It’s fair to say that Frozen – Disney’s spectacular reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen – was something of a phenomenon when it was unleashed upon the world back in late 2013. Not only did it become the highest-grossing animated film ever (a title it still holds, if you ignore this summer’s photo-real, “live-action” The Lion King), but it infiltrated the imaginations – and dressing-up boxes – of kids around the world. It wasn’t just young ‘uns who got Frozen fever, either: ‘Let It Go’, the film’s Oscar-winning musical centrepiece, was officially the the UK’s most-sung karaoke song of 2014.
With that level of success, of course, comes sequel inevitability, but also soaring expectations. So, five years after the original’s all-conquering debut, does Frozen 2 live up to the hype? Well, the short answer is yes – even if the long-awaited follow-up doesn’t quite conjure up the same icy magic of the first film, it more than earns its place among the rare breed of animated Disney sequels to make its way onto the big screen.
Set three years after the events of Frozen, this second chapter sees our heroes – Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and reindeer Sven – all living happily ever after in Arendelle. With Elsa’s frosty powers now under control and a much more moderate climate, life in the kingdom is good – that is, until, the queen starts hearing a siren-like call that results in her unwittingly awakening some angry elemental spirits and leads her and the rest of the gang to an Enchanted Forest, where they must confront the ghosts of the past that are now threatening to destroy their beloved home.
Taking the form of an epic quest story, Frozen 2 might be a bit more sprawling and less focussed than its predecessor, but what it lacks in not having a central villain for our heroes to rally against, it more than makes up for in introducing an ambitious expanded mythology that really fleshes out the world and its characters. As before, the vocal performances are pitch perfect, with Menzel and Bell especially smashing the musical numbers while selling the sisterly bond that makes this franchise so special. It’s Gad, though, who steals the movie’s best scene, in which Olaf hilariously recounts a potted version of the first film’s plot to the enchanted forest’s increasingly perplexed residents. Think C-3PO recapping Star Wars for the Ewoks, only with a lot more animated ad-libbing.
The film’s animation, meanwhile, is even more extraordinary than the first’s, and only serves to highlight just how much the medium has continued to develop in the past five years. The scene in which Elsa attempts to tame a water spirit by charging into a raging ocean – as seen in the film’s first teaser trailer – is just one awesome example of the sequel’s scope, as well as its success in taking the franchise to new visual heights.
Where the sequel doesn’t quite match the 2013 original, though, is in its musical numbers. Not that they’re bad, by any means, but – on first listen, at least – there are no out-and-out bangers on a par with ‘Let It Go’. The closest it comes is with Menzel’s two showstoppers, ‘Into The Unknown’ and ‘Show Yourself’, neither as immediate as the first film’s mega-hit (although the former at least does have the ability to slowly earworm you afterwards). Bell’s ‘The Next Right Thing’ deserves praise, too, with the Good Place star pouring some real, raw emotion into her big solo. The one major misstep, though, is Groff’s ‘Lost In The Woods’ – a wannabe pastiche of ’80s soft-rock ballads that feels at best out of place and at worst a bit cringeworthy.
Still, to be fair, Frozen 2 had some mighty big snow boots to fill, and it mostly manages it with bags of style, charm and positive messages. It builds upon the first film’s themes of heroism and sisterhood, and it isn’t afraid to tackle big topics (some of which might upset the younger members of the audience). Perhaps most pertinent, though, is the central idea that, when faced with tough challenges, all you can do is “the next right thing”. To be honest, it’s a mantra that more high-profile movie sequels could do with following…
Frozen 2 is out now