Dir: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck. Starring: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K Brown, and Evan Rachel Wood. U cert, 103 mins
Parents, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Frozen 2’s new showstopper “Into the Unknown” isn’t as aggressive an earworm as “Let it Go”. It’s more lyrically complex, with a lot more high notes – the kind that’ll break your eardrums if sung by anyone who isn’t Idina Menzel – and it’s hard to imagine a car full of kids howling such a delicate scale for hours upon hours.
Frozen 2, Disney’s sequel to its $1.3bn hit, is more mature, ambitious, and intricate than its predecessor. That doesn’t automatically make it better – Frozen’s success was built on a simple and relatable story of sisterly love – but it’s different enough not to feel like a stale rerun. There are surprises here to uncover, and a renewed sense of energy to the proceedings. Admittedly, the film does play with fire by taking the same path as other sequels, padding out a character’s backstory in the hope it’ll add depth to their world. There are echoes of last month’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, as Queen Elsa (Menzel) is carted off to a magical place that might provide a few answers about where she comes from. But Frozen 2 succeeds where so many others have failed.
As the sentient snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) himself neatly summarises in one scene, Elsa made peace with her ice powers at the end of Frozen, when she discovered that the key to it all was love. Now, she rules over Arendelle, while Anna (Kristen Bell) and her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) provide a sense of domestic normalcy through weekly charade sessions.
That is, until a mysterious female voice (provided by Norwegian singer Aurora) pierces the quiet and shakes Elsa’s soul. Is someone out there looking for her? Does she have a greater purpose beyond the castle walls? Anyone hoping Disney is finally giving Elsa a girlfriend, by the way, will be sorely disappointed – her sexuality still remains purposefully obscure.
Instead, this alluring call draws Elsa into an enchanted forest that feels ripped straight from the pages of Norwegian mythology. There are giants, runes, and an indigenous tribe inspired by the Sámi people. Frozen 2 has an authenticity that immediately separates it from so many other subpar follow-ups. Its worldbuilding not only feels earned, but meaningful. Returning directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck ensure that every frame is exquisitely detailed and rich with colour: we move gracefully from autumn leaves to the pinkish glow of ethereal fire, then on to stormy, grey waves and shimmering ice crystals.
Certain sequences here are even more spectacular than the creation of Elsa’s ice castle, with the filmmakers now more confident to step out of reality and deliver something truly jaw-dropping. Lee’s screenplay, too, makes some bold choices. She teases out several compelling ideas: environmentalism, reparations, exploitation and how we should confront the past. It’s all vague enough that it could be applied to a hundred different real-world situations, which perhaps makes it all the more powerful as a learning tool for families.
But Frozen 2 doesn’t lose itself in rootless ambition. It works because we’re guided through these strange, unfamiliar surroundings by the steady hands of Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf – characters with whom we’re all very much familiar (or, for some parents, exhaustingly familiar) – and the cast sink straight back into their roles.
Elsa and Anna’s sense of sisterhood is tested, but ultimately prevails. Kristoff bumbles around with a ring in his pocket, wanting to propose to Anna but never quite finding the right time (he also happens to get what, in truth, might be the film’s best song – an Eighties power ballad accompanied by a chorus of crooning reindeer).
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Olaf remains annoying to those who have always found him so, but those who appreciated his brand of existential humour will be amply rewarded. At one point, he casually shares his theory that “advancing technology will be our saviour and our doom”.
Frozen 2 may have grown up a little since 2013 – just as its fans have – but it never allows itself to lose sight of what made the original click: its warm heart and generous spirit.
Frozen 2 is released in UK cinemas on 22 November
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