Cinema Dispatch: Frozen 2

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Frozen 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

You know, I actually went to Disney World a month or two back and I REALLY enjoyed Epcot!  The sights, the food, the stores with lots of cool stuff in them; they even had a Frozen ride at the Nordic section of the park!  And uh… well we waited about an hour to get on it, Elsa sang at us for a bit, and then it was over.  Kind of disappointing considering how long it took to get there.  Anyway, let’s talk about this sequel to a movie from six years ago.  Is it the continuation to Elsa’s story we’ve all been waiting for, or has Disney already sucked the Frozen cash cow completely dry by the time they deigned to give us a sequel?  Let’s find out!!

Several years after the events of the first film, Queen Elsa has continued her uneventful reign as the leader of Arendelle along with her sister Anna who seems perfectly content to while away her days hanging out with the magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) as well as her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff).  Elsa on the other hand seems a bit antsier about the drudgery of daily life and even starts to hear the voice of someone calling out to her from the mystical forest which has a dark history behind it.  Apparently there was some sort of war between Arendelle and the native tribe of that forest known as the Northuldra and the magical spirits of the forest have closed themselves off from the rest of the world until humanity can get its problems straightened out.  Fortunately for Elsa (though unfortunately for Arendelle), it seems that the magic deep inside the forest is starting to seep out and is causing problems for the kingdom, so Elsa has no choice but to find out what’s going on in there and Anna has no choice but to follow her.  Oh, and Kristoff and Olaf go in there as well, but it feels like a bit more of a choice for them; unless they can only live if there’s a steady stream of screen time.  Can Elsa and Anna figure out what’s causing this surge in the magic, and what it may be trying to tell them?  What secrets from the past will they uncover during this journey, and will they be ones they want to uncover in the first place?  Seriously, is Kristoff there just because he’s got a ride?

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“What do you think we’ll find in there?”     “DO NOT WORRY!  KRISTOFF AND HIS MIGHT STEED WILL FORGE AHEAD, ISN’T THAT RIGHT?”     …     “The mighty steed said yes.”

There was almost no way that Disney was going to capture lightning in a bottle twice with this series, and while I do appreciate just how strange and grandiose they were willing to take the story of Elsa, Anna, and the kingdom of Arrendelle, it’s just kind of mess for the most part; not committing to either striking out boldly in a new director or playing things nice and safe with a rehash of the first film.  It has its moments to be sure that do capture something beautiful and ethereal about these characters and their world (most of which involve Elsa), and there are some solid thematic through lines in Anna’s story in particular, but all of the moving pieces start to grind up against each other and the stuff that wasn’t all that great in the first film feel that much more in the way in a such an ambition story that already needs as much help as it can get.  Kids will probably like though as the spectacle is there and they REALLY seem to like that snowman, so with that in mind I’ll try to limit my cloud yelling to a minimum.

 

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Back in my day, people with ice powers would have fought crime and hung out with Spider-Man!  Now they’re all singing and being benevolent monarchs!  What happened to the world I knew!?

This movie is a classic case of ambition outpacing execution, and while I sometimes have a soft spot for enthusiastic messes like this, I ended up feeling that the missteps ultimately outweighed the genuine good ideas and sequences throughout.  Everything about Elsa’s journey is absolutely breathtaking with that scene we saw of her fighting the waves in the trailer being the highlight of the entire movie (it goes in a direction you didn’t see in the trailer), and Anna ends up having more to do on her own outside of trying to save her sister.  The decision to have no actual antagonist to this movie (the only one who COULD be an antagonist in a sense has been dead for some time) was an interesting one that at least goes with the idea of this being a journey of self-discovery rather than a quest to save the world, but that what urgency they DO manage to put in the movie feels trite and manufactured.  It calls to mind epic poems like Beowulf or the stories of King Arthur where they aren’t so much following a three act structure or the Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey; rather we’re learning more about the world in what feels like a collection of individual parables strung together by a central character. When you look at it this way it’s clear what the filmmakers were going for and why they thought this was their way to crawl out from under the shadow of the first film.  Sadly, it just doesn’t come together as it seems like it clearly should.

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And yet it still makes more sense than Kingdom Hearts.

If the goal was to be a collection of min-adventures strung together by Elsa’s quest for her place in the world, then it sadly fumbles because the end result is more of a convoluted continuity dump than anything else.  The movie begins with SO much lore just spewed at you in a flashback scene with Elsa’s parents, and the movie never really lets up giving us new characters, new stakes, new magical McGuffins, and even some drastic changes in character motivation.  We land smack dab in the middle of a war between Northuldra and the lost Arandellian soldiers, but then five minutes later it’s all cool because we can’t have bloodshed distracting from whatever it is Elsa has to do next.  There’s this HUGE cathartic sequence that is mysterious but full of overwhelming emotion… and yet for seemingly no other reason than IT’S MAGIC, it ends on an incredibly dour note that stops the pacing dead in its tracks for like five minutes.  It even tries to have a (comparably, at least for a company like Disney) radical message about owning up to the mistakes of the past, especially ones that still reverberate to this day and the sacrifices you may need to make to set things right… but then it chickens out at the end and the message is rather diluted because of it.  Then again, I guess we can’t go TOO dark in that direction otherwise it will scare off the kids (or more likely the parents), and ultimately this is a movie for them and not for me.  Again, I’m the old yelling at clouds right now in a movie that looks good, has some great animation and set pieces, and is ultimately rather agreeable if not truly living up to the premise it’s created for itself.  I guess we might as well also talk about the elephant in the room regarding Elsa’s queerness.  Here’s the thing.  Disney can hint all they want, they can code things all they want, they can throw in a character for fans to speculate if they will one day maybe have a relationship with Elsa, but until Disney comes out and says SHE IS QUEER, I’m not giving them any credit for the vagaries they chose to put in this movie.  I honestly don’t care what excuses they have at this point for not just going for it at this point.  Say that it’s China, say that it’s conservative middle America, Disney can frankly take the hit for proper representation or stop pretending that it MIGHT become an out and proud aspect of the series.  When My Little Pony had a gay couple in their show, the crew was not shy about making it clear that that is who these characters are and Disney should have the bravery to do the absolute bare minimum here.  They can say yes or say no, but they have to say SOMETHING!

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“Somewhere over the censors, pride flags can fly!  And my dreams of a girlfriend… Oh why oh why can’t I?”

Where this movie REALLY felt flat for me was the songs and the humor which were not nearly as good here as they were in the first film.  The highlight once gain is Elsa who gets two Let It Go songs this time even if neither one of them are as good, and everything else is utterly forgettable.  Heck, I’d be hard pressed to tell you what most of the songs were about which probably tells you something about how little I cared for them.  The only one that still sticks out for me now is Kristoff’s song; not because it’s any good but because it is by far THE WORST one as some half-baked parody of a love ballad.  Speaking of whom, why did they even bother bring him back if he was going to do absolutely NOTHING of value here?  We spend far too much time with him that could have been used to expand on the cooler things we get to see about this world and Elsa’s journey within it, and for what?  It’s like they didn’t learn anything from the first film which explicitly rejected pointless love interest by having Kristoff be mostly useless to the narrative.  Say what you will about Olaf, and for sure he’s rather annoying here with the SECOND worst song, but he at least doesn’t slow things down or distract from the real story.  He’s not helping matters, but he’s at least WITH the characters doing things instead of futzing around back at base camp moping about his love life.

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“I have A LOT to contribute to this quest!”     “Oh yeah?  Name one besides Sven.”     “Uh… my magnetic personality?”

Inside of this not so great movie is a FANTASTIC movie yearning to break free, but as much as Disney gets credit for being a forward thinking company in regards to what it puts on screen, it feels like there was compromise after compromise that diluted the things that people loved about the first movie and were hoping would make the sequel even better.  It’s not bad, but the progression of the franchise ends up being rather glacial (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) and I think at this point being so coy with Elsa’s identity and so wishy washy with its messaging at the end feels like a step backwards rather than simply a lateral move.  Should we expect better from the company that’s destined to swallow whole every last media company on the planet?  I mean, it’d be NICE if our cultural overlords didn’t appear to be so stagnant lately, but I guess that’s wat happens when a dragon gets all the gold they’ll ever need to hoard; they just sit on it just for its own sake.

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