Cinematic Releases: The Next Right Thing: Frozen II (2019) - Reviewed

If Disney’s 2013 hit animated feature, Frozen, was Princess Anna’s (Kristen Bell) journey to discover that love is greater than fear and that it isn’t always exactly as one imagines it, then its sequel Frozen II is Queen Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) journey through identity crisis, grief, and self-acceptance. The sisters are complex among Disney royals, their stories peppered with losses and discoveries, delusions and hard truths. They begin Frozen II with a strong bond, united through memories of their deceased parents and six years living a happy, if stilted, sameness in the peace of their kingdom of Arendelle. But Elsa still feels the tug of a spiritual world she doesn’t quite understand how she’s a part of, and awakens a group of elemental spirits connected to her mysterious magic that the sisters thought were only parts of the fairy stories and lullabies of their youth. They and their companions must travel north, following an irresistible voice only Elsa can hear, when these spirits wreak havoc on Arendelle and threaten to destroy it unless the wrongs of the past can be righted.

In a lushly animated enchanted forest, shrouded from the rest of the world by a magical misty boundary, the united group of companions begins to crack and divide. There is a magnificent allegory presented here, as Elsa – whose magic has always made her feel afraid and “othered”, since she neither understands its source nor realizes just how powerful she really is – tries to grapple with questions of her purpose, and whether or not she’s really where she ought to be in life. Elsa has questions only the magic of the forest can answer, and even though Anna loves her sister more than anyone in the world, she doesn’t really understand why Elsa is hurting so badly and why she must strike out on her own. Feeling abandoned, while trying to hold onto faith, Anna must learn to simply “do the next right thing”, putting one foot in front of the other when she fears she’s lost her sister forever to her own grief.

The comic relief – bumbling, but well-meaning, Kristof (Jonathan Groff) spends much of the film trying to find the perfect way to propose to Anna, even as he fears they are growing apart when Anna’s focus remains on keeping Elsa safe from herself. His heart is ever in the right place, but poor Kristof finds himself feeling lost, wondering if indeed, he is truly better off among the reindeer. The magically animated snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad), always so optimistic and full of wonder, doesn’t really fully understand much of what’s happening – but he is, as he always has been, a voice of comfort and hope for the princess as she struggles to find a way to mend a deep wrong her people committed in the distant past against the tribespeople who call the forest their home.

Frozen II, particularly compared to its predecessor, is a thoughtful film. It delves into the lore of its world in a way that respects its spiritual connections through Nature to the magic in ways that allow Elsa’s journey toward self-discovery feel authentic; she is not simply seeking the sources of her powers, but the reason the world chose to endow her with them in the first place. Much like a person struggling with depression, fearing their life has no implicit purpose, fearing their gifts as curses, isolating from those who try to reach through the darkness to love them – Elsa crosses the literal black waves of icy waters to find the spiritual center that welcomes her, and as Menzel belts out “Show Yourself”, we see the ice queen’s walls begin to shatter for good. Elsa’s pain freezes her where she stands, and alone among the Earth giants, her sister’s heart breaks as she believes Elsa has gone too far into her own spiral of despair. It isn’t until the truth breaks through the sadness and terror for both of the sisters that the mourning can be reconciled – a solemn, but astute, way of looking at the varying boundaries depression can create in people, and the strains it can place on even the closest of relationships.

This is a more serious study of Elsa and Anna – and, to a lesser extent, Olaf and Kristof – as characters than was the original film; it takes its time building both the mystical mysteries and the emotional beats that pile onto the core group of companions, and as a result, the denouement is all the more satisfying. There are periods of thoughtfulness here that didn’t exist as poignantly in Frozen, and there is a greater amount of insight into what drives both Anna and Elsa in their daily lives. As pressure builds, both inside the sisters and out in the world, for necessary change, the transformations each character makes before the film ends feel like they have been fully earned, even if a few of them seem to be a foregone conclusion relatively early on.

Beautifully animated and scored, Frozen II is a breathing and emotionally dynamic stepping stone for Disney. It is designed to allow these beloved characters to come home to themselves, and with careful, contemplative storytelling, it absolutely accomplishes this.

-Dana Culling