(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Frozen II
Where You Can Stream It: Disney+
The Pitch: The sequel to the definitive modern Disney film continues the story of Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the rest of the crew in a new musical adventure. And while the box office tells one story (this movie is the reason the original is now the second biggest animated film in Disney’s catalog), the reaction seemed non-plussed and often tepid when it opened in theaters late last year. That’s weird, because Frozen II isn’t just a very good movie, it’s one that stands tall above its predecessor, fixing everything that didn’t quite work the first time around.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: A classic Disney Animation film has to please everyone and it has to do so invisibly. The best of them are stirring adventures, touching romances, madcap comedies, and more, all while feeling cohesive. Frozen managed the balance effectively enough. Frozen II, though, is more confident: it’s more adventurous, more touching, much funnier and, rare for a franchise sequel of any kind, prepared to radically reshape its world in ways that cannot be undone for a sequel.
Oh, and the songs are better.
I like Frozen just fine, but its individual parts shine brighter than the whole. “Let It Go” is one hell of a song and the great coming-out anthem a new generation of Disney kids needed. The relationship between Anna and Elsa is a moving refutal of typical fairy tale elements. The message about not trusting strange men because they’re nice to you once is the kind of relevant-to-the-bone concept that still lands with incredible weight. And Olaf? Well, screw the haters. Olaf is hilarious.
But Frozen also peaks early, running on empty after the midpoint and struggling to find something, anything, to do before the stirring climax. It’s a big problem, one emphasized by the turgid Troll sequence and its awful musical number, all the more damning because it’s the final song in the film.
Frozen II does not peak early. In fact, it ratchets up the tension and awe and emotion all the way through its stirring climax, where characters see their entire world broken and make active decisions to break it further because that’s the only way it can heal. The Trolls have a smaller role. The final song is a powerful struggle from Anna about doing “the next best thing” when you’ve been beaten into the ground. And Olaf? Well, still screw the haters, because he’s still hilarious, his new song is one of the highlights of the movie, and he’s the catalyst for an emotionally devastating third act (which is magically undone, a decision that makes sense even as I wish the film had a tiny bit more nerve to live with it).
And while “Let It Go” remains the definitive Frozen song, the soundtrack of the sequel is more consistent, more active in the plot, and filled with more bangers, as the kids say. “Some Things Never Change” is an adorable opener, made bittersweet because the film concludes with everything changing. “Into the Unknown” feels like Disney’s active attempt to relieve parents by giving Elsa (and the incredible Idina Menzel) a number so hard to sing that kids won’t be able to bother their parents with it on such a regular basis. “Lost in the Woods” atones for the first film not giving Jonathan Groff an actual song by giving him a great song. Oh, and “Show Yourself” is the best song in the movie and yet another great secret gay anthem, don’t @ me.
So why did the reaction to Frozen II feel so muted last year? I think time will clarify that a bit more. Perhaps it’s because everyone, especially families with children, still felt somewhat Frozen-d out due to the first film continuing to be omnipresent in the Disney landscape. But now that the sequel is streaming on Disney+, we can all revisit it on the regular and realize “Oh yeah, this is the better film. Sorry we doubted you at all, Disney!” And Disney will thank us by counting that $1.4 billion the film made at the box office while plotting Frozen 3.
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