The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Frozen 2 is something along the lines of “Frozen didn’t need a sequel.” To which I say, does anything ever need a sequel? How do you even justify a fictional story continuing? No fictional story actually needs to be continued. Sure, we know why Frozen 2 actually exists: to make money. So do all sequels. The question is really, is the sequel a good film?
I would also argue that, of all the animated movies out there that could benefit from a sequel, Frozen is one of the top. Frozen was a rush job from Disney- reworked at the last minute and plagued with production troubles from the beginning. The film is oddly paced, tonally inconsistent, and hints at darker themes but is stubbornly shallow in many regards, including its half-hearted jabs at Disney’s past that acts as meta-commentary. But, despite the chaos, there was enough gold there, enough sparks of inspiration, that it became a worldwide phenomenon (and one of the most financially successful films of all time).
So Frozen 2 is a test: can Disney understand what parts of Frozen made it so popular, trim the fat, and get to the core? Can Frozen 2 build upon the first, or will it be a retread, with all the warts of the first?
In my opinion, Frozen 2 is an excellent sequel. It builds perfectly upon the first.
Frozen 2 figures out what people love about Frozen: the sister bond between Anna and Elsa, the music, the timeless-yet-progressive-but-not-too-daring script, the dark undertones of Elsa’s powers and how she is a mirror for whatever “differentness” you feel, and the primal urge to scream-sing as you pretend to blast ice from your hands. Frozen 2 takes all those things to an eleven. It has an epic quality that many animated films aren’t able to capture. It takes elements from horror and superhero and fantasy films and weaves them together through exciting visual and narrative choices that present a truly moving spiritual coming-of-age story of Anna and Elsa.
The animation is stunning. Comparing this film to the first, it’s astonishing how sharp and clear the animation is after just six years. The music is also as compelling as the first, although because the whole soundtrack is more elevated and heightened, there is no one standout “Let it Go,” despite Disney marketing “Into the Unknown” as such (personally it’s “Show Yourself” that sends shivers down my spine each time I listen to it).
The shaky foundations laid for each character in the first film get expanded upon. Anna is given more substantive character traits than quirky and clumsy and is transformed into a believable leader. She makes several tough decisions and sacrifices in the film and multiple emotional moments.
Kristoff is relegated to the sidelines, but he does get a great musical number. His storyline is primarily a comedic b-storyline about trying to propose to Anna, but under that is a rather touching lesson in learning how to be a more mature partner. He also says the two most romantic lines of the movie (and possible any Disney movie ever): “I’m here. What do you need?” and “My love is not fragile.” His storyline is a continuation of a theme from the first film: that true love isn’t instant; relationships, both the romantic and familial kind, take work.
As for Elsa, she continues to represent all the weird and repressed older sisters out there. She gets all the grandiose moments, but those are balanced with exploration of her shy and reserved personality, traits which aren’t framed as something to get rid of. She is loved and accepted by the more spunky and extroverted Anna, and as long as Elsa continues growing and loving people, then it’s okay.
Like its predecessor, Frozen 2 hints at much deeper themes and ideas but hesitates to commit to them. For example, after much fanfare, Elsa is not confirmed to be LGBTQ+. Also, this movie stresses that Anna and Elsa’s parents were kind and loving, and not the abusive ones Frozen sort of suggested they were. But overall, Frozen 2 follows through much more than Frozen, and in the words of Anna’s song, sometimes it’s enough for someone (or a studio) to just do the “Next Right Thing.”
The biggest example of this is that Frozen 2 is kinda about reparations. In this case, it’s about honoring a treaty made with the Northuldra people (an indigenous people group based on the real-life Sámi people in primarily Norway and Sweden). In the film, Anna and Elsa’s grandfather (king of Arendelle) made a deal with the Northuldra people, but then killed their leader and started a battle that ended up imprisoning the Northuldra and some Arendelle people in a forest. To make amends to the tribe and end their imprisonment, Anna has to break a dam, which will unleash enough water to destroy Arendelle. All of the people of Arendelle have been evacuated, but Anna still makes the decision to sacrifice the kingdom to make things right. While I am not familiar enough with the Sámi people to know how they have been treated historically, it’s hard to not draw similarities in this story with the current conversation in America about reparations and making amends for the centuries of genocide and disenfranchisement of Native Americans, African Americans, and other people groups. However, because Disney is a major corporation and not in the business of revolution, Elsa swoops in at the last minute and uses her powers to redirect the water, saving Arendelle. So, yay! We fixed colonialism and we didn’t have to sacrifice anything in order to implement reparations!
Despite the lack of consequences in this film, compared to Disney’s other film about Native Americans and white settlers, 1995’s Pocohantas, this is a big improvement. Frozen 2’s colonialism commentary doesn’t both-sides the argument like Pocohantas, which showed the settlers and the Native Americans as equally responsible for the destruction of the Native Americans. And Disney signed an actual treaty, promising respectful representation, with the Sami people for Frozen 2 and hired Sami people as “cultural consultants”. Yet, Frozen 2 does, like Pocohantas, frame one man as the instigator of violence and the embodiment of racism and hatred. If that one guy hadn’t been so fearful of the people he didn’t understand, then everything would have worked out! Luckily, though, two people can fix this one guy’s actions years later.
But while those are all things to consider, I still appreciate the effort and zeal of the film, even if it only goes halfway. It’s a positive movement for the Disney company and gives families plenty to talk about, and can even be integrated into conversations about Thanksgiving and the holiday’s origins.
Frozen 2 exceeded all of my expectations and I think it sets a new standard, not just for sequels, but for Disney animation. Now the question is: is the world ready for a Frozen 3?