Winter turns to autumn, as the Frozen franchise matures into an epic of strong characterisation, emotional storytelling and an elevated emphasis on the bigger picture.
In 2013, Frozen took the world by storm. Aside from earning $1.2 billion in box office and winning two Academy Awards, it had an enormous cultural impact. Babies were being named Elsa. Olaf the snowman was being sold in toy stores. Little children (and many adults) were singing the songs at the top of their voices. Parents were screaming for everyone to just let it go! Frozen mania gripped us for years. And just when it was all forgotten, a second film was announced, to the annoyance of many.
But much has changed in these six years, not least of all the fan base itself. The five-year-old’s who dressed up as their favourite snow queen are now in high school, and the teenagers within the fan base (me included) are adults. Aware of these facts, Disney have given us a new Frozen for a new age, one that is far more understated and with an emphasis on multi-layered storytelling over pleasing children. As Kristen Bell (voice of Anna) has stated in an interview, “Frozen has matured with its audience”.
Likewise, our beloved five-some of Elsa, Anna (Elsa’s sister), Kristoff (Anna’s boyfriend), Sven (Kristoff’s reindeer and best friend) and Olaf have grown three years older in the flourishing, joyous kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa is no longer afraid of her power. Anna is not a naive teenager anymore. Olaf, of all characters, has grown pensive and is now concerned with what the future holds for all of them. “Some things never change”, sings Anna about the friendship they all share, attempting to cheer Olaf up. When the love-able snowman holds a leaf in his hand, which he calls “sadder and wiser”; here we begin to realise – noticing that the wintry backdrop of Frozen has been replaced by autumn leaves – that things are indeed changing.
What sets Frozen II in motion is a melodious voice that only Elsa can hear. When the siren lures her into setting off a storm that places her kingdom in danger, Elsa and the other protagonists sets out on a journey to explore the source of her powers within an enchanted forest. A lot of factors are introduced into the world of Frozen which help to answer this question: elemental spirits that can be awoken and enraged; water having memory of past events; and a rift between a pack of Arendellian soldiers and a magical tribe trapped with the forest. These new ingredients are fascinating and incredibly well-animated, but they occasionally threaten to encumber the plot and confuse younger viewers.
Fortunately, Frozen II remains grounded because there is a genuine heart at the centre of all these complicated concepts, which is the bond that holds the group together. The relationships between the main characters are endearing, in no small part due to their individual motivations and goals. While Anna is single-minded about protecting her sister and ensuring no secrets between them, Elsa’s curiosity drives her deeper into the dangerous unknown. In no moment is this dynamic perfectly illustrated as when Elsa rebukes Anna for chasing her into fire, to which Anna to respond, “then don’t run into fire!”. Anna’s pursuit of Elsa means that she leaves Kristoff behind to brood over how they are growing apart from each other. The characters spend a lot of screen time apart but their connection remains crucial.
But perhaps the greatest triumph of this film lies not with the central plot but with the context and the motifs that inform it. In a flashback that opens the film, Elsa’s and Anna’s father, the former king of Arendelle, tell them a bedtime story which reveals that the enchanted forest was sealed as a result of an unexpected battle between Arendelle and a tribe they were allied to. It sets a tone for the film that is very different to the previous one; where Frozen dealt with a message of true love and self-acceptance that children could understand, Frozen II deals with heavier themes like war and how we treat nature. Their mother, the queen, follows this with a beautiful lullaby entitled “All Is Found” which foreshadows the events of the movie.
Speaking of which, the soundtrack to this film is absolutely flawless. Though there is no song on the album that will ever be as popular as “Let It Go”, Frozen II has seven songs, each of which the film could not do without. A primary concern I had with the original Frozen was that some of its songs did not add any value and stopped the film in its tracks. Frozen II does not have that problem at all. Every song adds character development which greatly improve the emotional power of the story and every character gets a chance in the spotlight (my personal favourite moment was Kristoff’s song “Lost in the Woods”, with a horde of reindeer hilariously providing backing vocals to this 80’s-inspired rock ballad).
Frozen II is a film that works on many levels. As a sequel, it succeeds because it evolves the scope of the original film and continues to develop characters that we are already invested in. As a musical, it succeeds because unlike with many other musical films, the songs do not replace the story line but they complement them perfectly.
Though Frozen II may not quite be as culturally significant as its prequel, I consider it a major improvement over the first film in every single way.