Even though I came to it years after everyone else was fed up with the sound of “Let It Go”, I do rather like the original Frozen. It has catchy songs, strong characters, and a twist on the usual “handsome prince” love story. Thus, despite having been burnt by Disney sequels many times before, I was actually looking forward to seeing Frozen 2.
The original Frozen was pretty much a self-contained story, with no real loose ends to speak of. With that as a starting point, Frozen 2 basically has little choice but to retcon everything you thought you knew about Arendelle.
We begin with a flashback to when Elsa and Anna were young. Their father tells them a bedtime story about an enchanted forest, and its native tribe, the Northuldrans. The girls’ grandfather gifted a dam to the Northuldrans as a gesture of peace, but they ultimately betrayed him anyway. This led to the four elemental spirits getting angry and sealing off the forest from outsiders.
Returning to the present day, we find that three years have passed since the events of the original Frozen. Everyone has settled into a comfortable routine, but Elsa can’t help feeling out of place. She can hear a mysterious siren voice calling her to the Enchanted Forest, and despite her best efforts, she can’t ignore it. However, much as she’d like to sneak off on her own to investigate, Anna is having none of that, so the two sisters, Olaf and Kristoff, all head to the Enchanted Forest to figure out what’s going on.
What follows is something of a narrative mess. The forest is inhabited not only by the four elemental spirits, but also Northuldrans and Arendellians, all of whom have been trapped and in conflict for the last thirty-five years. Already we’re on shaky ground here – the Arendellians are clearly the white man, who as we later learn were actually trying to exploit the Northuldrans and their territories. The Northuldrans themselves fall all too neatly into the ‘noble savage’ trope, living at one with nature and the elemental magic of the forest.
What does this mean for Elsa and Anna? Their grandfather betrayed the Northuldran people, angering the spirits and leading to decades of anger and bad blood. Surely that’s going to take some effort to fix? Well, not to worry, because as it turns out, the girls’ mother was actually secretly Northuldran all along – and for some reason, that means that everything’s fine and everyone can be friends now. Indeed, rather than being insulted that these two apparently white girls have waltzed in and laid some claim to a cultural heritage they only just found out about, the Northuldrans accept this at face value and are happy to immediately become Arendelle’s allies. You know, the same Arendelle that deceived them and killed their leader.
But if you thought that that was enough unexpected character revelations for one film, you’d be in disagreement with the writers of Frozen 2, for there’s more to come. Throughout the film, important information is lazily discovered through the “memory of water” – the ability for magic users to pull out flashbacks of things that happened in the vicinity of any water droplets present in that location. Yes, a major message of this film does indeed seem to be that in the Frozen universe, homeopathy is real.
Anyway, thanks to this magical narrative device, we learn about more than just the whole Northuldran betrayal. Also on the retcon list is the death of Elsa and Anna’s parents – they didn’t actually perish in the Southern Seas as we once thought, but were in fact heading north to find answers about Elsa’s powers. Spurred on by their sacrifice, Elsa manages to complete their journey and find out the truth herself – she is in fact the fifth elemental spirit, with powers over the other four. Now, Elsa can step down from the throne of Arendelle and live as she was always meant to – at one with nature.
There’s a lot I like about Elsa. I love the juxtaposition of her social awkwardness with her amazing magical powers. Yet I don’t really like the outcome this movie gave her. It’s not always easy fitting in, but the answer for most people isn’t that it’s because you’re a magical spirit who gets to live in the forest. It would have been more satisfying for me for Elsa to find a way to make life in Arendelle work for her, with the support of her friends and family. This way, it feels as if there’s no place there for anyone who’s a little different – you’re better off just leaving. And why does she have to be a spirit instead of just a gifted and unique human?
Even though all that already sounds like a lot to pack into the one movie, there’s also time for some subplots. Kristoff has decided that the time is right to propose to Anna, but in a development as painful as it is predictable, he manages to bungle it every time. We know everything will turn out all right in the end, but we still have to sit through Anna getting ever more confused and worried as Kristoff just manages to convince her that, far from wanting to get married, he’s actually thinking about breaking up.
Olaf also gets plenty of screen time here, usually spouting random trivia, but occasionally delving into philosophical questions about what it means to grow up and change. I thought I liked Olaf in the first movie, but maybe I’m misremembering, as here I merely found him somewhat irritating.
With all this going on, it’s inevitable that none of the new characters get anything of a look-in. Several of the people trapped in the Enchanted Forest seemed like they had the potential to be interesting if developed, but sadly on screen they have little to do.
One big aspect of any Disney animated feature is the songs, and sadly Frozen 2 also fails to deliver here. Elsa’s Into the Unknown is the best of the lot, and even that pales in comparison to the juggernaut that is Let It Go. The other songs are pretty forgettable.
Things I liked
Although I didn’t care much for Frozen 2 overall, there were a few standout moments that are worth pointing out:
- Elsa taming the water horse spirit on her way to the northern island.
- Elsa using her ice powers to aesthetically pleasing effect.
- Kristoff bonding with a Northuldran man over their shared affinity with reindeer. Not to mention all those soft reindeer noses!
Elsa’s Sexual Orientation
We always knew that Disney was never going to do more than tease the possibility of Elsa not being heterosexual, but does this film add any fuel to our headcanon? Let’s take a moment to look into it.
Is Elsa gay?: Arguably the song Into the Unknown could be about Elsa longing to explore her sexuality, but being afraid to do so in case it jeopardises her relationship with her family – a situation many LGBT+ people will have encountered. The call of the siren voice could represent her attraction to women – imagine how great it would have been if Show Yourself had led to her discovering that the person calling her was the girlfriend she’d always longed for.
There’s also a short but sweet scene where Elsa bonds with a young Northuldran woman – I was secretly hoping for them to get together.
Is Elsa asexual/aromantic?: At the start of the film, Elsa seems nonplussed by the idea of romantic relationships, perhaps suggesting that she simply doesn’t experience that sort of attraction. Certainly it’s been two entire films without a love interest, which is rare for Disney.
From this perspective, one could also argue that Show Yourself is about Elsa discovering that there isn’t a particular person calling her – instead her true self is the thing she was looking for all along. In other words, Elsa is acknowledging that she’s content to be single and doesn’t actually feel the need to be in a relationship with another person.
I should have known better than to get my hopes up for a Disney sequel, as Frozen 2 proved itself to be thoroughly disappointing. I would recommend rewatching the original Frozen, or even Tangled or Moana, in favour of trying this one.