The diktat from the frozen but very much alive head of Walt Disney – its garbled messages mediated by the corporation’s homogeniser-in-chief Bob Iger, is if it makes a billion it gets a sequel. One can argue if the House of Mouse’s musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen needed a sequel, but that’s irrelevant, they couldn’t let it go. The tots and their patient parents have watched the original to death, they’re getting ready to move on, and these sodding animated features take years to complete. There was no time to lose.
Frozen 2 attempts to answer the question of what it’s for by delving into the mystery of why snow queen Elsa has the magical ability to freeze and manipulate water when her impetuous younger sister, Anna, does not.
But that’s not all – because Disney, conscious they’re playing with, er, fire, by implicitly suggesting there can be exceptional siblings within a family whereas lesser tadpoles must be content with being ordinary; a hangover from the original that seemed almost designed to generate arguments amongst competitive brothers and sisters; must also discover Anna’s grander purpose. Being ginger and ditzy, it seems, wasn’t enough.
To writer Jennifer Lee’s credit, she’s found a way to fulfil these brand-strengthening directives with a story themed around holistic principles – the idea that everything and everyone in nature is complimentary. It’s earth, fire, wind and water, man; a bridge between two worlds requires a girl at each end (no, really). Courage is magic. Now stop arguing and let’s all enjoy a family hug.
Thus, in a plot that just about holds up, though you’re often reliant on expository dialogue and in-story recaps just to be sure, Elsa – tormented by a siren’s call from a faraway land, takes the gang to a hitherto hidden enchanted forest and uncovers a secret about herself and her kingdom (spoilers: the shameful episode involves male territoriality and, er, industry). Along the way, the movie delves into the Empire Strikes Back playbook, splitting the characters, subjecting them to new emotional lows, threatening to permanently break their bonds. It all amounts to a movie that’s less predictable and therefore more interesting than before.
Like the original there’s one memorable number (“Into the Unknown”) and lots of mediocre ones – one of which – “Lost in the Woods”, perhaps unintentionally, plays like a parody of an ‘80s power ballad. Nevertheless, Frozen 2 knows its audience and understands that a sense of wide-eyed wonder, charming characters and shameless sentimentality, is key to their satisfaction. The film has that, plus all the heteronormative family values parents rely upon to do their parenting for them, in a handsome package that also reminds kids to look after their siblings and pets.
That said, the film does have a familiar air to it; the sense that the characters and storytelling possibilities in this particular kingdom are all played out. When Elsa tells Olaf “we’re done”, let’s hope Uncle Walt’s head was listening.