It’s hard to critique a sequel like “Frozen II” with much vigor.
It’s gorgeous from start to finish, with huge laughs from the usual suspect -- Josh Gad’s Olaf the snowman.
You’ve got hearty lessons about the inevitability of change and why family matters more than we even suspect. The new tunes lack a “Let It Go”-sized smash, but they’re warm and winning.
So, where’s the “but …”
It’s simple. The magic isn’t there, and the story feels like it came out of an assembly line.
The sequel opens with a flashback setting up the new tale. Young Anna and Elsa (Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel) hear a magical bedtime yarn from their parents about an enchanted forest.
It’s a heart tugger of a scene, with Disney animators capturing the wonder of a child’s imagination. It still drags on to the point where you wonder, “shouldn’t this be a bit … neater in its presentation?”
Get used to that feeling.
Said forest calls to the now-adult Elsa, setting off an adventure that will challenge both the princesses and their very best friends -- Olaf, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven. The journey introduces bland new characters, a ferocious threat in the form of rock creatures and a bevy of winning songs.
Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez return, uncorking wonderful tunes like “Into the Unknown” and the softer “When I Am Older.”
You don’t need a Disney artist’s imagination to picture them performed on theatrical stages nationwide.
Podcast fans -- the first episode of @ABCAudio’s “Inside #Frozen2” is here! @Ginger_Zee interviews @Lyrikris10 & Robert Lopez who wrote all seven new original songs for Frozen 2 – in theaters November 22.
Listen for free: https://t.co/F6ViTNy3Ql pic.twitter.com/fFc94UwzfQ
— Disney’s Frozen 2 (@DisneyFrozen) November 20, 2019
We’re also treated to a screenplay that takes the material seriously. Too seriously for younger viewers, perhaps. Even lovable Olaf wonders about the big picture beyond perfectly delivered wisecracks. Nothing lasts forever, he fears, even if a spell keeps the snowman permanently cool.
“Frozen II” stumbles every time it seems on the verge of soaring, and it always comes back to the basics.
Story. Character. The magical elixir when both align in just the right ways.
“Frozen II” nearly gets there at times, and you’re so distracted by the lush animation and wonderful comic relief that you’ll think it’s a success. Not quite. The original remains superior, while “Frozen II” trots out every sumptuous trick in the Mouse House playbook to convince you they’ve done it again.
Those Disney artists somehow raise the animation bar with every new effort. Here, the crashing waves look as majestic as Mother Nature’s best efforts, while the dance of color and composition are luminous from beginning to end.
You could turn the sound off and marvel at the artistry on display. Or, you could ignore everything and wonder how Gad’s Olaf remains such a perfect comic sidekick.
Something else separates Disney from the competition.
The studio tackles bigger issues, the kind that should sail over their young audiences’ heads but still connect on an organic level. Here’s it’s about growing up, moving on and wondering how we all fit into those plans.
Still, the main story at play doesn’t always mesh with those concepts.
The sequel exists because the original’s box office grosses demanded it. Disney, to its credit, tried everything possible to justify the extension. This isn’t a cash grab by any means. Still, when you’re mid-movie and wondering about the plot, the motivations or why these adorable characters are in danger, again, it might mean something critical got left behind.
HiT or Miss: “Frozen II” will make a gazillion dollars and sell endless merch. Fair enough. The film still can’t duplicate the wonder of the original, and it’s not even close.