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In Frozen II, an Enchanted Forest Holds Answers to Burning Questions

Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, and more return to lend their voices for this sequel to the 2013 Disney animated hit film.

Sven, Olaf, Kristoff, Elsa, and Anna venture beyond the gates of Arendelle in Frozen II.
(© Disney)

For those who were thrilled by the 2013 Disney animated musical Frozen, Frozen II will play like a sober stock-taking of previous events. It's in keeping with the long-belated sequel's major themes: characters maturing, gaining wisdom, uncovering secrets from their past, and discovering their true callings in life. If only the film itself didn't feel as deflated as some of its characters' spirits.

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee's new film opens with a flashback to the childhood of our two sister heroines Elsa and Anna. Their father, King Agnarr (voiced by Alfred Molina), and mother, Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood, bursting with maternal warmth), recount the legend of an enchanted forest in which soldiers of Arendelle (the family's hometown, and the setting for the first film) and members of the Northuldra tribe they were fighting have been trapped in time for more than 30 years. This becomes important when, in the present day — three years after the events of Frozen — Elsa (Idina Menzel), now firmly established as queen of Arendelle, yet still feeling unsettled in her life, suddenly begins to notice a voice only she can hear. This voice, in addition to the trouble that develops when Elsa's yearnings place Arendelle in mortal danger once again, leads her and the rest of her crew to the enchanted forest in what is essentially a vision quest.

Anna beholds a town in danger in Frozen II.
(© Disney)

By contrast, Anna (Kristen Bell, all high-spirited extroversion to Menzel's brooding introspection) is completely happy with her settled life before Elsa's restlessness threatens their stability. Also back for Frozen II are Anna's love interest, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, exuding endearing clumsiness), who inadvertently keeps coming up with ways to sabotage his own attempts to propose to her; and Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad, as perky as ever), who this time around doubles as the film's spokesperson for the film's themes of growth, self-knowledge, and maturity, in addition to offering (middling) comic relief.

Visually speaking, if Frozen mostly stood out for its luminous shades of white and blue, Buck and Lee's sequel goes for a wider range of colors befitting its autumnal setting and feel. Its more expansive palette is allied with a broader visual imagination overall. Especially awe-inspiring in that regard is Elsa's descent into Ahtohallan, a mystical island her mother sings about in the aforementioned opening flashback sequence that contains all of the memories that eventually point to a dark secret explaining the genesis of her magical powers. Pound for pound, Frozen II is even more impressive to look at than its predecessor.

Elsa meets a new salamander friend in the enchanted forest in Frozen II.
(© Disney)

Its visual splendors, though, are unfortunately offset by its deficiencies elsewhere. The story's fantastical elements seem to have inspired Lee — penning the screenplay from a story she concocted with Buck, Marc E. Smith, and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez — to throw logic out the window, allowing even the direst circumstances to be solved by either a convenient magical power or a song. And speaking of songs, the seven new tunes written for this film by the Lopezes are a wildly varied bunch, none of them as memorable as the original's big hit "Let It Go," though many of them do strain to match that inescapable earworm's grandeur. And then there's Kristoff's embarrassing wannabe '80s power ballad "Lost in the Woods," of which the less said, the better.

The result of its haphazard plotting and bland musical numbers is that Frozen II comes to feel like a low-stakes affair, for all its epic heave-ho-ing on the surface. Take away the mythic trappings, and Elsa's narrative arc is little more than a glorified therapy session — especially when the secrets of Elsa's past that fuel her current dissatisfaction, once revealed, feel so lacking in resonance as to be barely worth all the angst. Though Frozen II attempts to find a fresh angle to the themes of sisterhood and empowerment that gave the original its stirring emotional heft, the film is ultimately another sequel that simply reiterates ideas it articulated better before.

Frozen II opens in theaters November 22.
(© Disney)