Saturday, February 1, 2020

Frozen II - Lost in the Woods

When I first saw a teaser trailer for Frozen II, I was curious to see how it would play out since it would be going beyond the original film’s source material and said movie was actually really good in spite of some faults. In the lead-up to the movie’s release, I was hoping it wouldn’t suffer the same fate as Ralph Breaks the Internet, that being a very weak follow-up to such a very amazing movie. While I wouldn’t get to see Frozen II until several weeks after its release, I found it did some things right, however it was ultimately unsatisfying.

During a flashback scene to Anna (Hadley Gannaway, Libby Stubenrauch) and Elsa’s (Mattea Conforti, Eva Bella) youth, their father, King Agnarr (Alfred Molina), tells them of an incident that led to a fallout between the Kingdom of Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe that resides in an enchanted forest, in which a treaty negotiation that went south angered the elemental spirits of fire, water, wind and earth. After the events of the original Frozen, Elsa (Idina Menzel) hears a voice calling for her and her investigations into it end up awakening the spirits. This angers the spirits, putting Arendelle in danger as the citizens evacuate. Elsa thinks the voice she heard may be related and sets off to find out, with Anna (Kristen Bell), Olaf (Josh Gad), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven following beside her.

On paper, the concept of Elsa needing to deal with the source of her power seems like a potentially interesting premise if done with the right hands. In practice, the movie suffers from the type of sloppy writing you might expect more from a direct-to-video movie. While it does have some setup to its reveals, said reveals are a tad predictable and the story in general feels a bit aimless in its direction for the most part. The characters themselves also go through some mildly questionable development, notably Olaf waxing philosophical (even including plot-critical pseudo-science) after getting older. That said, Olaf remains a consistently funny character, with a note-worthy scene being where he gives a condensed retelling of the original Frozen in an exaggerated manner.

While it is a musical much like the first film, there are a total of eight songs throughout the movie, discounting the three in the credits, many of which feel like padding and take up nearly a third of its total runtime. Elsa’s songs “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” are amazing showstoppers, and are animated to match. However, songs such as Anna’s “The Next Right Thing” and Kristoff’s “Lost in the Woods”, the latter of which seems heavily influenced by "You're the Inspiration" by Chicago, felt pointless and the latter seemed a bit forced. Covers of “Into the Unknown” and “Lost in the Woods” by Panic! At the Disco and Weezer (respectively) also play during the credits, the latter of which, without knocking against Jonathan Groff’s singing talents, sounded better put-together to me than the version in the actual movie, which was represented by an out-of-place music video sequence.

Something I can actually give the movie credit for is that the animation is spectacular. The environments are rendered in a realistic way without clashing with the stylized characters, the water and snow effects being particular standouts. What I did have a problem with though was the way Sven was depicted, being somewhat closer to the horse Maximus in Tangled where he has more dog-like behavior despite being a reindeer (making him a cervine and not a canine). There are also moments within the second musical number (“Some Things Never Change”) that bothered me, mainly Sven displaying more human-like behavior such as massaging Kristoff’s shoulders in a brief shot and being the one to pay for clothes for Kristoff to wear; there has been an instance of a dog in real life learning how to pay for food after watching college students, however it payed for cookies with a leaf in its mouth as opposed to Sven paying with coins he managed to carry in his hoof. The aforementioned “Lost in the Woods” also shows Sven and a number of other reindeer singing, even though it’s cleverly done where Sven has the voice Kristoff gave him, which combined with my previous points culminates into edging on Sven being depicted closer to Scooby-Doo.

In addition to all this, I couldn't help but think that the movie, similarly to Pixar's Cars 2, seemed more focused on trying to sell merch at the expense of the storytelling. While I don't really have anything bad to say about the character designs, at least a couple of the new animal characters and some of the costume changes, especially Elsa's, seem more obviously geared towards this goal. There's also the general feeling that the story is framed more like a stage production which, while it worked perfectly for Beauty and the Beast (1991), doesn't really work that well here since it comes off more as the animators planning the inevitable stage production as opposed to using it for flavor.

While it is definitely better than Ralph Breaks the Internet, Frozen II is one of Disney’s weaker animated films in recent memory. While it does have some great voice acting and top-notch animation, the generally weak story is overall a bit of a disservice to the original Frozen, coming off as more of a cash-grab rather than a genuine follow-up. As evidenced by the screening I attended, children will certainly be pleased by this, though even then I’d tell a hardcore Disney and/or animation fan to take their money elsewhere.

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