Whatever anyone anticipated from Frozen II: Ice, Ice Baby, it probably wasn’t a moral about reparations that warns children that their white grandpa is probably super-duper racist. Encased beneath the expected icy layers of literal repetition from the beloved insta-classic, this wholly unneeded sequel is surprisingly thoughtful, sporadically hilarious, and a shockingly important addendum.
The original film’s lesson was so explicit, parents will mumble-weep lyrics from the song that bears that message until the cold embrace of death. But if Frozen scream-sang “Let It Go,” Frozen II says, “Yeah, we didn’t mean let everything go. Also, here are some key things you should do after said letting go.” Elsa (Adele Dazeem) begins hearing a voice that calls her towards an enchanted forest. As children, she and Anna (Kristen Bell) were taught that location was the site of a brutal attack on their society by magical savages. Elsa can’t resist picking at that scab, which would have made a way more awesome song title than “Into the Unknown” and fits with the same cadence.
Elsa and Anna venture off to the secret land, with Elsa’s barely sentient snowman and Anna’s barely useful boyfriend in tow. Olaf (Josh Gad) is busy contemplating life’s true meaning, while Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is saddled with the worst subplot, as he keeps bungling a marriage proposal. His extraneous existence is somewhat redeemed by having hands-down the funniest musical number, which is entirely for parents familiar with brooding MTV music videos. Without a physical villain to overcome, the sisters do battle with the invisible sins of the past, make friends with a fire-farting lizard, and touch noses while hugging a lot.
Likely knowing that duplicating the once-in-a-lifetime success of “Let It Go” is as impossible as challenging Disney on intellectual property law, the key songs here chose to be more lyrically meaningful than catchy. “Show Yourself” is a far more empowering messaging for audiences who can map their personal struggles with Elsa’s coming out, while “do the next right thing” is a mantra so simple and good, a life coach is already posting it on Instagram somewhere.
Although far from perfect, the narrative also encases a truth at its core that children almost never hear. Frozen II suggests that a culture built on oppression cannot progress until the systems that facilitated that cruelty are destroyed. Sure, that’s not going to be top-of-mind for the kid in Olaf footie pajamas, but the other message will definitely resonate over time. That message says that it is important for young people to question the truth of the stories told to them by older family members who frame their understanding of the world.
In this great era of misinformation and propaganda echo chambers, one of the most popular children’s franchises is kinda-imprecisely doing the work that our education system was originally supposed to do. It asks them to think critically, even with their still-developing brains, and to place the destruction of the bad ahead of the protection of personal desires. Frozen II may be full of clunky fits and starts and traffic in gross “magical” stereotypes about native cultures. However, it is also beautiful to look at, chock full of cuteness, and trying to leverage its power into something meaningful. That’s one hell of a sequel.
Grade = A-