It’s been just long enough since the original Frozen came out, and my girls have aged just enough, that we didn’t end up at the theater on opening night for Frozen II. But by Sunday afternoon we decided to brave the horde of preschoolers and their parents. The older two probably felt a little too old for it. The youngest, though, was first in line to get in the theater door, and was on the edge of her seat in excitement for the whole show.
Frozen II is quite clearly a Disney mega-picture. More of what worked from the first one: comical Olaf the snowman; genial Kristof voicing his reindeer’s thoughts; the briefest cameo from Oaken who has exited the spa and is now giving manicures. The new songs weren’t as catchy as those from the original – they felt much more like Broadway narrative than tidy pop songs. Frozen II isn’t the timeless classic that its predecessor was, but it is very much a movie for our time – a very 2019 movie.
(Spoilers to follow…)
Let’s start with the main plot of the movie. Elsa discovers that her grandfather brought modern technology (in this case, a river dam) to the indigenous northern peoples only to betray them. Two generations later, that technology is ruining the land and imprisoning the people who live there. Elsa and Anna determine the only solution is to tear down the dam, regardless of the potential cost to their city. Can you hear the echoes of our growing American recognition of the evils of Columbus and the slave trade?
Then there’s dear, naive Olaf, singing about how he’s young now and the world doesn’t make sense, but that he’s so glad it’ll make more sense when he gets older. Yeah, Olaf, keep hoping.
If the grim hopelessness of a confusing world gets too tough, don’t worry – there’s 4 minutes of humor and irony directly ahead. Kristof needs a song too, after all. What he gets is a send-up of every late 80’s power ballad music video ever, complete with the fade-ins and -outs, shadowy reindeer backup singers, and soulful guitar solos. This scene is going to seem dated pretty quickly as the movie ages, but for now the irony is thick and aimed directly at the parents who will sit through this thing a million times once it comes to Disney+.
Perhaps the most helpful and hopeful theme from Frozen II is another thought aimed right at the heart of 2019. Through the movie, both Anna and Elsa come upon situations that seem bigger than they can handle. They want to solve problems but the problems seem insurmountable. Whatever should they do? And then the old wisdom comes to them: “do the next right thing”. You may not be able to see the end yet. But look around for the right thing to do… and do it. Overly simplistic? Maybe. But maybe not terrible advice for citizens of 2019, either.
I came home from Frozen II thankful that there’s no equivalent to “Let It Go” to become the soundtrack in our house for the next year. (And also realizing I should show my kids a Richard Marx video so they get the spoof.) At a cinema where the adjoining screens were showing a woke remake of Charlie’s Angels and a movie about Mr. Rogers, Frozen II fits right in as a product of, and a message for, an audience weary of 2019.