Today I watched Frozen Ⅱ four times in a row. I don’t usually do anything on Sundays, so I figured this might be something interesting (if painful). I haven’t seen the original Frozen but I figured this would be a great place to jump in. As with most Disney movies, it was a squeaky-clean mediocrity that tries to appeal to everyone, and in doing so, appeals to no one. Dear reader, let me tell you what I have learned.
Spoilers ahead. Not that you should see the movie yourself.
The tickets that got me in
TL;DR Frozen Ⅱ depicts aggressors not learning their lesson and indigenous populations suffering at their hands. And the songs are alright.
Frozen Ⅱ is the story of Elsa and Anna1 discovering the atrocities committed by their grandfather. We open on the two as children. Their father, who is king at the time of the scene, tells his daughters about when he went to the enchanted forest of the Northuldra, a native people who are not magical themselves but harness the earth, wind, fire, and water magic of their forest. As a young boy, the king was pleased to be in attendance as his people celebrated unity by building a dam for the Northuldra. As the king tells it, the Northuldra attacked without warning. In the resulting battle, his father died and he was rescued from the forest, just before the forest’s spirits left and a magical mist settled on the forest, trapping those inside and keeping everyone else out. And that was when he became king. After the story, the girls’ mother mentions a mythical river up north that contains memories of the past, and warns (in lullaby form) that going too deep into the river could be deadly.
Throughout my first and second viewings, there was a piece of dust that appeared to float around inside the projector. During the first showing, I thought maybe it was an intentional part of the film. It wasn’t. During the second showing, I thought maybe it was gone. It wasn’t. Fortunately, it did not make an appearance during the third or fourth screenings.
Anyway, the songs in Frozen Ⅱ are alright. They’re the highlights of the movie, as the action scenes get old quickly. There are seven songs total, but the best two happen in the first twenty minutes. My favorite song was “Some Things Never Change,” which starts when present-day Anna assures Olaf the snowman that there are some constants in life. To give the movie credit, I like the way that Olaf is animated during this sequence.
After the song, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff tries to propose to her but she gets distracted by Elsa’s upset mood. The sisters sing themselves to sleep, but in the middle of the night Anna wakes up to sing a song and wake up the enchanted forest’s spirits, who attack the kingdom, forcing its residents to evacuate. The gang travels to the forest, and Kristoff tries twice more to propose to Anna. Both times, she reacts strongly to things he says before he can get the proposal out of his mouth, which seemed out of character when compared to the Anna in the rest of the film who is even-keeled and thoughtful. Kristoff also comments that it would be a bad thing if the dam were breached, because the resulting wave would destroy their kingdom. Foreshadowing…
In the forest, they encounter (and ultimately befriend) the wind spirit, and then come into contact with the Northuldra, along with a group of their kingdom’s soldiers who have been stranded in the forest for years. Olaf gives the two groups a quick recap of the events of the first Frozen movie in a comedic way that subtly targeted viewers like me who missed out on the first masterpiece. After Elsa tames the (cute, marketable) fire spirit lizard thing, she and Anna discover that their mother was from the Northuldra tribe. To celebrate, the Northuldra sing a bizarre “tribal” song that seems like the sort of thing made up by some songwriter in a Hollywood office.
Then we move on to the most confusing sequence of the film. Kristoff meets a Northuldra man named Ryder, who says of himself that he “know[s] nothing about women.” Reader, I was not alone in reading Ryder (and possibly his friendship with Kristoff) as gay. I wondered in my notebook about both Ryder and Kristoff and was astounded when the film never properly addressed this matter. My friend who came to the third showing with me called the relationship “queerbaiting,” and she was right. The strangers in the row behind me during the fourth showing also shared my suspicion, saying “Oh my god I ship them” about Ryder and Kristoff. They’re perfect for each other — they both speak in funny voices for their reindeer — but the film ignores this entirely despite going far enough to suggest that perhaps Kristoff may reciprocate the attraction. Like Matthew from Big Mouth, Kristoff can harmonize with himself, which he demonstrates in a song following his latest failed proposal. In the same song, there’s a visual reference to the music video of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with multiple ghostly faces singing in harmony. Reader, tell me this is not an accident. I’m just so confused why Frozen Ⅱ goes half the way to having a gay character or two and then just stops.
The final act of the movie wraps up the conflict. The sisters find the ship that their parents died in six years ago washed up on a beach, and learn that they were heading to the mythical memory river, which is real!! Elsa pushes Anna away and goes to the memory river on her own, which turns out to be a memory glacier (“Glaciers are flowing ice!”, she proclaims).
There, she discovers what actually happened on the day her father told her about. The current king, her grandfather, erected the dam as a military ploy. During the celebration, he attacked the unarmed Northuldra leader. Great. But in discovering this, she goes “too far” into the glacier and freezes. Just before she is paralyzed by the ice, she manages to send a message to Anna, who realizes that she must destroy the dam.
But first, Olaf turns into a normal pile of snow because Elsa’s magic doesn’t work in her frozen state. This “death scene” is probably my favorite scene of the movie because of its solemnity. Too bad that it’s undermined when Elsa brings him back to life in the next paragraph. Then, Anna sings a sad song that drags. Maybe I’m being too hard on her, because as far as she knows, her sister and her best friend are both dead. Either way, she motivates herself to get moving and successfully destroys the dam by agitating the giants until they chase her.
Once the dam is destroyed, the fog lifts from the forest and Elsa unfreezes. As a massive wave of water2 rushes downstream from the breached dam, Elsa rides a water spirit horse thing from the memory glacier to her kingdom. Despite the fact that the memory glacier is much further from the kingdom than than enchanted forest (and that she was revived at the same time the dam was breached), she manages to arrive at her kingdom before the wave and use her ice powers to prevent any damage occurring to her kingdom. From there it’s all sunshine and roses. Elsa brings Olaf back to life, Kristoff proposes (not to Ryder, but to Anna), and Elsa makes Anna the leader of the kingdom, choosing to move to the enchanted forest to live with the Northuldra.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Sooooo, Frozen Ⅱ’s big problem (in my view, obviously) is the lesson that the film teaches. To review, Elsa’s grandfather, as the leader of the kingdom, did a horrible thing to the Northuldra people which cut them off from the outside world for 34 years and took away their magical spirits. In return, he and his kingdom suffered no consequences3. It would have been much better if the kingdom had actually been hit by the massive wave. That could have been the atonement that Elsa’s kingdom badly needed. But instead, the Northuldra, the victims, suffered for decades, and the Arendelle, the aggressors, carried on as normal. The destruction of the kingdom would have made better sense in the plot as well, because (as mentioned above), Elsa travels ridiculously fast to somehow beat the wave and save her kingdom. That castle did not deserve saving.
And then the kicker is that Elsa moves in with the Northuldra. It isn’t explicitly said that she becomes their leader, but it feels plausible given the statements made at the end of the movie:
“The spirits all agree: Arendelle deserved to stand” –Elsa
“You belong here” –Honeymaren (a Northuldra) to Elsa
“Keep looking after the forest” –Anna to Elsa, in a letter
So, Frozen Ⅱ is the story of an aggressive kingdom that doesn’t pay for its actions and rights its wrongs by colonizing a nearby society. Or, in a slightly more charitable read, there are no bad systems, just bad people.
Go see Parasite instead. Go in knowing nothing. You’ll enjoy it.
- Letterboxd review (viewing 1)
- Letterboxd review (viewing Ⅱ)
- Letterboxd review (viewing 3)
- Letterboxd review (viewing 4)
It’s always bugged me that this is how they spell the character’s name. To me, “Anna” is pronounced “Anne-uh” and “Ana” is pronounced “on uh,” but Frozen’s “Anna” is pronounced like “Ana.” ↩︎
which is actually spectacular, by the way. I loved seeing that water rush down the river and it looked damn good. ↩︎
Actually, he did die during the battle but I don’t think that’s an appropriate consequence given what he did. ↩︎