Pleasantly pulpy and fresh in assortment, Frozen II beats its precursor in watchability and aesthetic
Last year’s Frozen II saw a positive reception from fans and critics alike, but nothing akin to the cultural landslide of its predecessor. It did just fine financially (better than fine; 1.5 billion is a sickening amount of money) but has proved more contentious than the pretty well unanimously appreciated first film. For a hotly demanded sequel six years in the making, why was this case? Well, a couple of things. Many critics who did not take to the second film tend to either point out its failure to capture the spectacle of 2013, or dub the sequel unnecessary and confused. These are valid things to note; the film’s approach to following up the original is not to challenge its reputation nor general filmmaking, but I think this was intentional; you only have to look at the lack of marketable set pieces or locales (the forest, I guess?), or resistance to new mascots within the feature. The closest the film comes to the latter is with the inclusion of the fire lizard, or water horse, or earth giants, all of which are featured as typically brief plot points rather than recurring iconography to harden the viability of their toys.
While this may seem to weaken the sense of gravitas, it is in fact the 2019 film’s great strength. Frozen II is more likeable than its forerunner for these reasons, as it less preoccupied with brand establishment and with trying to create a sense of initial magic, and is instead quite happy to play with its ideas and formula in amusing, enjoyably pulpy and sometimes reckless ways. It means that the creators can have some real fun with what they have to work with, pushing an assorted mixture of songs, subplots and visual ideas into a melting pot and cultivating a cohesive product out of whatever’s cooked up. In other words, it feels less corporate, and more expressive.
Most things about the film work in its favour alongside this idea. The ‘four elements’ setup is inherently pastiche and before-trodden, and the soundtrack has none of the staple hits of the first film. Again, I’m sure that this was, to some extent, the intention; while ‘Into the Unknown’ acts straightforward enough as a marketing tool, the strange (for mainstream audiences) chorus time subversions and double-time piano in ‘Show Yourself’ and utterly ridiculous 80s-inspired power ballad ‘Lost in the Woods’ can only be penned with either pure intentions and tongue in cheek. As well as this, the somewhat ambiguous Elsa plotline concerned with discovering a mysterious force (thematically intact and resonant but materially a little cryptic) and the total memeification of Kristoff’s character certainly don’t support the idea that Disney wanted to recreate the spectacle of the original, nor does the conclusion of Elsa’s arc suggest blind mainstream pandering. For a hugely popular animated children’s feature, this sequel is inventive in ways for which it did not receive proper credit.
And so relating the 2019 film to corporate money-making by calling it pointless is, in my opinion, inaccurate. Pulp is not the same thing as soullessness or inconsistency. Along this line, Frozen II is cohesive in its sense of miscellany, seen most clearly in a variegated soundtrack and dappled aesthetic (faux-rustic visuals, the elements concept, “finding yourself” narrative, intertwining subplots…). It breaks from its predecessor and does something a little more messy and, on paper, less memorable — but is all the better for it. I would love to see more Disney IP have this much confidence in medleying aesthetic ideas and styles of songwriting. And more power ballads. Please more power ballads.