Frozen 2 is the inevitable and mostly predictable sequel to smash hit Frozen. Of course it is. Because when you're Disney and you just pulled a billion dollar grossing film out of a hat, you're never going to say no to a second bite at that cherry.
Success a second time around?
In fact, at $1.276 bn Frozen is the second highest grossing animated film of all time, running Lion King (the 2019 version) a close second. And judging by the receipts on opening weekend, Disney made the right call. Because there is already a built-in market for the franchise, and what does it matter if the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense? The same crew is back again to make us laugh, make us cry and – they hope! - make us sing along to yet another smash hit from Idina Menzel.
That's probably not going to happen. Most sequels don't outperform the original and the ones that do (Terminator 2, Aliens, Bride of Frankenstein) seem for the most part to be sci-fi/horror. Not children's movies. Besides, Frozen is a hard act to follow. Because of THAT song (of which more in a moment).
It's cold again - oop North!
So here we are once more in the Kingdom of Arendelle with regular cast of Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna, (Kristen Bell), fit-but-talks-to-reindeers love interest Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and eternally disconnected snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad). Back again is the gay storekeeper from Frozen: no mention of his husband this time. But he seems to have set up a nail bar/manicure service in the main town square. So, a nudge from Disney to let us know they have not forgotten.
And there's back story of sorts. Why DID Elsa end up with the power to control ice and snow? Ah yes: some nonsense about a mysterious enchanted forest that is so far away that no-one seems to have heard of it...but close enough that they can be there and back in under a day. Or a few minutes, it seems, when needs must, at the grand climax of the film.
And four spirits, of earth, air, fire and water, each represented by a column and – shades of The Fifth Element, but without the Bruce Willis killing spree – a mysterious fifth spirit that must be appeased before great evil happens.
There's past betrayal and present falling out between the sisters. Again. Because Elsa's besetting fault, which we thought cured at the end of the last film, is back times two. Yes, this is her martyr complex: her belief that only she can sort things out because she is bigger, bolder more powerful than all around her. And yet again, tis the source of a lot of grief for both sisters.
Then there is, too, a most peculiar insight into the relationship between Kristoff and Sven, his reindeer. Who doesn't just talk back to him, but sings as well. Yes sirree! A talking singing reindeer.
So it's all pretty much as before. Although this time, because they already did a Disneyfied version of the Snow Queen, there is rather less plot to go round. So let's throw in a mix of cute and mysterious spirits, give each cast member at least one set piece song and pray the magic works again.
Never Let It Go!
But the issue remains that song. Let It Go. As director Jennifer Lee put it, after preliminary work on a rather more conventional version of the original story: “The minute we heard the song the first time, I knew that I had to rewrite the whole movie” . That's power. That's influence that applies rarely: not even Over the Rainbow had that sort of influence to begin with! A combination of Menzel's unquestionable ability to belt out a hit and some very clever music combined with equally clever lyrics.
So they've tried again this time and alongside a number of passable numbers, Frozen 2 boasts three memorable ones. First off, there is Into the Unknown, sung – again – by Menzel, with eerie effects added by Norwegian singer and Elsa lookalike Aurora. This pushes once more at many of the same hot button issues designed to appeal to young girls on the cusp of change. It's not bad. Like Let it Go, a basic “I want” song with - this time - driving rhythmic strings. I expect it to become something of a musical standard. But it doesn't top its predecessor.
Then there's two “oddities” if that is the right word. First off, a moving on song: The Next Right Thing, sung by Kristen Bell after the low point of the film. Tragedy has struck and all appears to be about to descend into darkness. (Oh, yes: if your young ones are sensitive and worried about stuff like death, you will need to be ready to comfort at this point in the film).
The sentiment – perhaps appropriate for our seeming End of Days era – is that when all is this dark, the only thing you can do is keep going. Putting one foot ahead of the next and grit your teeth and...
...it worked in the movie, with on-screen action to back it up. An actual physical ascent of a mountain to match the slow climb of the lyrics. But as standalone it lacks power.
And then the surprise hit: Olaf's song. When I am Older is a comic, slapstick song, leaning heavily on Olaf being a funny little fellow. Nothing special. But again, the movie in the background made a difference. In this case, it was very obvious that it was getting a (positive) response from the younger members of the audience quite unlike the response to the other more complex songs.
And it has already created one extra Frozen meme: just WHO is Samantha?
So there it is. Disney have done it again. Not quite as explosively as first time around. But it's not a bad effort and if you want an experience to keep your under-12's happy for an hour-plus, this is a good way to achieve that.
Three and a half stars.