Yes, the wind blows a little bit colder
I love everything about Frozen II… except the script. You know, the thing that drives the story and most of the character development? Who cares about any of that stuff?
If you take this movie strictly by its musical numbers, it provides a coherent and moving arc, epic and emotional and full of stakes: Elsa goes through a process of spiritual self-discovery, embracing and sharing some otherness in herself (incidentally dovetailing nicely with fan speculation on her queerness). Anna takes the stability and privilege of Arendelle for granted, only to have it stripped away. Kristoff must escape his inner reindeer wildman to properly step into human society or risk losing Anna. Even Olaf’s comic relief number, though just as pointless as “In Summer” from the original, gives him some resonant angst on discovering dark truths of nature collapsing on itself. The world’s in a state of autumnal decay.
The animation is downright phenomenal, with some of the best effects and landscapes in the history of CGI to date. It backs up and enhances everything that the soundtrack is doing. Foggy and turbulent and awesome (in the Websters definition 1 sense), the brilliant depiction of dangerous nature peaks during a segment when Elsa plunges into an icy ocean at the edge of the earth.
The story’s tone and themes are much darker than Frozen 1; in fact, some of the darkest in any Disney movie I’ve seen. Anna and Elsa come face-to-face with the violence and exploitation their kingdom’s prosperity is built on and boldly embrace a reparations mindset, even if it risks destroying the underpinnings of their happy, Charades-playing life — even if it risks their sisterly bond. Images of a bridge are everywhere — of bringing two sisters and cultures and ideologies to one messy but profound harmony by the film’s end.
If only the movie’s script actually backed any of that up. I mean, bits of it are there, but the story as written in the dialogue alternates between incoherent and deaden. There are two false deaths and a flirtation with a third, and Arendelle is spared its inevitable destruction at the last moment, making every feint towards stakes or sacrifice feel cheap and fake. The characters seem intent on pausing to revisit moments from Frozen 1 over and over for no obvious reason except lazy fan service.
Worst of all, the writers never figured out what Elsa’s self-discovery actually is. “Show Yourself” is a phenomenally powerful culminating moment… except it doesn’t actually achieve anything. A whole mythology around spirits and enchantments and hidden voices, which could have serviced such an arc with some deft writing, doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Kristoff is shoved aside into a sitcom-level plot of bumbling through a marriage proposal; Anna is frustratingly obtuse to Kristoff and nagging to Elsa; Olaf gets some funny lines but still dampens moments of real drama with his silliness; new characters aren’t provided enough to do to be memorable or well-defined.
Oh well. We’re stuck with a version of Frozen II that’s pretty close to a masterpiece in everything but its writing, full of big ideas and numbers and visuals that the screenplay can’t weave together. It’s one of my biggest what-if movies of the century to date.