Frozen was a revelation. It wasn’t a flawless movie by any means, but it took the very idea of a ‘Disney Princess’ and brilliantly remoulded it for the 21st Century. Anna is romantic and dreams of getting swept off her feet, but she’s also highly capable and doesn’t need to be saved. Elsa’s arc, on the other hand, didn’t revolve around finding and marrying Prince Charming. She’s a complex individual who feels ashamed of what’s inside of her and whose entire trajectory involves realising who she is, being comfortable in her skin and unleashing the profound beauty that she has caged up. Frozen 2 builds on this wonderfully, delivering a solid, character-driven sequel that’s simply gorgeous to behold.
It also expands the world of the original in a big way. We open in the past. Little Elsa and Anna are playing in their bedroom — even here, in a seemingly throwaway scene, you get a sense of sisterhood and feel legitimate chemistry between the characters. Their parents walk in and in an effort to put them to bed, King Agnarr asks if they would like to hear a story about an Enchanted Forest he once visited in his youth. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee understand how to tell Fantasy well, how to suck you into this expansive world. They don’t immediately cut to the flashback. “Are they ready?” Queen Iduna asks her husband, looking slightly concerned. The little details matter. It builds intrigue and teases a mystery.
There was once an Enchanted Forest a slight distance away from Arendelle. In it lived tribesmen who could hone the powers of the four elements — earth, water, fire and wind. They were people of magic. As a gift and a symbol of harmony, the king of Arendelle, Elsa’s grandfather, built a dam for the them. But one day, a massive fight broke out between Arendellians and the tribespeople. We don’t know who started it and neither does Agnarr, who at the time was distracted by a beautiful young tribes girl. The forest, enraged, traps everybody in it and seals itself with a cloudy forcefield. Agnarr would’ve gotten trapped too, if it wasn’t for a mysterious person who saved him in the nick of time. In the present, Elsa is prepping to be the queen of Arendelle… when she hears a cryptic angelic voice calling to her. A voice, no one else can hear. When the grounds of Arendelle starts to shake and the water begins to evaporate, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven travel to the Enchanted Forest in search of answers.
The mystery is engrossing and mature. You’re always curious, wondering how the past affects the present. In Frozen, Elsa just so happens to be a girl born with magic. Here, screenwriter Jennifer Lee pens fascinating mythology. The origin of Elsa’s powers becomes a crucial plot point. The mystery and narrative are bolstered by phenomenal imagery, every frame gorgeously animated. One in particular, where we see water droplets in slow motion, is easily one of the most jaw-dropping moments of pure visual delight all year. The world is superbly imagined by the filmmakers. There are earth giants, wind spirits and fire creatures. All these elements clash with Elsa’s powers to form stunning images that are a feast for the eyes. The action blocks are stellar. If you found the sequence where Elsa tries to run through the waves great in the trailer, then wait till you catch it on the big screen (hopefully the biggest screen you can find). Gooseflesh, I tell you.
But at its core, Frozen 2 is about the characters and their relationships with one another. The first film took the notion of ‘true love will set you free’ and turned it on its head by making it about two sisters instead of two romantic lovers. Frozen 2 deepens that. There’s a delightful moment where the two sisters cuddle in bed together, Anna singing to help Elsa sleep — harkening back to their childhood when their mom used to do it. They are each other’s support system. Elsa keeps “running into fire,” as Anna puts it, and Anna never stops following her.
Elsa may be surer of herself now than she was in the first film. She’s uncaged, free, liberated. But something still seems to be missing deep inside her. There’s a void that needs to be filled. She’s willing to be queen because it’s her duty to her kingdom and people but is that who she really is? Is that what she’s meant to do? So her journey towards discovering the origins of her powers doubles as an internal journey of self-discovery. And she has to go on this journey alone, without her friends and family. Without her sister. There’s certainly an argument to be made that Elsa’s magic is a metaphor for being gay. And perhaps here, the magic and non-magic are a representation of two different schools of thought. A bridge needs to be built between the two.
Anna, who’s always spunky and energetic is put to the test too. She too, has to dig deep and find strength at a time when she’s at her lowest and all hope is seemingly lost. There’s also her relationship with Kristoff that’s perhaps not always sunny. Kristoff attempting to propose to Anna is a nice little comedic through-line that never misses a beat because it’s more than just a series of jokes. Through the sequences of hilarious moments, we explore Anna’s insecurities, her tendency to overthink at times and Kristoff’s inability to convey his thoughts. In contrast to the Prince Charmings of old Disney and fairy tales, Kristoff doesn’t always puff his chest out in confidence. Yes, he’s good looking and yes, he’s unafraid to dive into action while riding on his reindeer like an absolute badass, but the very prospect of proposing to the love of his life makes him quiver like a nervous chicken. He’s human and therefore the most compelling male character in Disney princess movies.
Then there’s Olaf, who in concept is a character that represents the things I hate about Disney animated movies as an adult. A cute caricature conceived to partake in silly slapstick bits to an insufferably annoying degree, make kids laugh and sell a boatload of merchandise. In reality, Olaf is great and ridiculously endearing. A fully realised character that’s interesting perhaps even more so here than in the first movie. He’s started to read but he’s confused by a lot of his newfound knowledge, perplexed by his new discoveries, convinced that everything about the world would make sense once he’s older. It’s writing that makes the character relatable on two separate levels — to the 10-year-old kids who are watching and thinking the same as he is and the adults who’ll smile to themselves, knowing that even as grownups the world doesn’t quite make sense either.
There are a couple of aspects, though, that prevent Frozen 2 from reaching the levels of its far more balanced and enthralling predecessor. The songs are good, but a ‘Let it Go’ this movie does not have. There, the restrained narrative built slowly, brick by brick, holding Elsa back, until everything finally explodes in a magnificent Crescendo through a hair raising, rousing, beast of a song. While Frozen 2’s ‘Into the Unknown’ is dynamite in its own right, it lacks the flawless build and magnanimous emotional weight. (That said, the opening number, ‘All is Found’ evoked a similar feeling of solemness and bliss that I experienced listening to Jenny of Oldstones on Game of Thrones.)
But what’s really bothersome is how some of the struggles that characters go through, get resolved with ease very quickly. The moments leading up to the climax is great, but the climax itself doesn’t roar like thunder. It comes off a little too easy or too safe. There are also answers to certain mysteries that fall flat, not in terms of story but in execution. The unveiling of Agnarr’s guardian angel plays out in a whimper.
That’s not what Frozen 2 is about, though. What it is about are the characters and their rocky journey towards finding themselves and each other; understanding themselves and each other. That’s the conflict that broils at the centre of this beautiful animated picture. Which explains the lack of villain (s). This movie is about the battle within more than it is about the battle without. It’s about discovering who you are and what your place and purpose in society. And on that front, Frozen 2 delivers.