements—water, wind, earth and fire—the animators surround Elsa with forces the latest (proprietary) software technology can provide. Elsa can ride across the most fearsome high tides in any Disney film on a water spirit from Nordic folklore, The Nokk, looking like a horse-version of Harry Potter’s Patronus. Gale, the Wind Spirit, blows through nature with a playful personality. A bit confusingly, the Fire Spirit is a small, fast-moving flame who seems so associated with Bruni the salamander that I thought it was actually a baby dragon per Game of Thrones.
At home, Anna is like the straight woman to her friends’ antics, as Kristen Bell sings reassuringly with them “Some Things Never Change”: “Like how I’m holding on tight to you!” Enjoying the permafrost roost Elsa created for him, Olaf the snowman is the most changed and matured, as Josh Gad can now rap out a full summary of “Part 1” like a patter song by Danny Kaye, who portrayed Hans Christian Anderson in the 1952 Charles Vidor film. Olaf a bit too knowingly sings “When I Am Older”: “Growing up means adapting./Puzzling out your world and your place.” (He also gets a bonus post-credits scene.)
Jonathan Groff gets to do the most protean voicing, showing off his Broadway musical chops. As Kristoff, he’s waiting for Anna to commit, with him singing Sven the reindeer’s sympathy. He even gets to pour out his heart in a 1980’s style power ballad, singing the parts of more than a dozen “backup” reindeer in “Lost in the Woods”, complete with wind effects. (Later, Kristoff even gets a real guy friend for advisement- Ryder, voiced by Jason Ritter).
But Anna’s first loyalty and concern is for Elsa, and she follows her into and out of the Enchanted Forest without magic, just the grit and ingenuity that makes her so appealing, in “The Next Right Thing”: “How to rise from the floor when it’s not you I’m rising for?” (Her adventure also makes for the least princess-y or gendered Lego set I already bought for my five-year-old grandson.) There the sisters and friends discover a troop of Arendellens under Lieutenant Destin Mattias (voiced by Sterling K. Brown, ubiquitous this season) trapped by a mystical mist with the Northuldra, a people inspired by the indigenous Sámi of Norway and Finland, whose elder is Yelana (voiced by Martha Plimpton). The forest is a tribute to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty drawn by the artist Eyvind Earle, but full of carefully researched Norwegian vegetation, including 10 varieties of trees. Warning: like that earlier flight, Anna’s escape efforts, even accompanied by Olaf, can get a bit scary for very little ones.
Elsa and Anna learn more about their heritage, particularly the source of Elsa’s powers as she turns ice sculptures into very cinematic flashbacks to figure out how to release the mist. They are able to rouse the fourth natural element of Earth. The giants of the rocky riverbanks, looking a lot like creatures from Lordof theRings, can hurl huge boulders when angry, inadvertently helping climate-change threatened Arendelle.
My husband’s first question when I came home from the screening was “So do they become Co-Queens?” No spoilers, but fans will appreciate how the sisters together work out what best uses their skills for their own self-fulfillment and the benefit of their friends, and both Arendelle and the Far North.
Disney finally eschews saccharine cover versions behind the closing credits for spirited renditions of three of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s seven new songs: Kacey Musgraves’s sweetly sad take of “All Is Found”, Weezer’s surprisingly earnest “Lost in the Woods”, and Panic! At The Disco belting out “Into the Unknown”. You and a goodly percentage of the planet will soon be singing all of them.
NB: This review is in fulfillment of Disney’s requirement that I post a review in order to be kept on their invitation list for press screenings.
Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.