If you were holding out hope that “Frozen 2” could equal or surpass the original phenomenon, it’s time to let it go.
There’s a lot bigger about Disney’s animated musical followup to the 2013 mega-hit but not much is better this time around. Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, “Frozen 2” (★★½ out of four; rated PG; in theaters Nov. 22) dives into a mythology dump while continuing the story of loving sisters Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), sans the same charm, goofy spirit and powerhouse showtunes of the original film.
The sequel is set three years after Elsa came to accept her ice powers as a gift rather than a curse, and Anna saved her sis and punched evil ex-boyfriend Prince Hans in the face. Now, adorable snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) is loving his new permafrost though is starting to grasp the concept of impermanence, rugged yet vulnerable Kristoff wants to take his relationship with Anna to the next level, and the peppy “Some Things Never Change” is a chance for everyone to (of course) sing about how something different is in the air.
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Queen Elsa is actually rather happy at the beginning of “Frozen 2,” yet even she feels there’s more out there in the world for her. When she hears a melodic call compelling her to venture out beyond Arendelle’s walls and sees elemental signs on floating mystical ice daggers, Elsa and the gang begin a new adventure that involves an investigation into the origins of her powers and the discovery of an enchanted forest that’s been walled off from Arendelle for a few decades.
Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel, left) Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven have new challenges to face in the animated musical sequel "Frozen 2." (Photo: WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS)
This “Frozen” doubles down on its own history, as Anna and Elsa find out about hostilities between their royal grandfather and an indigenous clan of people called the Northuldra (cue lots of Native American symbolism and colonialist themes). Also factoring in the fairy tale is a legendary river the sister’s mom (Evan Rachel Wood) sang about when they were kids.
Things were so much simpler when a couple little girls just wanted to build a snowman.
Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell, left) and Olaf (Josh Gad) deal with life changes in "Frozen 2." (Photo: WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS)
The themes of growing up – especially evidenced by Olaf – make sense for a massive fandom of boys and girls moving through formative years themselves. But unfortunately, “Frozen 2” is a heavily plotted – and sometimes plodding – affair with way too much going on and not enough of it working together cohesively. At the very least, the relentless exposition looks great, with top-notch animation delivering a larger magical landscape and its dynamic nature-centric fauna. (Elsa befriends a little fire demon salamander and a water horse who both look pretty nifty.)
The soundtrack lacks a knockout anthem a la “Let It Go” – another aspect that proves the first movie really was lightning in a bottle. In addition to trading song quality for quantity, “Frozen 2” uses more of a musical-theater structure in its storytelling that slows momentum more.
Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) makes friends with a mythical water horse in "Frozen 2." (Photo: WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS)
That said, each character gets a cool signature song. Elsa’s “Into the Unknown” is a powerful tune that nicely weaves in the strange melody she hears from afar. Olaf uses “When I Get Older” as almost a coping mechanism when surrounded by complete chaos. Anna’s hopeful “The Next Right Thing” has the potential to be everyone’s new fave “Frozen” song. And Kristoff’s “Lost in the Woods” is the reindeer-filled, 1980s Peter Cetera-style jam you didn’t know you needed.
While a joyful noise is being made unto the fjord yeti again and the sisters still rule, “Frozen 2” doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the original. The cold never bothered us anyway, but we definitely miss having the old chills.
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