Frozen 2 (2019) - Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
2013's Frozen was a box office behemoth taking $1.3bn globally and becoming a beloved and iconic film for a generation of children (and adults?). With its winning combination of great characters, emotional heart, astonishing animation, and heartwarming songs the film felt like a return to the classic Disney film and was compared with the early 90s masterpieces The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Unlike all of these films though, Frozen was deemed successful enough to merit a cinematic sequel. Something relatively unheard of in Disney animation.
The monumental success of Frozen hangs heavy over Frozen 2. A film which feels like its treading familiar ground to the original whilst also trying to break free into some bigger, better and (like so many sequels in modern cinema) darker. That the film, for the most part, survives comparison and does emerge as its own creation is possibly the film's greatest achievement.
We join Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven three years after the events of the first film. Initially everything in the kingdom of Arendelle is peaceful. The film opens with Elsa and Anna as young children again being told the story of their grandfather, King Runeard, and how we established a treaty with neighbouring tribe of Northuldra in the Enchanted Forest. However, despite building a dam to protect the forest a battle breaks out, killing King Runeard. Elsa and Anna's father, Agnarr narrowly escapes thanks to a mysterious saviour. Then, one night, Elsa hears a enchanted voice calling out to her. After pursuing the voice she accidentally awakens elemental spirits (Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water) inadvertently threatening Arendelle with destruction and forcing her people to flee their homes whilst setting up an adventure which will see Elsa and Anna discover the truth about their past, and the source of Elsa's powers.
There is an awful lot going on this Frozen 2. It juggles multiple plotlines and themes and despite occasionally feeling like it's going to collapse under its own weight, it manages to hold itself together, thanks to the combination of characters, songs, and music. The film's core strengths, the sisterly love between Elsa and Anna and a strong environmental theme are never far away from the centre of the story and remain the anchors that hold it together. In fact, what I responded to most in the film was the beauty and depth of the love and friendship between Elsa and Anna. The film works brilliantly to explore the weight of responsibility Elsa feels, with her gift, to protect her sister from danger and Anna's determination and devotion to being there for her sister. When they are eventually separated, for good reason, you feel the wrench deeply. It's the bond they share which ultimately brings them back together and restores the kingdom to safety. With all of the mystical and magical elements at play in the film it is their sisterly love which proves the strongest; Anna finding the strength and courage to save her sister and Elsa learning the importance of trusting and having faith in Anna.
The other key strength of the film, the importance of having a strong connection with nature I what drives the plot, and the revelations about Elsa's past and her powers. It's here that the film delivers its most spectacular moments. The elemental spirits are all wonderfully brought to life, whether it be giant rock gods representing earth or a tiny, adorable Fire spirit manifested in the magical salamander. Even the Wind has a personality of its own. The real standout though is the Nøkk, the Water spirit Elsa must tame to cross the ocean to Ahtohallan; a mythical land where the answers to Elsa's past and powers lay. The sequence where Elsa must battle and tame the Water Spirit is one of the finest animated sequences of recent years; dark, enchanting and breathtaking it demonstrates the power (both magical and not) and Elsa's character. It's also magnificently animated.
When Elsa finally reaches Ahothallan the truth about her past is revealed and the strong theme about environmentalism comes to fruition. The film taps into the growing concern about mankind's abuse of the natural environment and strongly preaches a message about learning to live in harmony with nature. The set up of the film sees Arendelle at risk from nature due to the consequences of human actions in the past - both a betrayal and an attempt to control and harness nature. Later in the film humans are lost in nature, almost imprisoned in a fog in the Enchanted Forest, doomed to live out the same battle, with no concept of how much time has past. What Elsa, and the audience learn is the importance of living in harmony with nature, and Elsa represents the bridge between the two worlds. She is the fifth elemental that will bring harmony to the world.
Supporting Elsa and Anna on their quest are their unlikely band of men, Olaf the snowman who has now been imbued with Permafrost to protect him from the seasons, Kristoff who spends much of the film failing to propose to Anna, but does get arguably the films best, and most hilarious song, Lost in the Woods, which delightful parodies boy band music videos. Joining Kristoff is his devoted and loyal reindeer, Sven who like many of the modern animal sidekicks in Disney films gives great expressions and enriches most of these scenes he's in. Olaf predictably steals the show delivering not only the funniest moments of the film (a lightning quick recap of Frozen had my sides aching) but one of the most poignant. What's also great about Olaf is how he's developed to become much more philosophical about his existence, particularly in the film's exploration of the memory of water - which plays a bigger part later in the film as the revelations about Elsa and Anna's heritage becomes clear.
Frozen 2 is that rarest of things. A sequel which lives up to the brilliance of the original. It might not have a breakout song on the level of Let It Go, but with warmth, humour, heartbreak, strong themes and stunning animation Frozen 2 should melt even the coldest of hearts. And what's more, if this is the type of film Disney is making for the younger generation then long may it continue.