Frozen II: They Tried

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Given Frozen’s smashing success, and Disney’s philosophy regarding capitalization of past successes, Frozen II was almost a mathematical inevitability. Now the deed’s done and the movie’s out. The good news is, they tried.

Frozen II strikes out into new territory. It expands its world with history and with mythology, though with the inadvertent effect of making Arendelle look … small. (It is a question for political scientists: Can it be a kingdom if it can all fit on a cliff?) Frozen II wisely preserves Anna’s and Elsa’s gains. Their relationship, though not entirely seamless, is fully restored. Even their parents – who, with such loving intentions, almost destroyed their daughter in the first movie – are softened in this second telling with the emphasis that they really did love. In this way, Frozen II provides a welcome kind of catharsis for its predecessor.

At the same time, it moves the characters onward from their ending-places of the last film. The movie’s first song invokes a theme of change and the whole story plays out in deep autumn, the imagery of change. The autumn setting also allows a refreshed, brighter palette beyond the white and blue that dominated the first film. Indeed, the film’s strongest element is its visual artistry. So much of the movie – from the fall grandeur to the exploding magic of Ahtohallan – is a pleasure to behold. Other sequences stand out for their excellence – Elsa’s unburial of Ahtohallan‘s secrets, Olaf’s hilarious retelling of Frozen, Anna’s moment of resolution in crisis.

There is real merit in these scattered elements of Frozen II. But the story never unites them into a comprehensible whole. (Fair warning: From here on in, this review is replete with spoilers – but you don’t care, do you?) Magic heaves through the story, but there is no making sense of its operations. The magic slingshots, at the convenience of plot, from being wild and heedless, like a force of nature, to being focused and merciful, like a benevolent deity. This incoherence muddles the whole story. If Ahtohallan calls Elsa, why does it attempt to kill her for answering the call? If the Enchanted Forest hates the dam to the point of destroying Arendelle, why does it never have a go at destroying the dam itself? How does a person become a spirit?

The movie makes a great point of uncovering a painful family secret. The pain is largely mitigated, however, by two factors: (1) The secret principally involves dead people nobody cares about; (2) It is inexplicable. The skeleton in the royal closet is that Elsa’s grandfather treacherously gave unto the Enchanted Forest people … a dam. As treacherous gifts go, this lacks imagination; not a lot of subtlety is possible with a dam. And this wasn’t some cheap, logs-on-rocks dam. It was a stone behemoth. It was the Hoover Dam of vaguely magical, vaguely Scandinavian kingdoms. Its nature as a dam was exceedingly obvious. It should not have taken any strenuous mental exertion to forecast the result of the dam being a dam. Yet only by magic and near-death is the shocking secret exposed: The dam was a Trojan horse in that it blocked the water. I thought about this too long, and now it’s funny.

But Frozen II was made for children, and no doubt they like it better than I do. Frozen II has flares of creativity and even a kind of emotional wisdom. Its confused plot and incoherent mythology leave it uneven. Taken altogether (as all things must be), the movie is all right. Probably it is even good, if you spare it close examination and just enjoy it.

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Shannon McDermott is an author of science fiction and has been occupied for years with constructing scenarios of the colonization of Mars. Her first Mars-centric novel will be released by Enclave Publishing in late 2024. Her earlier works include “Jack and I” (Once Upon a Future Time: Volume 2) and “The Fulcrum” (Hidden Histories: Third Flatiron Anthologies Spring/Summer 2019).
  1. I want to see this movie, but since I never care about spoilers, I plowed right through your warning :p

    Just from some of the clips I’ve seen, it seems worth it even just for the visuals. I’m kind of used to there being weird, impractical things or inconsistencies in films if the audience pays enough attention, so maybe this film will be ok as long as the issues aren’t too glaring. Maybe they can even be explained away to make the audience feel better. Perhaps the inconsistencies in the magic is because there’s actually more than one entity involved. Or maybe the magic is insane. IDK.

    Thing is, there haven’t been a lot of mainstream movies I’ve been into lately, so from that standpoint this one is just one of the few I’m mildly interested in.

  2. The skeleton in the royal closet wasn’t the dam – everyone knew they made the dam, even if they didn’t know the true intention behind it. It was that their grandfather started the “war” by sneaking up from behind and killing an innocent person, out of prejudicial fear. And Anna had to destroy the dam in order to redeem her people – to show they weren’t bound by the same fear her grandfather had been. And it was her willingness to sacrifice Arendelle that earned the forgiveness that allowed Elsa to save Arendelle after all. (That’s my interpretation anyway.)

    As for why did the king bothered building the dam if he was just going to start a war anyway? I don’t think he was originally – he killed the leader because the leader realized the dam was suffocating the magic and wanted the dam removed. (Now the whole concept behind the dam being a good way to hurt the Northuldra is convoluted, but no worse than many another movie out there.)

    Overall, I thought the movie carried a powerful lesson regarding what to do when you don’t know what to do, even in the face of loss and grief — doing the next right thing. And I’ll take a positive message like that, even with an uneven plot, over something fantastically plotted but with a shoddy message anyday.

  3. Jes Drew says:

    I agree that the music and animation was stunning. But, boy, did the story need work. And maybe a little less paganism too.

  4. One critic compared the plot of Frozen II to Annihilation. A horror novel/movie.

    Evil is spreading out from the enchanted forest. To save their world, the heroes journey into the forest but don’t return unchanged.

  5. Micah Harris says:

    It’s a bit muted…but there’s a comment from the murdered Northuldra leader and the grandfather that implies the dam cut them off from the north, which would mean Ahtohallan I think. If I’m right, it makes sense about why the magic forest was starting to suffer; it wasn’t just a lack of water. I found Frozen 2 to be a sketch of Biblical redemption, from the fall to the death and resurrection of Christ to a renewed creation. Anyone interested in my thoughts, please visit my blog essay, “The Gospel According to Olaf” at https://minorprofitpress.com/blog/

What do you think?