Since Frozen was a nearly perfect Disney feature, Frozen II brings with it the expectation of magic. Magic is really hard to pull off, though, and this time the sparkle is gone. In Frozen II, the story is strange, the jokes are terrible, the romance is nonexistent, and the songs are clunkers. Fairy tales that end in the happily-ever-after don’t lend themselves to sequels, and this movie shouldn’t have been made. The good news for Disney, I guess, is that someday people will forget it ever was.
The movie begins like a sleepy Saturday in bed, torpid and creaky and lacking purpose. Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), Princess Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) live contentedly, so where’s the drama? Well, you see, the sisters’ parents used to tell them this bedtime story about an enchanted forest that hosted the magical spirits of earth, air, fire, and water. In the far north, a river holds all the answers to their family’s long-ago disputes and maybe even has some additional information on their parents’ death at sea.
That’s it? I’m sorry I can’t make this sound more exciting than it is, but that’s what six writers came up with as the answer to the question of how to get two sisters, a male bystander, a reindeer, and a snowman on the move. Everyone heads for the wilderness up north to find the mysterious enchanted forest and learn some uncomfortable truths about their heritage. It’s a thin, contrived, diffuse, and emotionally unengaging narrative engine. If there is a question that needs urgently to be answered here, I don’t see it.
Breaking up the dull main story are some even duller running gags. Kristoff makes a series of bumbling attempts to propose marriage to Anna, who keeps misinterpreting his words unkindly, even dementedly, in a way that is meant to be funny but makes her seem like an unbalanced harpy. Olaf, who now has a permafrost shell and is durable enough to live his dream life, keeps getting schooled when he pretends to be a wise elder statesman. No one can come up with anything funny to do with these ideas.
The movie has one thing going for it, which is that everyone loved Frozen, which is why it keeps tossing in callbacks to the earlier movie: The best bit is when Olaf does a rapid-fire reprise of the entire Frozen story in 30 seconds. Elsa has a big number that’s essentially a warmed-over rehash of “Let It Go,” with the emphasis on discovering the secret to her own personality. As with “Let It Go,” the new song, “Into the Unknown,” can be read as a gay-liberation allegory, but Disney has not quite yielded to the pressure from activists to make Elsa its first clearly gay major character. Disney doesn’t want to annoy Elsa’s gay fans, though, so doesn’t give her any love interest at all and just leaves her in confirmed-bachelorette status. Olaf’s centerpiece, “When I Am Older,” is a second-rate follow-up to his great comic number “In Summer” that lacks anything like the wit of the earlier song.
The would-be showstoppers this time aren’t even showpausers. The bright Broadway verve of the first movie’s ingenious songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez is almost entirely absent; this time the Lopezes give us plodding, generic soft-rock ballads that sound like they were written to provide album filler for Celine Dion. One of these numbers in particular, Kristoff’s “Lost in the Woods,” seeks to spoof the sound of, say, a 1986 power ballad by Chicago, but since it isn’t clever it just lies there.
Worse, it draws attention to a major gap in the script, which is that Kristoff is singing this song to kill time because the writers have forgotten to give him something to do. When the sisters go off to dig into the family’s hidden past, they not only abandon Kristoff, they do so without even thinking about it. (The witty move would have been for the girls to break out Taylor Swift’s “I Forgot That You Existed.”) I can hear a dozen Jezebel writers high-fiving each other: “Yes! At last, a male character is reduced to window dressing!” That’s two-wrongs-make-a-right reasoning. The first movie painstakingly forged a bond between Anna and Kristoff; the second wastes all that effort and makes Kristoff irrelevant.
I’ll avoid spoiling the third act, which involves a rip-off of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude for Elsa, a bit of borrowing from the old Frosty the Snowman TV special, and an extremely questionable decision by Anna. But it appears the writing staff are a gang of eager progressives who are so blinded by guilt about America’s past that they didn’t see the huge problem they created for themselves. Sometimes the Left’s enthusiasm for making amends for ancient iniquity looks like random punishment directed at innocent living people. Disney typically contents itself with selling a sort of mushy be-nice liberalism, but Frozen II may presage a turn to storylines that celebrate extremism. Are you ready for Woke Disney?