Disney Magic, far as the Curse is Found
DIRECTED BY CHRIS BUCK & JENNIFER LEE
So much has changed since 2013. That was the year that Walt Disney Animation Studios blessed the unsuspecting world with the unforeseen phenomenon that was Frozen. The parent company was already a behemoth, sure. And, it’s portrayals of its trademark “Disney princesses“ had long since shifted from the antiquated damsel-awaiting-her-prince model. Confident, positive self-starters had been the new norm since at least 1989’s The Little Mermaid.
But in a different way than even now, six years later, there’s a certain perceived humility in the way that so many undertakings were original, “sure things”. (Wreck-it Ralph; Big Hero Six; Frozen). Back then, the ink was barely dry on both the Lucasfilm and Marvel acquisitions; something as sweepingly monstrous as the wholesale buyout of 20th Century Fox (only to initially “vault” the bulk of that bounty) was unthinkable; and the streaming heir-apparent, Disney+, wasn’t yet a gleam in anyone’s eye.
In the handful of years since Frozen, it could be argued that Disney went from defining our culture to becoming our culture. That degree of burden, as monolithically untenable as it is, also has the unique nature of being unprecedented. Wielding full knowledge that nostalgia and warm familiarity is the best smokescreen for the active domination of a faceless corporate superstructure looking to devour everything, Anna and Elsa have been summoned back to the soundstage and given all new beautiful dresses and hairdos.
Like those shiftless pirates of the Caribbean before them, having found themselves ushered into at least one major sequel no one originally planned for, he heroines of Arendelle must dig out some rightly plausible backstory if this new round of considerable world-building is to be believed. With the widespread success of 2013’s Frozen, the Academy Award winning creators of the first movie, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, not only found themselves staring down a likely white-hot franchise, but for Lee at least, also found herself appointed chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Things do indeed snowball in this corner of the ever increasing Mouse House.
Ah, curses…! When in doubt, a curse storyline will do. Dealing with a newly uncovered curse is the general gist of the plot, though the mechanics and mythology of it are murky in the setup, to say the least. By the middle of the film, I found myself resigned to the notion that these girls have themselves “a mumbo jumbo problem”. To greatly generalize, Arendelle’s in deep, deep, deep, deep…
It is in the second half of Frozen II, however, that plodding plot details give way to rich thematic elements, far richer than those of the first Frozen film. So I suppose then it’s a bit of give and take. Like that film, this one never ultimately rises above the grade of “B+”, despite its vibrant characters, solid songmanship, and keen uses of humor. The animation may not appear to have advanced all that much in the half-decade or so, but hey, it was awfully good the first time around. (So, there is something that hasn’t really changed).
Fans will be happy from the get-go, as all the now-iconic favorites are back: the aforementioned royal sisters, the non-powered, good natured younger one, Anna (Kristen Bell) and her older, ice queen sibling, Elsa (Idina Menzel); the comical favorite Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad), and the lovestuck naive beefcake, Kristoff (Jonathan Geoff) and his “talking” reindeer, Sven. In beefed up roles via flashbacks (enabling a revisitation to the sister’s childhood) are the late parents Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) and King Agnarr (Alfred Molina). Popular talent Sterling K. Brown makes the scene as a prominent military captain, Mattias. Also on-hand are Jeremy Sisto, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, Ciarán Hinds, and the venerable Alan Tudyk. All give their all.
For young fans, the wait preceding the well-enough earned triumphant arrival of Frozen II may’ve felt like awaiting the migration of an iceberg. (My five-year old daughter, who’s seen Frozen more times than I know, wasn’t even born when that film materialized. She was very into this one). Yet, it arrives as a package so chock full of inevitability that it’s success in living up to the burden of its heritage to entrance audiences and generate another hit-filled soundtrack is all too easy to skate passed.
The film’s use of its songs, almost all of them new, is as inspired as Frozen II ever gets. Although Elsa does get another big number on the level of the un-reprised “Let It Go”, the arguably most memorable and most clever song comes from a completely unexpected character. When the music of Frozen II does dip into 2013 nostalgia, it’s restrained in refreshingly unsuspecting ways.
The Walt Disney Company takeover of all kingdoms is not by any means complete. Despite the inevitability of riches and reach that thoroughly pre-sold projects such as this one will undoubtedly yield, the mission to make it work as a story remains a palpable concern at the still-glowing cores of the individual films (or TV series’, or live shows, or theme parks, or what have you). Without deeply invested creators like Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, the Empire of the Mouse would eventually (if not sooner) topple. The curse of overriding cultural dominance may be sweeping through on its particularly chilly wind, but the magic- in this case, shiny, mystical, empowering fairytale magic- is still singing loudly in the fields and fjords. Frozen II, like so many things Disney, may appear cold to the touch, but will prove irresistible in holding onto. And not letting go.