Why yes. This is going to be a post where a grown ass woman says negative, nitpicky things about a children’s movie. If you keep reading despite that warning… well that’s your problem. Oh, also there’s going to be spoilers for both Frozen movies and some very light spoilers for Small Foot. Read at your own risk.
The much anticipated sequel to Frozen is here, aptly entitled Frozen 2. I left the theater rather disappointed, but I also felt that the movie wasn’t really bad. It just fell short of its predecessor in enough ways that more than 50% of me wishes it didn’t exist. It felt like a cash grab. Cash grabs don’t always lead to bad movies, (Toy Story 4 was a pleasant surprise), but the conflicts for Frozen 2 felt contrived, and unfortunately the movie actually undermines some of the important progress that Frozen made.
This is possibly the first time where my distaste for a movie happened largely BECAUSE it was a sequel. I can’t help but think that there was some way to retool this is as a movie with original characters that still would have worked. Keep the mysterious enchanted forest that’s been frozen in fog for 30+ years (get it? FROZEN in fog?). Next, find some reason to send a squad of endearing characters inside on a quest for truth. They learn that their kingdom was actually lying to everyone the whole time, and then destroy some kind of big barrier and restore peace to the land.
In those vague terms, the plot isn’t THAT far off from Small Foot, which I would say is a far superior movie. But because this is Frozen 2, I have expectations. There are certain themes and messages from the first movie that I expect to stay intact. I already have an understanding of what these characters would or would not do in certain situations. I am vaguely aware of the mythology guiding this universe. A good sequel respects all these things while extrapolating on them. Here, the attempts at extrapolation ultimately disrespect the concepts established by the first movie.
Let’s start at the beginning, when we learn about this weird enchanted forest bit. The story is relayed to Anna and Elsa while they are young girls. There’s this enchanted forest and the magical natives who lived there were at odds with Arendelle. Arendelle sent soldiers to go make peace. A huge battle happened and only Anna/Elsa’s father was able to make it out alive, hence him becoming king. Everyone else has been frozen in time, with no one being able to go in or out (FROZEN… I did it again). While it’s not spelled all the way out at this point in the movie, one can reasonably assume the forest and its people have something to do with how Elsa got her powers since no one else in Arendelle is magical.
If there’s one thing this movie taught me, it’s that magic oftentimes doesn’t need an explanation. Attempting an explanation tends to make the magic less… well… magical. We’ll call it the midichlorian problem. Just tell me this is a fantasy universe where magic exists and I can run with that. There’s a reason that Toy Story 4 didn’t attempt to tell me WHY the toys can talk. I was completely content with the amount of backstory Frozen 1 gave me in this regard.
Fast forward to present day when Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf are currently living happily ever after. I forget if they actually tell us how long it’s been since the end of the first movie, but it seems like fall-ish and I want to say the first movie ended in spring-ish. At this point, Elsa decides she has to go look for the enchanted forest so that the plot can move forward. I guess her powers were telling her she had to? I mean, maybe I could buy into that if her powers gave her similar urges in the first movie, but they don’t. Instead, it just feels like the writers are grasping at straws to come up with a conflict.
The best sequels tend to feel like organic continuations of the original story. Part of why I love the premise for Shrek 2 is that Shrek would have inevitably had to meet Fiona’s parents at some point anyway. Toy Story 3 works so well because children outgrowing their toys is a fact of life. Both of these conflicts are simply the natural progression of things, rather than new conflicts that the writers pulled out of their butts just to keep the story going.
A big part of why I never felt 100% invested in Frozen 2 is that I could not shake the feeling that the writers were bending over backwards to try to find a conflict that could end this happily ever after. Elsa’s reason for entering the forest seems convoluted and insignificant compared to Anna’s reason for chasing after Elsa in the first movie. Anna was on a quest to save her sister and end her kingdom’s cold snap. Elsa was leaving a storybook ending because… what? She has a sense of adventure? “Into the Unknown” is a wonderful song but it basically admits that Elsa doesn’t have a concrete reason for her journey that on paper, looks rather dumb.
This also happens to a lesser extent with Krisoff’s plotline. We find out at the beginning of the movie that Kristoff is planning to propose to Anna. That’s cool, and totally fits within that realm of organic next steps that make for sensible sequels. But every time Kristoff tries to pop the question, something awkward happens or Anna is too preoccupied with Elsa drama to really be in the moment.
This was fine, right up until Kristoff’s musical number “Lost in the Woods.” Not only did I just think this was a relatively forgettable track, but it irked me how Kristoff says “up till now, I always thought the next step was a question of how, not a question of whether.” The number is played off as a serious existential crisis, as though Kristoff genuinely believes that their relationship is threatened.
It seems to me that Kristoff should be well aware of the intense bond between Anna and Elsa. After all, it is that very bond that drove Anna into her fool’s errand in the first movie. You know, the one that jumpstarted Anna and Kristoff’s entire relationship. While Kristoff never really doubts his love for Anna, I just couldn’t believe that he would read Anna stressing about her sister’s well-being as “oh, what if this means that we won’t be together.” They’ve presumably spent damn near every day together since the first movie, plus a lot of time with Elsa too. I have trouble believing that Kristoff would still have these kinds of insecurities at this stage of their relationship. Again, it just felt like writers insisting that something dramatic was happening when there was no logical reason for the situation in the first place. I can’t help but think that a slightly more comedic number about the stresses of planning a perfect proposal would have worked better than genuine stress about the relationship’s ability to survive.
This also feels like a subversion of Frozen 1‘s greatest strength. One of the coolest things Frozen did (COOLEST haha) was point out that familial love can be just as, if not more important than romantic love. It was ultimately Elsa’s true love for Anna that saved her, not a man’s. At the time, this felt like a relatively radical statement from the company primarily responsible for cliché, fairytale notions of love. It was proof that Disney could modernize its formula without losing its charm.
But in Frozen 2, Elsa is portrayed as an obstacle to Anna and Kristoff’s relationship. She’s the reason that they don’t get engaged after a charades game within the first 10 minutes of the movie. Anna’s love and worry for her sister is a distraction that keeps her from giving her man the attention he needs. Kristoff ultimately handles it like a mature adult, which is great. But that also manifests in a rather cliche saved-by-her-man-when-there’s-no-hope-left scene towards the end of the movie. It’s a story arc that wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that it contradicts what this franchise already told me it stands for.
Anna and Kristoff don’t really get their happily ever after until Elsa is removed from the picture and the two sisters are living as pen pals. In the end, Elsa abdicates the throne to Anna, staying in magical forest land. At first, I didn’t quite get it. Is she choosing this because she feels more comfortable around other magical people? Does whatever magic spell thingy require this? Is it something that the forest natives insisted on as some kind of peace treaty? So I took to Google. Surely I missed something, right? Surely there was some plot point about how one or both kingdoms would be terribly cursed if Elsa didn’t stay?
But Google didn’t inform me of such a plot point. Or at least, the first three articles I clicked on seemed to have similar understandings of the movie to mine. So I guess Elsa stayed… because… she wanted to? Which doesn’t exactly NOT make sense. Elsa’s always felt like an outsider in Arendelle. But so much of her arc in the first movie was about learning to love and accept her powers. She spent much of that story believing she needed to separate herself from non-magic people in order to live a peaceful life. Ruling over those people without having to hide her powers seemed like a major victory. Now, we have Elsa saying ‘peace out, I need to be among my own kind.’
And there really isn’t a compelling reason for this. At all. She doesn’t form any meaningful relationships with any of these native people. This new world where magic is more accessible to everyone SHOULD mean that traveling from Arendelle to the enchanted forest is relatively easy now, right? It’s also completely unbelievable to me that these natives would accept this arrangement as quickly as they do. She’s STILL the queen, i.e. granddaughter of the dude who screwed them over in the first place. Yes, she’s TECHNICALLY one of them via her mother’s bloodline. But WHY WOULD THEY TRUST HER? Even if these people are grateful to her for breaking the spell and freeing them, would they REALLY want her ruling over them? Did they not already have their own political systems in place for the past 34 years and then some?
I really wish I could’ve loved Frozen 2 more, in part because there were enough intriguing ideas going on that a good movie should have been possible. Unfortunately, too many of those ideas don’t feel like an organic part of the Frozen universe and its mythology. The resulting story leaves me less satisfied than I was at the end of Frozen 1, which is arguably the worst thing a sequel can do.