“Into the unknown!”

As a huge fan of the first Frozen, my expectations were high for this follow-up. Love it or hate it, that first film is an iconic part of Disney’s filmography, leaving the sequel with some pretty big shoes to fill.

That begs the question: does Frozen II live up to the original?

In some ways it doesn’t, but that’s mostly because it isn’t trying to. What Frozen II succeeds at is taking a fairy tale and flipping it back on itself. The result is one of the more interesting and abstract films Disney has produced in some time.

Frozen II follows Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven as they find themselves drawn to an enchanted forest. Once there, they set out to find the source of a magical mystery that has ties to their family and the kingdom of Arendelle.

The story goes to some surprising places early on, delving deep into the history and mythology of Arendelle, setting the stage for some pretty heavy themes to be addressed. I found this loose approach to plot interesting, especially for a release this large. At points, the film feels almost plotless, allowing stylistic moments to linger and character beats to land. It does wander into aimlessness occasionally, but always finds a way to reel you back.

The entire voice cast returns, including Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad, as well as newcomers like Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, and Alfred Molina. Everyone in the cast turns in strong work here, with the highlight once again being Menzel with her incredible voice and Bell with her effortless charm. Gad’s Olaf is also much more tolerable this time around, with a more restrained and well-timed performance.

The songs in this film are also more diverse than the first time around, with tracks ranging from classic Disney tunes to 80’s power ballads. Highlights include the instantly catchy and very impressive “Into the Unknown” and the aforementioned power ballad, “Lost in the Woods.” Get ready to hum these for days on end.

As expected, this film is also stunningly animated. Environments, textures, and characters are fully-realized in unbelievable detail, and you can’t help but be impressed by what’s on screen.

It’s also worth commending for how varied and interestingly this film is composed. This film has a real sense of scope and style, and certain sections really can catch you by surprise. It’s visually stimulating, and takes risks that I consistently appreciated. At multiple points in the film I wondered, “HOW did they animate that?”

Frozen II is definitely not a perfect movie, as it can feel a bit too abstract and thinly-stretched at times, but I appreciate how ambitious directors Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee were with this sequel. This was a film that could have played it safe and still been wildly successful, but there are interesting themes and admirable craft at work here.

In the end, Frozen II amounts to a gorgeously animated, strongly performed, and surprisingly mature sequel. Whether you enjoyed the first Frozen or not, this is another Arendelle adventure worth taking.

Rating: ❅❅❅❅

Directed by: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Written by: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Mark Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood