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Despite rough patches, ‘Frozen II’ melts hearts

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Upon its release what seems like a lifetime ago, back in 2013, the original Frozen was an instant hit. Though the story – about the relationship between two Scandinavian princesses, one of whom has magical ice powers – was slight, it earned accolades for subverting conventions about fairytale romances and for having an earworm-infested soundtrack.

Now, six years later, Anna and Elsa are back in Frozen II, along with a number of crushing expectations about what a sequel to the defining film of Generation Alpha – bet that name’s not going to stick around – should look like. Will ice queen Elsa (Idina Menzel, Rent) turn out to be Disney’s first LGBT+ princess? Why does she have powers in the first place? Will Anna (Kristen Bell, The Good Place) and her reindeer-loving boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, Mindhunter) get hitched? So everyone’s just cool with the singing rock-trolls? Will co-director Chris Buck (sharing credit with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee) have to walk back his comments about Tarzan being Anna and Elsa’s long-lost little brother?

Some of these questions gets answered in Frozen II, though it feels like they were all considered at some point. There’s a jumpiness to early scenes in the sequel that suggests several cuts were made to get the action moving. Elsa, now the ruler of the fictional city-state of Arendelle, no longer keeps her sister and friends at arm’s length, but does harbor the feeling that the settled life isn’t for her. Meanwhile, Anna gets to just hang out with her living snowman buddy, Olaf (Josh Gad), and her nervous-about-popping-the-question beau, Kristoff. After Elsa gets the chance to soliloquize her feelings through song – in the “Let It Go”-ish belter “Into the Unknown” – she meekly informs her sister that she’s accidentally-on-purpose “awoken the spirits of the enchanted forest,” which is a thing that ice powers can do, apparently.

The foursome, plus who's-a-good-boy reindeer Sven, head up to said enchanted forest to investigate a mysterious voice that Elsa’s been hearing. There, they meet Arendellian soldiers and the nature-worshiping Northuldra tribe who have been trapped in the forest for decades. Elsa decides to free them, the sisters learn some unsavory facts about their ancestors and more songs are sung.

The visual elements of Frozen II highlight that focus on change, as the beautiful fall landscape suggests. The Disney animators have also broken new ground in photorealism – you will find yourself mesmerized by little details like Elsa’s hair or the texture of an ice boat. That level of realism in the details sometimes clashes with the anime-inspired character design, though there are subtle improvements from the first Frozen.

Finally, the big question: What about the songs? At first, it seems like songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez didn’t quite hit the same level of infectious melody and high drama that they did in the first film. But the songs in Frozen II are subtler. You’ll find yourself hearing them in your head for days after – particularly the wordless four-note call in “Into the Unknown.” There may not be anything quite as strong as “Let It Go,” but four-year-olds are not going to care about that at all. Shoot, mine even knows half the words already.

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