Thursday, November 28, 2019

Frozen II: More Princess Adventures!

Anna and Elsa Save the World in Frozen 2!

Frozen II
A fierce Elsa leads her group in and out of danger in"Frozen II" (2019) (all pictures courtesy of Disney).
Do you want to build a snowman? Well, there isn't a whole lot of building in "Frozen II." Instead, there is a lot of tearing things down and recovering from long-ago wrongs. The long-awaited sequel to the hugely successful animated feature film "Frozen" (2013) finally arrived in November 2019, and audiences flocked to see it. While the story is slightly different and there are new songs to sing on those road trips, essentially the entire Disney team that created "Frozen" returned for the sequel. As you might expect, the experience of watching "Frozen II" thus is similar to watching the original film. Let's take a close look at "Frozen II" both as an individual film the continuation of a franchise.

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The IMAX poster features Elsa's dramatic confrontation with  Nokk, the water spirit, in "Frozen II."
Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee directed "Frozen II," and the screenplay was written by Buck, Lee, Marc E. Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Robert Lopez. It stars Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad. The Lopez husband-and-wife team wrote the songs, while Christopher Beck wrote the score. The "Frozen II" production company was Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distributed it.

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Anna and Elsa meet Lt. Destin Mathias (Sterling K. Brown), who has been trapped in the Enchanted Forest with his soldiers for 30 years but remains loyal to Arendelle.

The Frozen II Storyline

The events of "Frozen II" are set three years after the conclusion of "Frozen." Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and their travel team of Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven undertake a journey of exploration from their kingdom of Arendelle.

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King Agnarr with young Elsa and Anna.
The story begins in flashback style when King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) of Arendelle tells his children Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) about their grandfather, King Runeard (Jeremy Sisto). Many years earlier, King Runeard established a treaty with the tribe of Northuldra by building a dam where they lived in the Enchanted Forest. Unfortunately, King Runeard perishes when a fight occurs, and in response, the basic spirits of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water depart the Enchanted Forest. Runeard's son, Agnarr, somehow escapes from the Enchanted Forest with the help of a mysterious entity, but everyone else is trapped there until the basic elements return.

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Grand Pabbie brings the princesses important news.
Returning to the present, Queen Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling out to her. She follows its call and accidentally awakens the spirits of the basic elements which had departed from the Enchanted Forest. This causes problems in Arendelle which must be solved, and Grand Pabbie and the Trolls arrive to advise Elsa on what to do. She learns that the only way to make things right in Arendelle is to undertake a journey to learn Arendelle's past and fix things at that destination.

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Queen Iduna with young Anna and Elsa.
So, Elsa and Anna rejoin their travel companions from "Frozen" for the journey. These are Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad), Kristoff the ice harvester (Jonathan Groff), and reindeer Sven. Following the mysterious voice, Elsa leads the team to the Enchanted Forest. They find it enshrouded in mist, but Elsa is able to part it. A tornado attacks, but Elsa uses her magic powers to turn it into ice sculptures. These sculptures are images from Agnarr's past and show that his mysterious savior was their mother, Queen Iduna of Northuldra (Evan Rachel Wood).

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The fierce fire spirit is actually just an adorable salamander.
Encountering the Northuldra and some lost Arendellian soldiers who are still fighting each other even after all this time, Elsa and her party are attacked next by the fire spirit. Once again, Elsa is able to stop this attack and calm down the spirit, which turns out to be a magic salamander. This leads to a truce between the warring men of Northuldra and Arendelle. At this time, Elsa learns of the existence of a fifth spirit which may solve Arendelle's problems.

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Anna and Elsa discover the wreck of their parents' ship.
Elsa, Anna, and Olaf head north leaving Sven and Kristoff behind. Discovering the wreck of her parents' ship and a map showing a route to Ahtolhallan, a mythical river which is reputed to explain the past, Elsa continues on alone. The water spirit, Nokk, now appears guarding the way to Ahtohallan. Elsa calms him down, too, and continues to the river. There, Elsa learns that the mysterious voice which initiated their journey was that of her mother, Queen Iduna. She further learns that nature bestowed upon her magic powers due to Iduna's rescue of Agnarr. This makes Elsa the fifth spirit.
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Ironically, Elsa freezes and needs to be thawed out in "Frozen II."
Learning more about the past, Elsa discovers that King Runeard only built the dam to hurt Northuldra, which he viewed as a threat due to their use of magic. After that, Runeard himself caused the conflict with Northuldra by killing their leader. Suddenly, Elsa freezes solid due to venturing too far into Ahtohallan, but first, she is able to get a message to Anna. When Elsa freezes, Olaf disappears.

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Anna tricks the Earth Spirit into destroying the dam in "Frozen II."
Alerted, Anna realizes that the only way to set things right is to destroy the dam. She finds the enormous earth spirit and manages to draw it to the dam. The earth spirit accidentally destroys the dam, which sends water flowing toward Arendelle. However, destroying the dam frees Elsa, who manages to return to Arendelle and stop the flood.

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Anna and Kristoff develop a special bond in "Frozen II."
With the dam broken and the kingdom saved, Elsa and Anna reunite and Olaf returns to life. Kristoff proposes to Anna, who accepts. Elsa decides to abdicate as Queen in order to return to the Enchanted Forest and be its protector. Thus, "Frozen II" ends with Anna as the Queen of Arendelle and Elsa the protector of the Enchanted Forest.

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The Impact of Frozen II

"Frozen II" is a film for fans. It greatly expands upon the "Frozen" universe and gives it context without really changing the "Frozen" dynamic. We learn the reason for Elsa's magic powers, for instance. Both Anna and Elsa wind up with specific roles to play with important purposes to maintain peace, but their relationship remains unaltered. "Frozen II" thus ties up loose ends from "Frozen" which many fans probably wondered about. Make no mistake, "Frozen II" is a beautiful film with new animation techniques which, in the most stunning sequence, give the character of Nokki a realistic liquid-like appearance. While the storyline is darker, that creates tension which otherwise would be lacking. In the final analysis, "Frozen II" is quite worthy as a sequel.

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Anna runs to the rescue on this billboard in Los Angeles.
Is any film perfect? No, and that includes "Frozen II." The story is engaging, but nowhere near as original as the original "Frozen." The storyline is "Frozen II's" chief flaw, focusing on a "sins of the fathers" theme which causes trauma to many innocent people. The screenwriters include environmental issues that seem out of place as if they are trying to make some kind of point without directly saying what it is. Dams, it seems, are bad, at least in the world of "Frozen II." Are dams intrinsically bad things designed to rob people of natural resources? That's seems like an odd underlying premise for an animated feature film like "Frozen II." There are many potentially intriguing moral questions that are unresolved.

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Elsa is the true star of "Frozen II."
The original source material for "Frozen" was Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen." That is a dark tale and not at all the whimsical sort of derring-do that the "Frozen" films became. Perhaps the "Frozen" films are edging back toward that serious quality. Elsa's grim expression and defiant attitude on billboards and in other advertising certainly hints that she is not someone to be trifled with. A hint of darkness always has hovered over Disney animated feature films. Witches are destroyed, kind-hearted people such as Cinderella are treated poorly, and, most famously, there was that shocking ending of "Bambi." "Frozen II" seems to continue this tradition because things are destroyed and powerful creatures are subdued. Arendelle itself is placed in jeopardy. There are lasting consequences of bad choices, though everything works out well in the end as you would expect. There is a clear moral subtext to "Frozen II" which wants to burst out from beneath the colorful animation and happy ending but never quite reaches the surface.

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The two princesses make a great team in "Frozen II."
The "Frozen II" songs certainly are catchy, but there are no breakout hits like "Let It Go." They are tuneful and easily forgettable. The characters are fierce and fun, but they were more fun and less fierce in the original "Frozen." There is no true villain in "Frozen II," just a succession of roadblocks to drive around or over. Do you really care about Anna and Elsa? If so, that will  make "Frozen II" a wonderful experience to you. If you aren't already a fan of "Frozen," though, you may struggle through "Frozen II." While an adequate sequel, "Frozen II" is best seen as a routine continuation film and not one that can stand alone on its own merits as a masterpiece. There is nothing wrong with that, and the superior animation and engaging characters carry the day anyway.

Frozen II

Audiences quickly made "Frozen II" a success, so critical qualms don't matter. "Frozen II" is immensely popular with girls and women while also drawing some boys and men. "Frozen II" had the highest opening for an animated film of all time, and that speaks for itself. Many viewers seemed to like it as much as the original, but it's easier to please people who are already fans than it is to create new ones. During its opening weekend, "Frozen II" got off to a quick start and almost certainly will match the stellar box office performance of "Frozen." It set records for the best opening of all time for an animated feature film in France and the United Kingdom, and the best opening for a Disney or Pixar film in China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. "Frozen II" is a huge success and Disney was wise to make it.

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Everyone experiences film differently, which is part of their magic. Personally, to this viewer, "Frozen II" was a bit underwhelming. It did not capture the magic of the original "Frozen," admittedly a groundbreaking film that managed to capture the public's imagination and become a cultural touchstone. Those types of experiences are very rare. I am not in the target demographic, while "Frozen II" is virtually obligatory viewing for tween girls. The creators of "Frozen II" know their intended audience and oriented things with that in mind without taking too many creative chances. There is nothing groundbreaking in "Frozen II." In fact, "Frozen II" is exactly the type of sequel that you would expect when the powers-that-be don't want to tinker with a winning formula. If you saw the original "Frozen," you know exactly what to expect in "Frozen II."

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There are lots of fun surprises throughout "Frozen II."
In terms of impact, I place "Frozen II" squarely in the company of "Toy Story 4" and "Ghostbusters II." These types of films simply place the same characters into new adventures as audiences expect. In sum, "Frozen II" is more of the same, which isn't a bad thing in a franchise as warmly received as the world of "Frozen."


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