Let’s get this out of the way: The sequel to Frozen was never going to be as awesome or as ground-breaking as the 2013 animated hit, which so dexterously remixed the old Disney tropes into something new. Frozen II doesn’t do this, but I find myself not caring so much about its issues, and it’s not just because of the goodwill left over from the first movie.
Once again, climate change comes to Arendelle, given a nudge by Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel). When the city on the fjord becomes unlivable, her investigations turn up an enchanted river in the north and a land shrouded by impenetrable mist since her grandparents’ time. Going in and finding out what lies there will be the key to getting her citizens back in their homes. As always, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) insists on going with her, which means that Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff), Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), and Sven are along for the ride, too.
The songs are once again penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and they’re too close together as well as being not as good as the first film’s. Evan Rachel Wood (who voices Elsa and Anna’s mother in a flashback) is saddled with the worst song, a turgid ballad of an opening number called “All Is Found.” Elsa’s song “Into the Unknown” is the score’s designated showstopper. It isn’t bad, and neither is Olaf’s bouncy comic number “When I Am Older,” but they’d both benefit from having more air on either side of them. The ensemble song “Some Things Never Change” is made more watchable by the visual gags that returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee insert into the background of the picture, but the lyrics only highlight the fact that Elsa’s rule over Arendelle hasn’t changed that much.
Fortunately, things pick up once the party goes on their journey, even with the sister drama squeezed pretty dry by now and an annoying subplot with Kristoff trying and failing to propose marriage to Anna. Olaf grows more philosophical in his maturity, and he enjoys a showpiece bit where he acts out the entire story from the first film for the benefit of some newcomers. Meanwhile, when Anna dashes off once again to protect her sister, Kristoff expresses his frustration in “Lost in the Woods,” which hilariously imitates the sound of 1990s boy bands and the look of their music videos. If the original left you frustrated because it never gave Groff his own big musical moment, this is ample compensation. The heavier stuff gives the story some juice, too, as the sisters discover that their ancestors did some bad things — like, genocidally bad — to expand the kingdom. If Frozen II doesn’t look to be the cultural behemoth that the first movie was, it shows that there are still things worth finding beneath the ice.
Voices by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Written by Jennifer Lee. Rated PG.