The result is a convoluted, sporadically sensical, occasionally trippy film that can’t quite find a purpose amid all the manic world-building. Frozen II will make plenty of money and surely satisfy the younger audiences it’s mostly aimed at, but even as someone who enjoyed the ’90s-musical throwback of the first Frozen, I found little to relish this time around. Yes, it has the brassy ballads and sparkly one-liners that helped define the “Disney Renaissance” style to which Frozen paid homage. But the sequel doesn’t build on what made the first movie so agreeable.
For one thing, the original film’s central theme—the power of sisterly bonds—is repeated in Frozen II with minimal variation. Elsa, now confident in exploring the outer limits of her ice sorcery, is once again tempted to leave her kingdom and face danger on her own, while Anna, who is less magical but more sensible and social, tries to rein her in. The narrative arc of the sisters’ journey north is buried in whole snowdrifts of backstory about the past colonial sins of Anna and Elsa’s frosty kingdom.
It would be heartening to see this film grapple with the simplistic feudal politics of so many Disney classics, if the script could do so coherently. But Frozen II is too beholden to formula to dig deep. After all, it has to devote a chunk of time to Olaf (Josh Gad), the wisecracking snowman bumbling alongside our heroes, who’s designed to earn laughs from the kids but deserves only eye rolls from anyone else. There are also further efforts to delve into Elsa’s supernatural background, embellishing a story arc that already felt complete.
As in the original, the songs were composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who also contributed to the music of Coco. But there’s nothing here on the level of the team’s Oscar winners, “Let It Go” and “Remember Me.” The biggest banger of Frozen II is “Into the Unknown,” a honking solo from Elsa about the lure of the great beyond, which features the requisite number of soaring key changes from Menzel. Still, it doesn’t quite have that magic Disney mix of earworm melody and thematically resonant lyrics; given how early in the film it comes, it almost feels like Elsa is vainly trying to sell the audience on the story’s relevance.
The song I most enjoyed was a rather ridiculous power ballad titled “Lost in the Woods,” sung by Anna’s moose-riding boyfriend, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). Despite his proven Broadway talent, Groff was robbed of a proper song in the first Frozen. The sequel makes up for that by giving him something straight out of the Jim Steinman songbook: a forlorn mountaineer ditty that is presented with every music-video cliché in the book. This campy fun, along with Kristoff’s chummy reliability, helps to lighten up a plot that’s otherwise weighed down by elaborate exposition.