Frozen II (Chris Buck/Jennifer Lee, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Belting out showtunes with never-ending gusto, Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell are back, in Frozen II, as sisters Elsa and Anna, freshly reconciled at the end of the previous film and comfortably ensconced as Queens of the Kingdom of Arendelle. When Elsa hears a voice from afar tempting her into, as she sings, “the unknown,” little does she know that the upcoming adventure will once more threaten her land with devastation. As she and Anna, along with sidekicks Kristoff (Anna’s boyfriend and would-be fiancé), Olaf (the snowman) and Sven (the reindeer) embark on an exploration of a walled-off enchanted forest, we, the audience, follow along, entranced like the woods … more or less. Despite the frantically moving parts and strenuous efforts to entertain, Frozen II is never quite as magical or affecting as its predecessor, though it is certainly engaging enough.
Indeed, if the film has a flaw, it is its manic pace of plot shenanigans that leave little time for reflection, as if returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee were afraid to stop the proceedings lest we get bored. If not anywhere as bad as the screechingly unwatchable short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure that Disney foisted on us before screenings of the 2017 Coco, it could still stand to slow down, if only for a minute. The constant procession of songs, with sadly ne’er a catchy one among them, leave almost no room for breath. That said, it is all harmless enough and often good fun.
After a brief prologue flashback that returns us to the children that Elsa and Anna once were, as mom and dad recount a strange incident from the past – setup for the present – we cut to a few years after the events of Frozen as all are happy, or mostly so. Kristoff longs to formalize his feelings for Anna, but despite coaching from Sven cannot quite get the proposal right. Olaf no longer melts in warm weather, courtesy of one of Elsa’s spells (remember, her magic powers all center around manipulation of water into frozen solids), and Elsa has her moods under control. Until, that is, she hears the siren call that urges her forward. And off we go.
Once past the first act, we meet a slew of additional characters who enrich the narrative, illuminate the protagonists’ backstories and enliven our appreciation of the universe. As before, there is copious humor throughout, even when things turn dark and gloomy. That enchanted forest offers at least one adorable new creature, and nothing is too horrible for kids, though the PG rating should give parents of the youngest ones out there momentary pause. The animation is lovely, and the script offers a few solid life lessons. If the sum total of the sequel’s individual bits doesn’t quite add up to something quite as special as Part 1, it is still enjoyable. No need (yet) to let it go.