Picture this: A princess is in distress. It looks bad. Her dashing young man rides up in the nick of time and says, “Here I am to save you, my dear!” Actually, he doesn’t. He just says, “I'm here. Whaddya need?” She has a plan, and off they go.
This little exchange between Kristoff and Anna may not be the showiest in “Frozen 2,” the long-awaited sequel to that little 2013 Disney movie that won two Oscars, broke box office records and caused countless young girls (and boys) to find their inner belting voice.
But if you're a parent looking for your young girl or boy to learn good relationship behavior, they could do well to watch Kristoff, who has now become probably the most evolved iceman this side of Arendelle or all of Scandinavia or maybe the entire European Union, pre- or post-Brexit.
Not that a man is the answer to Elsa and Anna’s problems. As in the first movie, the sisters are still doing it for themselves. And they’re wearing the pants — literally. Gowns give way to more practical attire, even a royal wetsuit.
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But, folks: Kristoff has the best song, too. Sorry, Elsa! You sound great — because you're Idina Menzel, duh. But "Lost in the Woods," sung by the effortlessly lovable Jonathan Groff, might just be the true heir to "Let it Go," at least in terms of its addictiveness. An angsty love ballad, performed in retro glam rock style with intentionally cheesy music video moves, a reindeer chorus and Kristoff's blond mane blowing in the wind ... what’s not to love? “You’re my only landmark, so I’m lost in the woods,” he sings. Sigh.
It’s a highlight of the film. The rest, you ask? Well, it’s got quality, and it’s got quantity (HOW many animators are listed in those closing credits?) It just doesn’t have the exciting, lightning-in-a-bottle feel that the wonderful original had. Perhaps that was too much to ask.
Certainly, the main characters, who have aged three years (though we humans have aged twice that — drat!) are in good voice, led by Menzel's majestic Elsa and Kristen Bell's spunky Anna. Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) is back, too, and he's learned how to read, and he has questions. (And nerve! At one point he channels an “American Idol” judge and pronounces Elsa’s singing “a little pitchy.”)
And if it all seems less effortless, more workmanlike than the first film, with a very complex storyline that will definitely be harder to follow for younger fans, there's plenty to like, especially the lush visuals. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck give us an animated ocean that looks incredibly real, a more mature, autumn-hued color palette, and a magical forest surrounded by a wall of mist. There are new creatures, from imposing “earth giants” to a sweet little salamander.
There’s an interesting new character played by Sterling K. Brown, a man from Elsa and Anna’s past. And there are seven new original songs by the estimable songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, including a fitting anthem for each main character.
We begin, of course, in Arendelle. In flashback, we see Elsa and Anna as young girls, being put to bed by their mother, Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood). In her soothing lullaby, “All is Found,” there’s a message that will shape the story.
Back to present time: It's autumn, a season we haven't seen yet in the kingdom. Elsa has gained some control over her magic. All seems well. “Some Things Never Change,” the four main characters sing, in what amounts to a Broadway-style opening number.
Except it’s wishful thinking. Elsa suddenly hears a voice calling from afar — a voice only she can hear, making her feel deeply unsettled. She decides she needs to voyage far "Into the Unknown" — that's the new anthem she belts out — to see who’s calling her, and why.
Anna insists on going along — they're in all this together, she reminds Elsa (she has to do this a number of times — it’s the only conflict they still have). And so, accompanied by Kristoff, his reindeer buddy Sven, and Olaf, they head off toward the enchanted forests, unsure of what they’ll find. Meanwhile, Arendelle is in great danger; Elsa has awoken some powerful spirits.
It's best not to give too much detail about what the band of voyagers will find in that mist-surrounded forest. Suffice it to say that they encounter clues from the past, about wrongs that must be righted if they, and Arendelle, are to have a future.
The voyage has its lighter moments. Olaf gets into his usual jams, and sings about getting older (the song is not, sadly, a substitute for the wonderful “In Summer” of the last film). Kristoff keeps trying to propose to Anna, but saying the wrong thing, and she keeps slipping from his grip. At one point she apologizes, and he replies: “That’s OK. My love is not fragile.”
Keep on modeling that enlightened boyfriend stuff, Kristoff. Our love for you is not fragile, either.
“Frozen 2,” a Walt Disney Studios release, has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for action/peril and some thematic elements.” Running time: 103 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.