For a reminder of how significant the ice – er, ground – that Disney’s 2013 animated blockbuster “Frozen” was able to break, look no further than the memes.
One that has popped in my news feeds lately features Queen Elsa sending a bevy of Disney Princesses – not even including her misguided sister – sobbing into their pillows by coolly declaring “You can’t marry a man you just met.”
So, “Frozen” was big for reasons other than its record-setting box office, and thankfully, the long-awaited sequel continues to chip away at some of the outdated notions featured in many of the Mouse House’s fairy-tale films.
A visually stunning epic adventure, “Frozen II” finds its likable heroes well settled three years after the icy and dicey events of the first film: Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) has learned to control her ice queen powers and peacefully governs the small Kingdom of Arendelle, with her loyal sister Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) relishing the close relationship she always wanted with her older sibling.
Anna’s romance with awkward yet affable ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is still going strong; he is ready to get married, but his many wrongheaded attempts to propose – and the exasperated reaction of his reindeer sidekick Sven – becomes one of the movie’s funniest running gags.
The other source of near-nonstop hilarity – and again, one of the most touching moments – is the magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), who, having survived into autumn, becomes obsessed with gaining and wielding the wisdom of age. He’s constantly spouting dubious facts about nature, but one turns out to be true: water has memory.
The unconventional royal family learns that tidbit in rather dramatic fashion when Elsa is pulled north by a mysterious, mystical call.
Recalling the childhood legends told by their late mother and father (Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood), Elsa and Anna, with Kristoff, Sven and Olaf in tow, follow the magical call into an ancient forest enveloped in a thick mist keeping everyone out – except Elsa.
When Elsa uses her magic to part the impenetrable cloud, they find the woods inhabited by destructive spirits of nature, plus a contingent of Arendelle’s soldiers, led by stalwart Lt. Mattias (Sterling K. Brown), who have been trapped in uneasy coexistence with members of the magic-using Northuldra tribe. The two groups have been stranded in the woods for 34 years, since the two kingdoms’ attempts to broker peace went suspiciously array and angered the sorcerous forest, leading to the magical lockdown.
With her family’s help, Elsa must plumb the depths of her enigmatic powers and go on a treacherous quest to uncover the past, right its wrongs and appease the restless spirits.
“Frozen II” boasts a convoluted storyline with a few plot holes – to be fair, so did its predecessor – but returning co-writers and directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee deserve credit for crafting a sequel that seeks to answer the most compelling questions left by “Frozen”: Why does Elsa have magic and where did it come from? What caused their parents’ shipwreck? What was with all that mystical Nordic chanting?
The sequel’s sly joke about “Frozen’s” ubiquitous power ballad “Let It Go” aside, EGOT winner Robert Lopez and his Oscar-winning wife and musical partner Kristen Anderson-Lopez also return with a new batch of catchy songs, most notably “Into the Unknown,” another Menzel showstopper, and “Lost in the Woods,” a 1980s-style pop lament that has Groff channeling Hall & Oates as Kristoff tries to figure out the best way to profess his undying love for Anna.
“Frozen II” makes room for romance, but rather than forcing it into the narrative like past Disney Princess movies, the cool sequel keeps blazing a trail by letting its characters have love and adventure, too.