Frozen 2 breaks from the traditional Disney film structure, delivering a surprisingly reflective and decidedly feminist fantasy epic. It not only feels original from anything else Disney has released in recent years, and even stands above the previous Frozen as one of the studio's most interesting and compelling films.
Set a short time after the events of Frozen, Elsa is reigning peacefully over the kingdom of Arendelle but still uneasy with herself. Upon hearing a mysterious magical voice singing out in the night, she accidentally reawakens the elemental forces of the world. Out of control, the elements quickly threaten the people of Arendelle. This forces Elsa (along with Anna, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf) to head north to try and discover the secrets sealed away in the enchanted forest, and how it connects to both the history of Arendelle and Elsa herself.
While there is a narrative push to uncover the secrets of magic and the past, opening segments of the film move at a deliberately slow pace to allow time to focus on more natural world-building and character growth. In the wrong hands, the film could have become dull and meandering, but directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are able to maintain a consistent and enjoyable flow of pacing throughout. Even when the narrative introduces new threads, it's more focused on developing the characters than any of the larger plot shifts. Elsa's growth is the film's core, with her mission to find the elemental spirits and more answers about herself taking her further north than anyone else in the world. But along the way, she also slowly finds a sense of happiness she's previously lacked.
The strength of the cast and the screenplay (written by Lee along with Allison Schroeder) keep the film afloat despite the lack of overall drive. There's no antagonist in the traditional sense—the true enemies prove to be the lingering mistakes of the past. What the film lacks in specific stakes, it replaces with a sense of adventure and scope that eclipses all but the most ambitious Disney films. The exploration of the connection between humanity and the world around it fuels most of these journeys. It's strange and mysterious and almost ethereal at times, immersing the audience in strange and unique imagery that stands out from the rest of the company's animated canon. It also unabashedly and casually puts the female leads front and center, giving them all the agency and development across the film. It's a feminist film that doesn't insist on the point but just leans into it, which is nice.
Idina Menzel returns to one of the most iconic Disney roles of the last decade and grows along with Elsa as she learns more about her powers and her history. Minor subplots are afforded to Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad that largely play out for laughs, with mixed results. They're more distracting than anything else, but they're at least charming enough to not become repetitive (outside of a single running gag with Kristof that at least gets some chuckles before it gets tiring.)
Anna's subplot ends up being the only one that really plays into the overall thematic throughline of the film, allowing her to have a major role in an exciting and surprising climax that sees the heroes forced to try and save the day from an entirely unexpected conflict. The visuals in these moments are major highlights of the film, staged beautifully and with a colorful sense of design. At times it even rivals the instantly classic "Let It Go" sequence from the first film in terms of staging and execution.
Likewise, the music of the film is decidedly better than the music from the previous film, with a stronger overall sense of style and confidence in the songs and less of a dependence of gimmick musical numbers (although there are still two of those that at least manage to be better than what came in the last movie.)
The film is set during the turning of the seasons, working the visuals of the world around them in tandem with the overarching themes of change being inevitable but positive if we learn how to try and make sure it's for the better. The film touches on elements of environmentalism, isolationism, assimilation, colonization and trying to make up for the mistakes of previous generations. It's a surprisingly heavy Disney animated movie, eschewing the more basic and straightforward elements of the studio's films.
These bolder choices make the film feel wholly unique as a result, simultaneously more complex but simplistic. At time, the first Frozen felt beholden to the classic Disney structure, with the more inspired moments coming when it bucked tradition and played out as something different. This film commits fully to that ideal and, while it may not all be the most riveting material in the world, it is a consistently gorgeous piece of compelling character work.
Arriving Nov. 22, Disney's Frozen 2 reunites directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and producer Del Vecho with voice actors Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad. Returning musical talents include Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.