Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen (2013) was perhaps the most popular animated film of the last decade. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck’s award-winning film quickly rose to the level of a cultural phenomenon, as the story of Elsa and Anna—two orphaned princesses, inspired by characters in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”—became an essential part of many kids’ childhoods.
For this reason, it was certainly a risk to create a sequel to Frozen. The short films, theme park attractions, and musicals set in the kingdom of Arendelle following the first movie’s success were in danger of being destroyed by an unsatisfactory follow-up story. In truth, I was quite apprehensive about Disney’s newest project; how could it live up to the hype of its predecessor?
However, as I walked out of the theater after its recent release, I could not believe how truly outstanding Frozen II was. In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, I believe it is, overall, a stronger film than Frozen. Here's why:
There is hardly any argument here—the graphics in Frozen II are vastly superior to those in Frozen. From the animators’ experimentation with personifying each of the four elements to the hyper-realism of the characters’ clothing, Frozen II finds success in the tiny details. To say the least, it is absolutely mesmerizing.
Frozen II takes Anna, Elsa, and friends away from Arandelle and through the vast, stunning expanses of Norwegian forests, characterized by the reds and greys of autumn. There are also striking moments of contrast and darkness, accented by gorgeous jewel tones, which are most commonly associated with Elsa. Her solo scenes prominently feature her well-practiced snow and ice powers: the magic is fluent, playful, and hypnotizing, allowing for periods of visual excellence that rival her choreography during “Let It Go” in Frozen.
Full disclosure: no song in Frozen II beats “Let It Go.” I concede that many viewers will still prefer the original movie to its sequel on the sole basis of this fact. But regarding the other songs, I assert that they are just as strong as those in the first movie.
Although it is hard to compete against the songs from Frozen—which have been widely adapted and remain unforgettable—the songs from Frozen II are still innovative and artistic products of songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Anna and Kristoff receive their own solo songs, Olaf delivers another catchy and existential ballad, and Elsa sings not one, but two chilling feminist anthems. It is no surprise that Elsa’s “Into the Unknown” earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, as Idina Menzel’s vocal performance once again sets the tone of the entire film.
The themes in Frozen II are far more mature and deep-cutting than those in Frozen. For one thing, Frozen II is heavily laden with political messages; as the characters venture into the enchanted forest, they discover a violence-ridden past of mistrust and conflict between the people of Arandelle and the native people living outside the kingdom. The film thus offers representation and acknowledgment of minorities while considering the negative effects of white dominance and censored history.
Taking place three years after the ending of the first movie, Frozen II also sees Anna and Elsa as increasingly maturing characters, who have begun to live their own adult lives and find themselves taking separate paths. Kristoff hopes to propose to Anna, and Olaf starts to age, realizing with shock that time is a constant and never-ending force leading to inevitable change (yeah, it gets pretty real). The characters struggle to flourish as they find themselves in a perpetually changing world, but they also empower viewers to seek and embrace this change.
While certainly progressive in many aspects, Frozen still ultimately follows a cookie-cutter princess story narrative: its plot is rather predictable and its general themes, while powerful, are simple. Frozen II, however, emerges as more complex and mature than its prequel. The depth demonstrated in Frozen II attests to the fact that it is more than an attempt to make money off of an already thriving franchise—rather, it is a distinct take on already beloved characters who are prompted to grow in painful yet necessary ways. And for an audience who has grown up with Frozen but is now reaching a similar turning point in their lives as Elsa and Anna, these messages are all the more meaningful.
Photo Credit: Disney