Building Entertainment: The Films of the Walt Disney Studio.  Frozen II

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Frozen II

Year: 2019

Budget:  $150 million

Box office: $1.450 billion

Plot: King Agnarr of Arendelle tells a story to his young daughters, Elsa and Anna, that their grandfather, King Runeard, had established a treaty with a neighboring tribe of Northuldra by building a dam in their homeland, the Enchanted Forest. However, a fight occurs, resulting in Runeard’s death and enraging the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air of the forest. The spirits disappear and a wall of mist traps everyone in the Enchanted Forest. Young Agnarr barely escapes due to the help of an unknown savior.

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Three years after her coronation, Elsa celebrates autumn in the kingdom with Anna, Olaf the snowman, Kristoff the ice harvester, and Kristoff’s reindeer, Sven. One night, when Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling out to her, she follows it and unintentionally awakens the elemental spirits, which forces everyone in the kingdom to evacuate. Grand Pabbie and the Rock Troll colony arrive and Pabbie informs that they must set things right by discovering the truth about the past.

Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven embark to the Enchanted Forest, following the mysterious voice. After the mist parts at Elsa’s touch, the Wind Spirit, in the form of a tornado, appears and sweeps everyone in its vortex. Elsa stops it, forming a set of ice sculptures. The sisters discover the sculptures are images from their father’s past. They encounter the Northuldra and a troop of Arendellian soldiers who are still in conflict with one another.

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When the Fire Spirit appears, Elsa discovers the spirit to be an agitated magical salamander, and calms it down. Elsa and Anna arrange a truce between the soldiers and the Northuldra after discovering that their mother, Queen Iduna, was a Northuldra who had saved Agnarr, an Arendellian. They later learn the existence of a fifth spirit who will unite the people with the magic of nature.

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Elsa, Anna, and Olaf continue to head north, leaving Kristoff and Sven behind. They find their parents’ wrecked ship and a map with a route to Ahtohallan, a mythical river told by their mother to contain all explanations of the past. Elsa sends Anna and Olaf away to safety and continues alone. She encounters and tames the Nøkk, the Water Spirit who guards the sea to Ahtohallan. Reaching Ahtohallan, a glacier, Elsa discovers that the voice calling to her was the memory of young Iduna’s call; that her powers were a gift from nature because of Iduna’s selfless act of saving Agnarr and that Elsa herself is the fifth spirit.

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Elsa then learns that the dam was built as a ruse to reduce the Northuldra’s resources because of King Runeard’s dislike of the tribe’s connection with magic and his intention to incorporate the region into his kingdom. She also learns he was the one who initiated the conflict by killing the unarmed leader of the Northuldra. Elsa sends this information to Anna before becoming frozen due to venturing into the most dangerous part of Ahtohallan. This in turn causes Olaf to fade away.

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Anna receives Elsa’s message and concludes that the dam must be destroyed for peace to be restored. Anna finds and awakens the gigantic Earth Spirits and lures them towards the dam. The giants hurl boulders aimed at Anna which destroy the dam, sending a flood down the fjord towards the kingdom. Elsa thaws out and returns to Arendelle, diverting the flood and saving the kingdom.

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As the mist disappears, Elsa reunites with Anna and revives Olaf, and Anna accepts Kristoff’s marriage proposal. Elsa explains that she and Anna are the bridge between the people and the magical spirits. Anna then becomes the new Queen of Arendelle while Elsa becomes the protector of the Enchanted Forest who regularly visits Arendelle as peace has been restored.

In a post-credit scene, Olaf visits Elsa’s ice palace and recounts the events he experienced to Marshmallow and the Snowgies.

Background: Disney CEO Bob Iger stated that Disney would not “mandate a sequel” or “force storytelling”, because to do so would risk creating something not as good as the first film. Jennifer Lee stated that then-chief creative officer John Lasseter had expressly granted her and Chris Buck the freedom to explore whatever they were “passionate about”. Lee and Buck later revealed that they really had begun development of an entirely new film unrelated to Frozen. But during the fall of 2014, while working on the short film Frozen Fever, they realized how much they missed the characters. In the meantime, Peter Del Vecho had been accepting speaking engagements around the world, where fans peppered him with questions left unanswered by the first film. In November 2014, Lee, Buck, and Del Vecho agreed they were not yet ready to leave behind the world of Arendelle, and began to discuss the possibility of a sequel.

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Buck later explained: “The one thing that we did right away was to figure out what would be satisfying for Anna and Elsa at the end of the movie.” They soon arrived at the ending they would spend the next five years trying to “earn”: Anna would become queen and Elsa would be free. Throughout the production of the film, filmmakers collaborated with Sámi experts on the depiction of the fictional Northuldra tribe. An advisory group, Verdett, was formed. This collaboration was the result of an agreement between The Walt Disney Company, the transnational Saami Council, and the Sámi parliaments of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Animation: Tony Smeed and Becky Bresee together served as the heads of animation on the film. Hyun-Min Lee served as animation supervisor for Anna, while Wayne Unten again served as animation supervisor for Elsa. Before animation began, Unten showed various scenes of superheroes like Frozone to the animators working on Elsa as examples of what not to emulate. Elsa’s movements in the sequel were modeled after her graceful movements in the first film, and also drew inspiration from modern dance, especially the work of Martha Graham.

To create the wind spirit Gale a new tool called Swoop was invented. This required that four (and sometimes five) different departments had to cooperate on the animation of the character, with animators working with real-time feedback. The water simulation was made to be more realistic than in Moana, but some of the elements in the movie were so realistic that they felt inconsistent next to the characters, and so they had to be made more stylistic. Creating the flurry effect was so difficult for the animators that the directors decided Elsa would have perfected a permafrost coating for Olaf by the second movie.

Music: Composer Christophe Beck, who previously scored the first film, returned for the sequel, with his score drawing elements from Lopez and Anderson-Lopez’s songs. As with the first film, Beck used Norwegian elements for the sequel’s score, as well as featuring the Norwegian female choir Cantus, with Beck stating that it gives the score a “magical” setting, yet still being “rooted in real tradition”.

Songs: Songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

  • “All Is Found”
  • “Some Things Never Change”
  • “Into the Unknown”
  • “When I Am Older”
  • “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People”
  • “Lost in the Woods”
  • “Show Yourself”
  • “The Next Right Thing”

Voice Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and Ciarán Hinds return as their previous characters. Alan Tudyk provides voices to a Guard, a Northuldra Leader, and an Arendellian Soldier. Archive sounds are used in the Ahtohallan scene for Tudyk as the Duke of Weselton and Santino Fontana as Hans. Paul Briggs also briefly reprises his role as Marshmallow. Delaney Rose Stein and Jackson Stein play the young Iduna and Agnarr. Alfred Molina returns as King Agnarr.

Sterling K. Brown as Mattias. He has portrayed Christopher Darden in  The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Supernatural, where he portrayed vampire hunter Gordon Walker, and starred as Randall Pearson on This Is Us. Brown has also played supporting roles in the films Black Panther and Waves, and recently appeared on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Evan Rachel Wood as Iduna. Her roles include appearances in American Gothic, Once and Again, Digging to China, Thirteen, Pretty Persuasion, Down in the Valley, Running with Scissors,  Across the Universe, The Wrestler, Whatever Works, The Ides of March, True Blood, and Mildred Pierce, for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe and Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She currently stars as sentient android Dolores Abernathy in Westworld, for which she won a Critics’ Choice Award and earned Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations.

Martha Plimpton as Yelena. Her feature film debut was in Rollover. She subsequently appeared in  The Goonies, The Mosquito Coast, Running on Empty, Parenthood, Samantha,  and Small Town Murder Songs. She played Virginia Chance in  Raising Hope, which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She has also received three Tony Award nominations as well as a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2002, and again in 2012 as attorney Patti Nyholm on The Good Wife, the latter of which she won. Jason Ritter as Ryder. He is known for his roles as Kevin Girardi in Joan of Arcadia, Ethan Haas in The Class, Sean Walker in The Event, Dipper Pines in Gravity Falls, and Pat Rollins in Raising Dion. He also played the recurring role of Mark Cyr in  Parenthood, for which he received an Emmy Award nomination. He starred in the TV comedy series Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.

Rachel Matthews as Honeymaren. She is known for starring in the film Happy Death Day and its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U.Matthews also plays the villainous thief Magpie on Batwoman. Jeremy Sisto as Runeard. Sisto had recurring roles on  Six Feet Under and  Law & Order. He appeared in Clueless, Jesus, Thirteen,and Wrong Turn (2003). He starred as George Altman in Suburgatory, for which he was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. Since 2018, Sisto currently plays Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Jubal Valentine on FBI.

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Aurora as The Voice. Born in Stavanger, Aurora released her debut EP, Running with the Wolves, in 2015 through Decca Records. Later the same year, she provided the backing track for the John Lewis Christmas advert, singing a cover of the Oasis song “Half the World Away”. Aurora released her debut studio album, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, in March 2016. In 2018, she released her second EP, Infections of a Different Kind (Step 1), followed by her second studio album, A Different Kind of Human (Step 2), in June 2019.

Critical Reception:

  • Manohla Dargis of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, saying: “As is often true in animation, Frozen 2 soars highest when it embraces abstraction, as in one number with a pitch-black void that entertainingly evokes Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.”
  • Writing for MovieWeb, Julian Roman said that the film “is a darker journey, but illuminated with breathtaking animation and stunning action scenes. There’s enough good humor for balance amid an avalanche of new songs.”
  • Nell Minow of RogerEbert.com, gave the film a 3.5 out of 4 stars and said: “Frozen II has an autumnal palette, with russet and gold setting the stage for an unexpectedly elegiac tone in the follow-up to one of Disney’s most beloved animated features.”
  • Ben Travis of Empire Magazine gave the film a 4 out of 5 stars, stating: “The best things about the first film—the characters and music—once again sing in a frequently dazzling if narratively flawed sequel that’s better at being sensory than sense-making.”
  • Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also gave the film a 4 out of 5 stars, and said: “the delight and dazzle of this frosty follow-up brings it all home in a climax that should have audiences panting for a part III.”
  • Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave a positive review of the film, saying: “Frozen 2 has everything you would expect—catchy new songs, more time with easy-to-like characters, striking backdrops, cute little jokes, a voyage of discovery plot and female empowerment galore—except the unexpected.”
  • Simran Hans of The Guardian gave the film a 4 out of 5 stars and said: “The sisters try to heal the sins of the past in a moving follow-up that touches on climate change and has at least one great song.”
  • Kristen Page-Kirby of The Washington Post gave the film a 2 out of 4 stars and wrote: “Yes, Frozen II is a letdown when compared with the original. But it’s also a lackluster disappointment on its own—a pale shadow of what it could have been. It’s hard to see how the same team who made something so cool in 2013 could deliver something so—there’s no other word for it—lukewarm.”

My take: It seems that they had several ideas for the film, but decided to use all of them. The narrative is muddled. I don’t know how they could have topped the original film.

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Available on Disney +?: It was initially announced that the film would be released on Disney+ on June 26, 2020. However, on March 13, 2020, Disney announced that amidst the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, the film would be released on Disney+ three months earlier than originally announced. It was made available on Disney+ on March 15 in the United States, and on March 17 in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand. The film will be available on Disney+ in the United Kingdom on July 17, according to the streaming service’s websit

Next Week: Onward