It is no controversial statement to say that Disney has been hitting animated movies out of the park at an astonishing clip lately. Between their Disney Animation Studios and Pixar umbrellas, they have brought us Inside Out, Coco, Tangled, Zootopia and Moana in just this decade, which is not to mention the first Frozen film, one that somehow managed to rise above even the House of Mouse’s staggeringly high standards.
Frozen outpaced every other one of Disney’s animated movies except 2019’s Lion King (which I still have trouble seeing as animated) and even gave the upper echelon of Marvel and Star Wars films a run for their money. While I know that the box office success of any given film is no indicator of its value as a piece of art, I still feel the need to stress that these movies are pop-cultural singularities — Frozen made about the 2017 GDP of the Solomon Islands without its merchandise sales.
Unlike some of those other top-grossing films (the grossest films, if you will) that the truly artsy folks seem to think are eroding our society, Frozen told a deeply affecting and highly beneficial narrative to an entire generation of children that has been conditioned to believe that extranormal powers are what make extraordinary people extraordinary.
In an era of superpowered extremes, the power that saved the day in Frozen was that of the superhero’s “ordinary” sister, whose capacity for familial love outshone even the most slanted odds. On top of that, many of the more tired tropes of olden Disney princesses were absent in Frozen.
The film’s leading characters were two fully independent sisters who achieved their goals through some combination of compassion and tenacity. That, in itself, is reason enough to see the first film without mention of its stunning visuals or inspired (if not, as the new sequel cheekily acknowledges, now worn-out) soundtrack. Unfortunately, though, the lasting emotional thrust provided by the first film is why I was so disappointed when its sequel’s credits started to role.
Frozen II is a cautionary tale in following up a film that cast an inescapable shadow. I in no way mean to say that the new movie is not serviceable — it just broke the worldwide animated debut box office record and so has achieved success in at least one sense of the word — but has done so on the coattails of its far superior film. No world exists in which Frozen II has the same staying power as its older sister.
Although six years ago is not exactly recent, its predecessor is still fresh enough in moviegoers minds for Frozen II not to be granted the rose-colored tint lent to films like Finding Dory and Incredibles 2 and suffers greatly for it. Its visuals, while still astonishing, are not a noticeable step up and its music, while still memorable, cannot hold a candle to the songs of the original that still find their way into my regular Spotify rotation.
Worst of all, though, is the new film’s story, which was at best pedestrian and at worst utterly baffling. I know that on some level films like this one are made for the kids in the theater, but what has made Disney and Pixar films so special is that they consistently tell stories cohesive enough to service the adults in the audience. Regardless of how impossibly high Disney has set that bar, Frozen II’s falling short of it left a sour taste in my mouth.
I found myself checking in with my neighbors throughout the film to see if they had any clue what was going on (if only to affirm that I was not being intellectually outmatched by a movie with sentient snowmen) and found they shared my confusion. Whereas Frozen’s narrative felt organically propelled, with its songs at times serving as plot-driving exposition and development, Frozen II feels as though its garbled story was colored in between a set of predetermined musical numbers. Its plot inexplicably leaps from point to point simply because it needs to move forward. It feels more akin to a run-of-the-mill episodic video game than it does to what we have come to expect from Disney.
If I were comparing Frozen II to whatever 10 cent action film I could have seen instead (no offense, 21 Bridges), I would likely consider it more favorably. The status quo Disney has set for itself is near cinematic perfection. Anything below that line — even though Frozen II still has its handful of thoroughly joyful moments — feels hollow.
Nick Smith is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.