It was a long time ago, in a theater in Iowa, when I saw my first musical. Was it “The Wizard of Oz?” “The Music Man?” Or “The Sound Of Music?” I don’t remember, but I was hooked. Since then I have loved stories where the characters burst into song, with a full orchestra coming out of nowhere. Somehow it resonates with my inner reality. Which is apparently a musical.
Which means, I am not a reliable movie critic where musicals are concerned. Well actually, any movies. Some “great movies” I just didn’t enjoy, and loved others, and I can’t help it if other people have educated reasons why I am wrong, don’t @ me.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I went to review “Frozen II” that a lot of critics hated it. I rented it and watched it twice, and loved it. It was fun and silly and scary and musical. There be spoilers ahead, so turn back now, if ye fear them.
Exposition and foreshadowing
We pick up a few years after Anna was saved by love’s true kiss, and things are going pretty well for Arendelle. They’re prosperous, Elsa is the queen, Anna is, well, Elsa’s little sister, who loves Kristoff, who has a Wookee, I mean raindeer, and everybody’s gotten used to a sentient snowman who has Elsa’s patented permafrost to make up for the difficulty of animating a convincing flurry effect. They sing a song about how great everything is going, and how it’s always going to be great, and, well, it’s just great.
And you just know that before long, things won’t be great. For one thing, Elsa is hearing a strange siren call, and she hasn’t told anyone. When you’re a super-powered monarch, you really shouldn’t keep something like that a secret. Plus we get some exposition that there are dangers off in the distance, that could come crashing in at any moment.
(Why do lullabyes always have terrible warnings in them?)
Eventually Elsa can’t take it anymore, and answers back, in song, and with her incredible power, waking up the forest spirits, and the action picks up fast. Arendelle is evacuated as supernatural forces push everyone away, and our heroes head off on a quest to find the truth about the past. Because as the Troll told Anna, “the past is not what it seems”.
And right about here, we see that Arendelle could use a Howard Zinn project to produce “The People’s History of Arendelle”, because later we find out her grandfather did terrible things to native peoples, and the bill for that cruelty has come due. But they don’t know that yet.
Much of this movie is tongue-in-cheek. Like Kristoff’s love song, where he and some raindeer try to figure out what’s up with Anna. Can he win her love? The animation parodies music video production values and I loved it.
Several new toys, I mean characters, are introduced as Elsa tames the elemental spirits. And we find out what happened to her parents; they lied about leaving on vacation when their ship was lost. They were… doing something else, something a lot more dangerous. The information is devastating to Elsa. She pushes Anna and Olaf aside and sets off to finish the quest on her own.
Elsa’s power is enormous. In one scene she enters a cavern with giant ice-pillars that have fallen down. With a wave of her hand she rights them. They’re about two meters across at the base and maybe 20 meters high, so she’s whipping sixty-four-tonne columns around like they were made of hollow Styrofoam. You’d think she could handle anything.
Overwhelmed by emotion in this bright cavern of ice she sings “Show Yourself”, easily the best song of the movie. She is surrounded by memories, and not only her own;
But the one thing she could not handle, was the truth. It is in this moment of spectacular beauty and triumph that she learns of her grandfather’s evil deeds, it is too much, too far. She begins to freeze. Just before the cold envelops her forever, she sends out a message to her sister Anna, whose situation isn’t much better.
When Elsa is frozen, Olaf, wandering with Anna through a dark cave, dies. Now Anna knows the awful truth, and she is alone, in the dark, when she sings “The Next Right Thing”, an anthem of despair and determination. And I have to say, in the middle of the covid pandemic, with suffering relatives, and a mad king occupying the White House, it was a little too on the nose. I could feel the cold, damp cave floor, myself, with her in the oppressive darkness.
Now it falls to Anna to do what must be done, and it’s BIG. She does not have super powers; she is crippled by grief, and she can barely even see.
What follows is some (literally) ground-breaking animation, and the lifting of a curse, reconciliation of two peoples’, Elsa finding her true purpose, Anna ascending to the throne, and marrying Kristoff. He is dressed up for the occasion, but she tells him; “I prefer you in leather”.
Ahem moving on…
And Arendelle wasn’t even destroyed, thanks to Elsa, her power (on a scale many orders of magnitude beyond righting giant columns), and her newly-found magic elemental horse. As Olaf says, “I love a happy ending!”
Wait, Olaf? Elsa? Arendelle wasn’t destroyed? I loved the movie, but it would be a narrative plus if the kingdom paid some price for their exploitation of the native peoples.
What would I have changed? The ending. I would have destroyed Castle Arendelle. The people would have watched the destruction from the high cliffs to which they’d evacuated, learned the truth, come back determined to rebuild, but never to rebuild injustice.
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- Please understand, I really liked this movie, a lot, but it did hold back from some important ideas. If colonialism exacted a real cost on Arendelle, or if Elsa were explicitly gay, it would cost Disney millions of dollars in markets such as American Conservatism and China. See the VOX article “Why Elsa from Frozen is a queer icon, and why Disney won’t embrace that idea“
- I don’t understand why it bothers people that Disney or Marvel or Hasbro, etc make money from the media they produce. Be mad at them for corrupting copyright if you want, but not for making movies.
- I was irritated by the theme that “Water Has Memory” that resurfaced as a major plot point. Was Hans Christen Anderson a devotee of homeopathy? Is somebody at Disney? It was very distracting.
- What did I love about the movie? The animation was lovely, stunning in places, but at this level Disney actually had to dial it back a notch for consistency sake. The music, obviously. And the concept of doing the Next Right Thing even when everything is dark.
- Olaf has the same story-telling style as C-3PO. And he’s gotten a lot more interesting since he started making weird philosophical comments.
- I was that kid who had every syllable of “The Sound Of Music” committed to memory.
- One thing the movie got absolutely right: dams often are ecologically harmful.