True confession: As I was watching the first third of Frozen 2, I kept wondering where it was going. And then in the second third, I was like “Oh no…is this gonna work?” Fortunately, the third third redeemed the whole thing, pulled it together and made me immediately want to go see it again and listen to the soundtrack on repeat the rest of the holiday weekend.
But, yes, it was a bit of a mess, and some reviewers have pounced. (Couldn’t possibly be because it’s *the* vehicle of Jennifer Lee, the one time industry outsider who took over Disney animation after a #metoo casualty. No, no, I’m sure it’s not that…)
There’s a lot that I have to say in defense of Frozen 2 before I burst.
It was not safe. One reviewer said the movie should have gone straight-to-DVD. That person has clearly not watched straight-to-DVD Disney sequels of the Eisner era. This was no Lady and the Tramp 2 or Return of Jafar.
Those nearly unwatchable films—aiming solely to milk the investment of the original—plowed little new plot, world, or character ground; they just rehashed and remixed things we already knew about the characters like a sitcom that’s been running way too long. They certainly didn’t have the investment in talent, animation, or songs that Frozen 2 did.
Frozen 2 could have easily phoned in a new adventure with the same old mix of personalities. It could have gone more in the direction of Cars 2—a buddy adventure movie in a new setting, drawing off of a totally unrelated theme like James Bond.
Instead, it deepened the world and the backstory, also deepening Elsa’s character. Anna has to deal with her struggles around codependency and loss. Even slapstick Olaf is given the depth of an existential struggle now that he’s been alive a few years. And it continued to explore and eradicate typical gender tropes along the way. It’s so fraught, precisely because it wasn’t an easy, phoned-in sequel.
Paul noted that the filmmakers probably knew it was a bit of a mess and hence the “This will all make sense when I am older” song from Olaf mid-way through. It’s a nod to the audience: “We know, but stick with us…it comes together…”
A new and important take on fragile masculinity. I’ve been obsessed with how kids films from Ralph Breaks the Internet to The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part have become treatises on toxic masculinity. Frozen 2 took this to a more nuanced place with Christophe’s character.
While Anna is panicked about losing her sister again, Christophe can’t stop agonizing about how bad of a job he’s doing at trying to propose to her. When she takes off with her sister, he sings a power ballad about his feelings alone in the forest with a bunch of reindeer. It is way over-the-top. Much has been made about the end of the movie when Anna apologizes for having to run out and he says, “It’s OK, my love isn’t that fragile.”
My take on that line is different from some of the others who see it as emotionally mature and self-aware. I don’t think it’s self-aware. He actually is fragile. He’s incredibly fragile. Go listen to that song again! But what’s amazing is the permission the film gives the male love interest to be the fragile one and grow from it when he realizes her “rejection” wasn’t about him.
His emotions, his fear of rejection, his fragility don’t make him toxic, as they do in Ralph Breaks the Internet or the Lego Movie 2. It’s an important distinction, given movies like Joker use rejection and pain to explain and arguably glorify violence. This subtle characterization is even more remarkable in a mere “kids’ movie.”
And there’s the end when Christophe comes swooping in on a reindeer to help Anna, but instead of saying “I’m here to save you!” he says, “I’m here. What do you need?” Even Kristen Bell said she was flummoxed when she originally read that line in the script. It’s Christophe’s fragility and emotions and sensitivity that make him worthy of Anna in the end.
Following *your* dreams, not just *the* dream. The story of Elsa is a story about being born different and struggling with the pain of concealing it. Even though the first movie is about Elsa figuring out a way to fit in and be herself in Arendelle, the second movie knows that ending was a temporary Band-Aid.
Sure, a lot of princess stories center on not fitting in—Belle, Ariel, Cinderella—but with the exception of Moana, most wind up getting crammed happily into a traditional marriage/princess narrative at the end. Elsa doesn’t want a fairytale ending. She never has. She’s not forced to keep making it work for the sake of others’ feelings.
Anyone who is raising queer kids, disabled kids, or kids who otherwise don’t feel like they fit in knows how vital this type of storyline is.
It’s another thing that makes the movie messy at the beginning, but also makes it feel real. Like we were able to keep watching real life after the cameras stopped at the end of the first movie. The ending is both exactly right and unexpected.
The most important Thanksgiving film ever? The morning before we saw Frozen 2, my kids and I had a long (annual) conversation about Thanksgiving. It started with “Who can tell me some of the myths about Thanksgiving?” and ended with something like, “It’s important for us to recognize, as white people, that not only did our ancestors do something absolutely unspeakable to the Native Americans, but for a long time we lied about it to ourselves, and invented a fictional story around a holiday to excuse it. We can still enjoy being together and food and traditions, but we have to understand that the story of Thanksgiving isn’t true.”
And then we went to see a movie where it turns out Anna and Elsa’s white ancestors did absolutely unspeakable things to indigenous people, lied about it for generations, and the two had to discover the truth and make things right even if it came at the cost of their own land, property, and comfort. More to the point: Anna and Elsa didn’t make the drama about their pain and shame in finding out the truth. (I was reminded of Breeze Harper’s powerful talk about “white women’s tears” at the Flee watching it!)
It was not lost on my kids. When we got out of the theatre, I was like “Did the story about their grandfather remind you of anything?” And they were both like, “Yes! The real truth about Thanksgiving!”
I get that not all parents want to sit down before Thanksgiving dinner and talk to their kids about “a bloody struggle that decimated the population and ended with a head on a stick.” So it’s pretty amazing that Frozen 2 plants that seed anyway.
Perfect film? No. But one I want to watch again and again and can have long conversations with my kids about? Yes. One that deserves to be a box office smash? Absolutely.
Maybe the critics who didn’t get it just aren’t quite as emotionally literate as a talking snowman…
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Has your company been acquired and you don’t want to work for the acquiring company?
- Will you be a beta user for my stealth side hustle?