Pihla Pekkarinen reviews the much-anticipated Disney sequel.
Frozen, when it was first released six years ago, gripped the world. Frozen paraphernalia was inescapable. Anyone who had or spent time with young children in the first few years after its release was haunted by the spectres of Anna and Elsa. At the small preschool I taught at, there were at least three Elsas or Annas at Halloween and Carnival.
Frozen was hailed by parents and critics alike for its feminist undertones. The leads were two strong, independent women, and the film prioritized the relationship of sisterly love over romantic love. It depicted the difference between a manipulative romantic relationship and a supportive one, making clear how not all romantic relationships are equal. It embraced femininity as a strength rather than a weakness. Criticism arose too, with some claiming that the stereotypically princess-like appearances of Elsa and Anna contribute to unattainable beauty standards, particularly shameless in their targeting of young girls. Overall, however, the release of Frozen in 2013 was recognised as a huge step in the right direction for Disney.
Frozen II follows nearly the same path as its predecessor. Anna and Elsa set off on another quest for the truth, meet guiding characters, and eventually succeed in saving their people from peril once again. It is a heartfelt film with a formulaic plot and the occasional chuckle-provoking joke. The characters grapple with moral dilemmas but are never themselves at the center of them. The film reprises almost all the elements of the smash-hit “Let it Go” in a similar power ballad, with the main difference being that Elsa has graduated to letting her hair fall fully down this time. (One wonders what the next step will be: perhaps Frozen III’s Elsa will shave her head, or even dye it pink?) Frozen II is hardly revolutionary. Or is it?
In one scene, the beloved snowman-friend Olaf turns to Anna, confessing he feels angry at Elsa for letting him down. Instead of dismissing him, or encouraging Olaf to sympathise with and forgive Elsa, Anna immediately acknowledges and validates his hurt. Olaf’s anger is not treated as negativity to be suppressed, but rathe an emotion as valid and important as any other. In another poignant moment, as Anna rides into battle, instead of questioning her judgement or trying to protect her, Kristoff asks what she needs and follows through on her request. He later tells her, in one of the more memorable lines of the film, “My love is not fragile.” Their relationship is depicted as one of partnership and collaboration, rather than patriarchal oppression and imbalanced power. The film also features an indigenous community modelled after the Sami people of Northern Europe. The portrayal has been lauded by its Sami audience as both accurate and respectful. Frozen II acknowledges (in a limited, Disneyfied way) a history of oppression and violence against global Indigenous communities.
Frozen II actively responds to Disney’s troubling social legacy, toying with the stereotypes and tropes associated with the genre. The film is aware of the susceptibility of its young audience, and consciously attempts to send empowering messages. However, they are not particularly well-integrated into what is essentially a standard Disney princess plot, and older audiences may find this constant moral nudging slightly grating. But the film cannot and should not be faulted for trying to do better: the effort to create a more inclusive and empowering future for Disney is explicit.
Frozen II is unlikely to have the all-consuming legacy of its predecessor. The songs are less catchy, the new characters less compelling (due partly to their limited screen time), and the plot more convoluted. It is nevertheless a charming and heartwarming piece of entertainment which will undoubtedly prove popular amongst its young audience. At least Frozen II has some originality and is not a live action remake of an already existing film. Ultimately, Frozen II represents an effort on Disney’s part to do better–which counts for something in this wintery political climate.
Frozen II is still showing in cinemas worldwide. Check out the trailer below: