Frozen II review: “film ties itself in knots trying to justify its own existence”

Olaf (Josh Gad), the wonderfully guileless magical snowman, remains a beacon of brilliance
Olaf (Josh Gad), the wonderfully guileless magical snowman, remains a beacon of brilliance
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Frozen II (U) ***

Directed by: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck

Voices: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff

A genuine phenomenon upon its release in 2013, Frozen quickly became one of Disney’s most beloved animated films — a billion-grossing behemoth that achieved a pop-culture reach equivalent to (if not greater than) The Lion King 20 years earlier. Not only did its showstopper songs — especially Let it Go — reinvigorate the animated musical (long considered passé in the age of Pixar), its smart script slyly overturned the stodgy gender politics of Disney’s own fairytale back-catalogue by proving it was possible to make a film about mythical princesses in which true love’s kiss didn’t have to involve them idly waiting around for a noble prince. 

Now orphaned siblings Elsa and Anna are back in a belated sequel that compliments the first film without ever feeling entirely essential. Kicking off with a prologue that flashes back to their childhoods in order to set up a mythology expanding story involving an enchanted forest, Frozen II finds Elsa (Idina Menzel) haunted by a mysterious force that threatens to disrupt the happy-ever-after stability of the kingdom of Arendelle that she protects and rules with her now-under-control ice powers and the help and counsel of Anna (Kristen Bell), who is herself is so scared of losing her sister again she barely notices dopey love interest Krystoff’s (Jonathan Groff) sweet-natured efforts to propose to her. 

In keeping with the enlightened sensibility of the first film, the new movie (once again co-written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck) uses the threat at the centre of it to interrogate the aforementioned happy-ever-after trope: the ensuing plot revolves around the need to make amends for historic injustices and the sacrifices this requires — a sophisticated theme that gives rise to some wild, Studio Ghibli-inspired visuals as Elsa starts to discover the true source of her power. 

It’s gorgeous to look at (and the accompanying songs are pretty good too), though some of the narrative convolutions that follow end up being a little Phantom Menace-esque in their determination to over-explain something that previously had an elegant simplicity to it. Mercifully, comic relief comes once more in the mighty form of Olaf (Josh Gad), the wonderfully guileless magical snowman, who this time out is wrestling the existential dread of time’s passage now that his perma-frosted state has made him less vulnerable to seasonal changes. He remains a beacon of brilliance, even as the film ties itself in knots trying to justify its own existence. Alistair Harkness