MCN Commentary & Analysis

Review: Frozen 2 (spoiler-free)

Frozen is a mess.

Oh, wait, you are trying to read a Frozen 2 review.

But I feel compelled to go back to the massively successful, beloved original.

What made Frozen work? Because what was cobbled together was, as noted before, a mess.

(spoilers for Frozen, not Frozen 2)
The film starts with little Anna having her brain washed by the Grand Pabbie so she grows up isolated from her sister, being lied to by her parents, and locked away from the world. Is that a good message? Mom and Dad die, inevitably for a Disney movie. So the isolated, unprepared sister with dangerous powers that have never been addressed becomes Queen, which frees her somehow-sane little sister as a result. So Elsa, now Queen, suddenly is freed too, rebelling against her fear and isolation in a way that she should have 15 years earlier, with her loving family to help guide her through the stumbles. Her triumph is building an ice castle, abandoning her home and responsibilities. But Anna is determined to get her sister back and save Arendelle, which she has sentenced to a cold death without realizing it. And then she almost kills her sister by mistake… again. Then she creates a monster to overpower her sister and friends. Don’t even get me started on the evil prince and Anna turning into an Anna-cicle. Or the level of violence in the 2nd half of the film.

This is a crazy stitched-together Frankenstein of a movie. So many weird elements shoved together that really don’t match.

So why does it work so well?

It’s Anna’s story and the stakes for her are enormous. She was hurt, which leads to her losing her sister and a normal life and then, her parents. Snowman is a plea for familial love. First Time in Forever is a scream of the joy of freedom. Love is an Open Door is the accelerated first love story.

Then, of course, Elsa lets it go, delivering what may be the greatest musical song ever that makes no sense in the context of the film. Her letting it go is deadly dangerous to everyone and everything she loves. “Find a Handle” would not be as good a song.

I often remember explaining to a young friend, many years ago, that if you listen to Motown songs, they are often not as fun. As you’re rocking out to “Love Child,” you don’t really want to think about the abandoned woman and her child, “born in poverty.” A magnificent song. But people don’t think about the details. Same with “Let It Go.”

Frozen’s writing often sparkles, the animation is great, but most of all, those songs. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez delivered “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “For The First Time in Forever,” “Love is an Open Door,” “Let It Go,” “In Summer,” “Fixer Upper,” and “Reindeers Are Better Than People.” SEVEN great brand-new Broadway showtunes. That is the stuff of Broadway legend. Yes, West Side Story has more. But it’s the same number of classic songs in Gypsy, for example.

Thing is, in another oddity, the sensational musical is loaded almost completely into the first half of the film, culminating with the anthem, “Let It Go.”

It’s a beautifully made film. Absolutely. But it is one of the best musical song scores ever. And Disney has had some great ones.

But here is my point… Frozen 2, like all sequels, wants to be fresh, but to reflect the past hit. And in that, there is more danger than a teenager with ice powers.

So what do you do when there isn’t a stable structure to recreate and you can’t just let it go and take these characters and really change things up?

In a weird way, since the original started with the women’s childhoods, they made Frozen 2 into a prequel or origins story, even as it moves forward.

But the problem… the stakes are external, not internal. Arendelle needs to be saved… again. Elsa has to learn about her magic… again. Anna is adorable… again.

And the songs are… good. It’s like writing a sequel to Grease. Or writing a sequel to any great-song musical. Good. Luck. Anderson-Lopez and Lopez are easily amongst the greats of Broadway songwriting in this era. I wish half of the songwriters – even the successful ones – who have reflected their style were half as good as them. But they didn’t really have anything to write about this time.

The movie, like the songs, is… okay.

I like the Northuldra, a new group of characters in the film.

At times, Frozen 2 feels like a made-for-streaming-DVD sequel. Sometimes, it feels bigger than that.

But I was hungry for more the whole way through.

It needed new stakes. It needed something like Elsa being the reckless one and Anna being the settled, obsessed one. What if we had started with Anna and Kristoff were long-married and had 2 daughters and she was overprotective? What if Elsa had her first love and that is what got everyone in trouble? SOMETHING! At least something other than continuing adventures.

Or to quote Sondheim…

“You can pull all the stops out Till they call the cops out; Grind your behind till you’re banned. But you gotta get a gimmick If you wanna get a hand.

You can sacrifice your saccro
Working in the back row.
Bump in a dump till you’re dead.
Kid, you gotta have a gimmick
If you wanna get ahead.”

A sequel is almost always a lowering of the stakes. It is a very hard hump to get over unless you had a two-parter (like The Godfather, from the novel) or a trilogy laid out going in.

And trying to rebuild a narrative energy from a film that was put together, brilliantly, with duct tape and music, is almost impossible. You have to find another way in and all of the opportunity flows from that.

Or you get a nice movie that just doesn’t stick the way the original did.

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