Saturday, July 13, 2024

‘Frozen 2’ Refuses to Bow to Expectations

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Frozen 2 is a really good movie that comes dangerously close to being a great movie. Why it falls short though is hardly a failure of nerve and merely a simple fact of reality, it’s a Disney movie for kids. Still, no matter the metric used, it is a sequel with massive heart, a curiosity about storytelling, and more importantly a deep sense of justice.

Bluntly put, Jennifer Lee and Christopher Buck have released a movie into the Thanksgiving season about colonialism and displaced peoples. But what gives Frozen 2 so much fuel is that while it is absolutely about how eventually conquering nations must pay the price, it is not the only thing it is about.

The script by Lee touches on change, growing older, and the fear of the unknown future with such a sublime purity as to make it accessible to children in a deeply meaningful way. Taking place a few years after the first Frozen we find our old friends in comfortable routines which are beginning to fray much to their own existential horror. 

Elsa (Idina Menzel) is happy that she is no longer alone and is now able to live with her sister Anna (Kristen Bell). Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) still talks for Sven his loyal reindeer and is struggling to bring himself to ask Anna to marry him. Even Olaf (Josh Gad), has had a permafrost spell cast on him by Elsa so he can travel without fear of melting. He’s pondering his maturity with a child-like innocence. “Anna, what’s it like to be so ancient and all-knowing?”

Anna however just wants everything to stay as it is. But she’s sensing Elsa is withdrawing from her. She’s not wrong. A strange and mysterious voice has been calling Elsa, drawing her away from the kingdom of Arendelle.  A voice that reminds the sisters of a story their parents use to tell them about how the people of Arendelle and the people of Northuldra.

Apparently, as the “story” goes Arendelle and Northuldra used to be friends until one day they mysteriously began to fight. Children will be mystified but adults and teenagers will figure the mystery out because thuey’ve read a history book. It seems the king, Elsa and Anna’s grandfather, killed the leader of the Northuldras because…well let’s just say the Northuldra’s aren’t white and use magic. 

The gift of peace Arendelle gave the Northuldras, a massive and ornate dam, killed the Northuldra’s crops but helped allow Arendelle to flourish. In other words he starved them and attempted to wipe them out. Now the forest is shrouded in mist in which no one can escape or enter.

No one who isn’t a magical being capable of creating life and animating snowmen that is. The journey is more important than the destination and the sisters’ relationship will once again be tested. More than anything I was pleasantly surprised by how utterly gorgeous Frozen 2 is and how it has a feel of an epic. The story has cookie-cutter elements, to be sure, but much of the film feels like a Homeric poem unfurling punctuated with Bell and Menzel’s aching beautiful voices.

Some might be bored but they would be bored no matter what. Frozen 2 is about Elsa and Anna coming to terms with their closeness while also understanding that they won’t always be together. “Stop running into the fire after me!” Elsa begs. “Stop running into fires!” Anna shoots back.

Elsa and Anna’s relationship evolves while they are separated. It’s when they’re together that they and we start to see how stagnated they have become. Kristoff himself is realizing he loves Anna. He’s comfortable with Anna being the center of his universe. He just doesn’t know what it means that Anna’s universe is centered around both him and Elsa. Of course, he learns it means nothing and that Anna loves him no less than he does her, she also has a sister.

Frozen 2 is not a movie I expected to like all that much. Then again I only saw the first Frozen a few hours before seeing the sequel. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first Frozen, yet staggered to find how much I was moved by Frozen 2.

Elsa discovers the power of her own self-liberation. Anna discovers that she will have to do some things on her own without her sister. All that is well and good but then a sentient snowman discovers his own mortality. Believe me, as much as I enjoyed the first Frozen I was in no way prepared for how deeply moved I would be by its unassuming but breathtaking sequel.

The animators of Frozen 2 have created a hybrid of styles. The faces of the characters seem polished and somewhat dollike, clearly CGI. However the backgrounds, the world around them gives off a feeling of brushstrokes allowing for a sense of elegiac awe to overwhelm us. 

The great flaw is the ending which again isn’t a flaw in the context of “It’s a Disney kids movie, what did you expect?” Even with that context though thinking back on it I wonder if the ending, predictable though it may be, is a little bit brave.  Justice need not mean more harm perpetrated onto others who had no hand in the actions of their government.

Regardless it is the rare Disney movie that is clearly attempting to undermine the corporate overlords in charge. The sheer audacity of a film dealing not just with reparations and colonialism but along with a complete acceptance of self which unlocks a love and happiness unmoored by societal expectations is in itself a staggering story to tell children of any age.

Frozen 2 feels magical and untamed structurally. Lee and Beck’s script never tries to bog the story down with explanations outside of story resolutions. The magic comes from how it allows its magic to be just that, magic. After all, the purpose of magic isn’t to explain but to help us discover and interpret ourselves. A fact which Frozen 2 understands deep in its narrative bones.

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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