I walked into FROZEN II expected nothing more than a cynical shameless cash-in on the success of its predecessor. I knew Disney wouldn't have the balls to give Elsa a gay love interest so it didn't seem as if the story had anywhere to go. But I have to say that all my cynicism was overturned. FROZEN II is a beautifully told, technically stunning, deeply moving film, and one of the best I've seen this year. What's more, having heard a post-film Q & A with director Jennifer Lee, I can happily report that none of the character evolutions have been organised to be safe or commercial - rather to be true to the much-beloved characters and how they might feel at this "second act of a Broadway play". A classic example of this is with the storyline of Kristoff. As the movie opens, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is grappling with how to craft the perfect proposal for Princess Anna (Kristen Bell). But the writers actually went so far as to create and screen test a version where Anna proposes to Kristoff. The objection wasn't conservative, but that after a movie's worth of his efforts, it felt mean not to let him do it. Similarly, when it comes to Elsa (Idina Menzel), I'm no fool - of course Disney isn't going to let her be out gay. But Jennifer Lee did make the good point that she's not actually ready for any relationship yet, because she's still at a weird place. If the first film was about Elsa learning to accept that she can't hide who she is and isolate herself, the second film is about her moving away from just being almost pathologically grateful to be accepted by Arundel, to being genuinely happy in her own environment.
So that's the basic story arc. I loved the way the writers put it. We have Anna as a fairytale princess and Elsa as a mythic archetype. And as in the first film, we have to have Anna pull Elsa back from a classic mythic tragic fate, but we also have to respect that each has their own world. To come to this resolution, we need to allow them to explore their back story. Why doesn't Anna have magic powers? Why were their parents out in a storm on a ship? To find out, the sisters, Kristoff and Olaf head north from Arundel to explore an enchanted forest that contains a dam that stops Arundel being flooded. In doing so, we get a beautiful story that lightly but earnestly essays the dangers of not respecting nature, and the difficulty of confronting a colonial exploitative past. At the emotional level, there's a beautiful story about not being ashamed to depend on others, and how people from very different backgrounds (indeed, genres!) can come together to balance each other out, without demanding conformity.
All of which sounds terribly profound and earnest, and it is. But it's all dressed up in the most wonderful comedy and musical numbers. Olaf the snowman has a show-stopping old fashioned musical number that had the little children laughing. Kristoff gets a parody 80s rock ballad that had the adults crying with laughter. And the big number of this piece - "Into The Unknown" is just as beautifully crafted and penetrating as anything in the first film. I laughed, I cried, and was transported into the most dazzlingly created autumnal world. I simply cannot wait for FROZEN III!
FROZEN II has a running time of 105 minutes. It goes on global release on November 22nd.