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Friday, November 22, 2019

Frozen II



Frozen II is the Beverly Hills Cop II of the Frozen franchise. It's not as good as the original Frozen but at least it's not a complete retread. Gorgeously animated but with a curiously flat story, Frozen II reunites the entire cast and digs deeper into the mythology and origin of Elsa's (Idina Menzel) awesome powers as well as what happened to the parents of Elsa and Anna (Kristen Bell), who were lost at sea six years prior. "Their parents are dead," Olaf the Snowman (Josh Gad) helpfully reminds everyone as part of multiple callbacks to the first movie, which really only serves to remind everyone how much better Frozen was. 

Picking up the story three years after Elsa was crowned Queen of Arendelle, things are going pretty well for Elsa and Anna but autumn is coming and the cold winds are rising. In his few years of being alive, living in a castle, and being part of Elsa and Anna's 90210 gang along with Anna's boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, Olaf has hilariously mastered gallows humor and muses about everyone's mortality. (Olaf's observations about the inevitability of death are the best jokes in the movie.) Meanwhile, Elsa is hearing voices - a literal siren song coming from the sea - but typically, she doesn't tell anyone until the elements literally attack Arendelle and force an evacuation. Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water aren't just a Motown band in the 1980s, they're spirits that have come to right a terrible wrong, and it all ties into a deep dark secret from Arendelle's past and Elsa and Anna's family. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf venture into an enchanted forest to get some answers and run into some weird stuff: a tribe called the Northultrans and a battalion of Arendelle's soldiers who have been trapped in the forest for the last 34 years but their uniforms and appearance look good as new.

Everything ties into an incident between Arendelle and the Northuldrans three decades prior that led to war between the two peoples. The mystery plays into how Elsa and Anna's father, King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) met their mother Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) and how the sisters are actually the product of a union between the two peoples because it turns out Iduna is Northuldran - a fact that apparently was never mentioned before to anyone in Arendelle because Elsa and Anna had no idea. In fact, the sisters know next to nothing about their parents and they also had no clue what a bastard their grandfather King Runeard (Jeremy Sisto) was. A lot of discovery of inconvenient truths happened for Elsa and Anna but they took most of it in stride. Anna also mostly takes Elsa once again pushing her away and going off solo to the magical island of Ahtohallan - the secret source of Elsa's magical powers - in stride. Well, Anna was pissed but she winds up saving the day when she figures out the great dam King Runeard built for the Northuldrans is really the thing that's killing the magic in the forest. 

Frozen II has a handful of awesome action sequences: Elsa using her powers to cross the sea and tame Nokk, the water spirit in the form of a magical seahorse, Anna provoking the enormous stone giants to break the dam by throwing boulders, and Elsa racing to save Arendelle from a tsunami that would level the kingdom are all incredible to behold. There are also several laugh-out-loud moments, mostly from Olaf's one-liners. A scene in Ahtohallan where Elsa moves through ice sculptures of her past and she shudders at the memory of herself singing "Let It Go" scores a good knowing laugh. But the thing is, Frozen II desperately needed "Let It Go" or a new song of that caliber. Say what you will about "Let It Go" but once you hear it, you'll remember that song for the rest of your life, and the same can be said for some of Frozen's other songs. Frozen II is nearly wall-to-wall songs but none of them are memorable, not even the three that get repeated during the closing credits. Frozen II's songs end up being mostly expository but they're instantly forgettable; like an ice sculpture set upon by a blowtorch, it's like they were never there at all.

The payoff for Frozen II's mysteries turns out to be exactly what you'd expect if you took even a wild guess at who Queen Iduna really is or who really started the war between Arendelle and the Northuldrans, and the answers don't come off as satisfying, much less surprising. The movie has no actual villains and it's also weirdly paced, with a meandering second act that has some of the characters like Kristoff left with literally nothing to do until every character is called upon to do One Specific Thing to get the story to the finish line. The movie's ending also feels almost as rushed as the final season of Game of Thrones; the last ten minutes of the movie feature several resurrections (Elsa, Olaf) and massive paradigm shifts (Kristoff proposes to Anna, Anna is now Queen of Arendelle, Elsa has a new life as the superpowered protector of the forest) that whiz by without the movie properly establishing what each change really means. (For example, are the people of Arendelle cool with the sudden switch of queens? Wait, did Anna and Kristoff get married? Is he the king now?). As Frozen II ends, Olaf asks if nearly all of them getting killed is going to be a regular thing and Elsa answers, "No, this is it for us." That's probably for the best, especially for the perpetually alarmed and confused people of Arendelle because it's been a weird six years for them and their idyllic seaside Northern hamlet may not be able to handle a Frozen III.