Written & Directed By: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown
Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes
When the credit for Frozen II started to roll, I looked over at my (adult) niece and asked what she thought.
“It was really cute! What did you think?”
I opened my mouth and immediately closed it again, trying not to be a party pooper. She grinned. She knows me too well.
“What didn’t you like?”
“I feel like –“ I paused, looking for the right words, “it’s an apologist narrative for colonialism.”
My niece blinked at me. I changed tracks.
“The animation was so pretty, though! Those fall colors!”
We left the theater, talking about the incredible animation and how hilarious Olaf was, which is true, but so is the thing about colonialism. Unfortunately, it is impossible to unpack any of that without spoiling the entire end of the movie, so I’ll save that for the very end of my review. Once you’ve seen the movie, come back and we’ll compare notes.
Frozen II picks up approximately where Frozen left off. Anna and Kristoff are clutzily in love. Olaf is essentially a pre-teen in a toddler shaped body, trying to figure out what growing up is. Elsa is the beloved queen of Arendelle, but she worries that she isn’t fulfilling her potential. This hunch is verified when Arendelle is attacked by the four forces of nature (wind, fire, water, and earth) and a mysterious singing voice compels Elsa to leave her city. Predictably, she wants to go alone. Just as predictably, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf want to join. The five of them set out on an adventure and along the way they wrestle with their personal struggles: destiny (Elsa), sisterhood (Anna), growing up (Olaf), and love (Kristoff).
Frozen II is jam packed with Big Ideas. Aside from the aforementioned personal struggle each character is dealing with (which they mostly hash out in their solos), the movie also reckons with environmentalism and colonialism. All these topics are interesting, but there are so many ideas floating around that the movie suffers, feeling disconnected and meandering. Despite having so much thematic content, the story never quite fleshes itself out. There were several scenes that felt like padding (Olaf recounting the entire plot of Frozen is one of the more delightful examples of this) and overall the story just didn’t move with the same vivacity of its predecessor.
As far as the music goes, the soundscape is gorgeous and a couple songs are gems (Olaf’s solo about growing up is hilarious and fun). Unfortunately, most of the songs, although good, feel misplaced. Rare is the moment when it makes sense for the character to burst into song. The biggest offender on this count was Kristoff’s solo, told through a hilarious 80s style music video (replete with pine cone microphones and elk backup singers). It’s a fun idea and technically well executed, but it took me right out of the story, and if you’re older than ten it will probably have the same effect on you.
All that said, the animation in Frozen II is absolutely to die for. The coloring, the action, the impeccable eye for detail: there is so much to love. The autumn colors of the forest repeatedly took my breath away and the animation of the sea and its watery inhabitants is just as stunning. Olaf, of course, is a whimsical favorite: his expressive bodily rearrangement is cute, complicated, and so fun. Honestly, I could have written an entire review just about how great the animation was, but I’ll leave the rest of it for you to discover yourself.
Frozen II is a movie that knows it has a lot to live up to. From its top-notch animation, an insistently whimsical Olaf, and surprisingly cerebral themes for a kids’ movie, Frozen II will leave its viewers with a lot to be impressed by and think about. Although worth seeing, its rather lackadaisical story arc, plodding soundtrack, and severe misstep of an ending make it hard for me to rate the movie highly.
Alright. For those of you who have either already seen Frozen II or don’t care about spoilers, here it is:
Frozen II ends with Elsa and Anna righting a wrong that their grandfather, then king of Arendelle, committed against the Northuldra tribe. In typical colonial fashion, their grandfather murdered the leader of the Northuldra after that leader expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the giant dam the king had installed “as a gift”. This murder (and the resulting battle) was an act of evil that the spirits of earth, wind, fire, and water repaid by (kind of unfairly) trapping both sides of the feud within a dome of impenetrable magic fog. Fast forward to “present day” in the movie. Anna destroys the dam when she and Elsa realize that their grandfather was a murderer and a liar.
This destruction creates a tidal wave that nearly flattens Arendelle, but doesn’t because Elsa races back to the city on her stunningly rendered Sea Horse and stops the water with a beautiful wall of ice. And then the water level very unrealistically just settles back to where it was before the dam broke. The fog lifts. The Northuldra continue to live in the forest; the city of Arendelle continues to exist exactly as it had before. Literally the only change made is that Arendelle installs a new statue that is supposed to represent the love between the Northuldra and the citizens of Arendelle.
There is a lot to unpack here and every pro is wrapped up in a corresponding con.
After thinking on it for a while, I do like the metaphor of some people being stuck in the fog of ancestral mistakes. It is fitting that Arendelle continues to thrive outside of the magical forest while none of the Northuldra people escaped the fog. Historically conquerers have been able to continue building their cities and their families and their futures while the conquered suffer under their rule. The only flaw here is that this particular fog represents the spirits of the forest and if the spirits are going to be on anyone’s side, it should probably be the Northuldra since they weren’t the lying liars who built a dam that destroyed a local ecosystem.
It is great that Anna and Elsa take responsibility for their grandfather’s actions and undo what he did by destroying the dam. However, there are absolutely no consequences to Arendelle. The two women are disappointed in their grandfather and they are not shy about telling others what he did, but their city, which we are told repeatedly is in the floodplain of the dam, emerges unscathed despite the destruction of that very dam. One well-placed wall of ice would not have saved that city from a mild flood at the very least. I get that this is a kids’ movie. I get that we want a happy ending. I also strongly believe that there was a huge missed opportunity to talk about reparations at the end of this film. Two generations of Northuldra people lived in a literal fog while Arendelle thrived on the other end of the fjord. Bare minimum giving the Northuldra people a stronger voice at the end of the movie would have been a better choice. Additionally, the storytellers should have found a more compelling way for Arendelle to reckon with the wrongs of its founders.
All that said, Disney collaborated with the Sami (a native group in Sweden) for this film. Although I get the impression that most of the Sami contributions were aesthetic, I would like to assume that they had some sort of input on the story as well. However, the pretty blatantly apologist ending makes it hard to believe that.
Tangentially, none of the Northuldra voice actors are native people. Obviously there are plenty of reasons why this myriad of choices would have gone unchallenged, but if you’re going to make a movie about reckoning with the sins of our fathers, maybe start with a more diverse cast.
Agree? Disagree? This is one I want to talk about. 🙂