Water may have memory, as Olaf believes (no doubt to the delight of homeopaths everywhere) but since turning 45, I don’t. I can barely recall Frozen, despite seeing it in the cinema more than once with my children.
Still, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this sequel, six years on, is something special, and is – probably! – better than the first one. The new big Elsa power ballad is also better than *that* song (which I can remember! Honestly, who has even had a chance to forget?)
It’s beautifully realised, is seamed with big ideas that are delivered without preaching, and has a terrific soundtrack.
This new instalment remembers the first film, including a witty allusion to Let It Go, while taking the sisters in (literally) new directions.
Elsa has to find out who she truly is, and what that means for her, which also means accepting she’ll never fit the mould and that’s ok. Olaf (Josh Gad) is trying to cope with the fear and excitement of growing up. Anna (Kristen Bell) has to put right old wrongs.
It is confusing at times, as Elsa (Idina Menzel) moves from evacuated city of Arendelle to enchanted forest, to a shipwreck, to a mysterious island across the sea, with spirits and memories of other people’s pasts popping up – but overall this is classic entertainment for the whole family.
Elsa’s journey begins with a siren call she at first tries to ignore, until the arrival of the wind spirit, ripping up the cobbles of the city streets behind the evacuating residents. The destruction leads to a warning from the chief troll that “The past is not what it seems. A wrong demands to be righted”. So Elsa, Anna and Kristoff travel to Arendelle’s magic forest, shrouded for three decades by an enchanted mist that has prevented anyone entering or leaving.
Only Elsa, it transpires, has the power to lead Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven inside. Once in the forest, Arendelle’s queen starts to see moments from the past appearing as ice sculptures – memories from the battle in which their grandfather King Runeard died, and from which their father escaped, just before the mist came down.
The sisters find the indigenous Northuldra people and Arendelle’s missing soldiers still living there; though soon the stories Elsa sees from the past about their parents’ deaths sends her on a frightening trip alone across the sea to unravel questions about who she is.
The entwined themes of identity, imperialism and the environment, which could easily have sounded earnest or hectoring, instead feel real and vital. They’ll resonate with many older children, while Olaf the snowman’s dilemmas about growing up will appeal to younger ones dealing with the uncertainties of life in a wobbly world.
That environmentalism is inextricably linked to the treatment of Arendelle’s indigenous people. The forest, under the mist a gorgeous cacophony of autumn colours, has been doing just fine in the absence of visitors over the past three decades. But the dam nearby turns out to have been built by King Runeard to force the Northuldra to submit, and Anna is faced with the dilemma that destroying it now would mean the destruction of the city of Arendelle.
Olaf is the comic relief (he does a great Olafian recap of the first film), and his feelings about growing up, a process which both terrifies and excites him, are fun and relatable.
Less interesting is a subplot about Kristoff trying to propose marriage to Anna, a process fraught with misunderstandings as Anna focuses her energies and attention on Elsa and her own responsibilities. In fact Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) doesn’t feel very necessary to the movie at all.
Frozen 2 is stunning on a big screen, particularly the evocation of the four spirits: earth giants, vast rock people clumping through the woods; a tiny, cheery fire lizard causing bright pink conflagrations wherever it goes; the wind spirit tearing up the city as the population tries to escape; and water, water everywhere, including a kelpie, a mythical shape-shifting water horse.
There are three stand-out songs, and all are about Elsa’s journey of self-discovery; not only who she is, but where she should be.
The big ballad is Show Yourself, sung as she fights her way towards a frightening island that becomes a homecoming for her. Before Elsa even makes it across the sea she’s pushed back to shore by the waves in a repeated and exhausting battle, an obvious allegory for young people and children struggling with identity: who they are, what they’ve been suppressing, and where they might feel at home, even if the journey there is hard. (It’s a song that feels more mature than Let It Go though that could be because the original Frozen classic has been so overplayed it hardly has resonance any more.)
All is Found is a lullaby their mother used to sing to them about the mysterious river Ahtohallan which has all the answers; with folk and country elements, it’s both slightly mournful and a warning. Into The Unknown has Elsa trying to ignore the siren call from the forest.
Olaf’s old-style musical number When I Am Older about his hopes that the world will start to make sense to him should appeal to children, who have little control over their lives. Lost In The Woods, Kristoff and Sven’s song, is more forgettable, apart from the reindeer backing choir.
The mist that shrouds the forest reminded me of the very adult horror Annihilation. (And if you think that’s a stretch, Elsa’s ability, discovered in the forest, to see moments from the past via ice people took me back to Prometheus, when the crew got to see crackly replays of space jockeys desperate to escape from thousands of years ago. Olaf has no idea what’s coming once he reaches adulthood…)
Post-credits scene: there is one, right at the very end, and the credits are long; if you have small children with you they may be restless well before it arrives. Olaf is entertaining Marshmallow, the snow monster, and lots of tiny Snowgies (from the 2015 animated short Frozen Fever).
Watch the Frozen 2 trailer: