‘Frozen II’ Review: Can You Face What the River Knows?

Walt Disney Animation Studios

An immense Nordic epic set three years after the original, Frozen II is a stunning follow-up to its predecessor. Plunging further into folklore and myth, it delves into the history of Arendelle’s royal family, Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) esoteric purpose, a river of memory, and an enchanted forest guarded by elemental spirits. Frozen II is a much more mature exploration of belonging, place, and family. 

“We have always feared Elsa’s powers were too much for this world. Now we must pray they are enough.”

Elsa, in the stillness of autumn, begins to hear a melodic call (sung by AURORA), a voice from the unknown beckoning her. Though her life in Arendelle is a peaceful one, she cannot ignore the restlessness inside her, the longing to explore both her own origins and the veiled history of her family – after Grand Pabbie (Ciarán Hinds) indicates that the history she and her sister were told as young girls is hardly the truth. After waking up the elemental spirits guarding the mythical enchanted forest, Elsa determines she must journey North in order to face her past.

Though while she initially attempts to trek North independently, Anna (Kristen Bell) is quite insistent on accompanying her, reminding her older sister of her own courage and bravery. Of course, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad) traverse North with them as well – because such an epic would not be the same without them.

Once in the enchanted forest, they discover a group of indigenous people called the Northaldra – trapped in the forest along with a few Arendellian soldiers for thirty-two years, as the result of an Arendellian betrayal. This betrayal was the result of the imperialistic, genocidal impulses of Elsa and Anna’s grandfather, who wished to erase the Northaldra for their use of magic and for their harmonious relationship with the elemental spirits of the forest. This violence resulted in the angering of the spirits, sealing off of the forest, but also the meeting of their parents Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood), a young Northaldra girl, and Agnarr (Alfred Molina), the new king of Arendelle. 

Disney actually signed a contract and consulted with members of the Sámi indigenous people of Scandinavia. In addition to this conscientious representation, Disney also created a version of the film dubbed in the Northern Sámi Language, which was released at the same time as the English version. 

Walt Disney Animation Studios

In Frozen, Elsa finally stopped villainizing herself; she peeled herself off the floor and threw her self-hatred into the mountain air. However, she still held herself back as she felt her powers intensify. Elsa has always tried to be everything for everyone, repressing what she needs in order to be the good sister and the queen that her parents always told her to be. Always reserved, she keeps her emotions buried; the opposite of Anna, who wears it all on her sleeve. Elsa has always been of the wild and unknown – an uncontainable power – and royal life hangs heavily on her chest, holding her back from the freedom she so fiercely wants. She makes this clear in “Into the Unknown” as she sings sincerely into the night sky, flinging her arms wide and waking the elemental spirits of the enchanted forest in one icy release. 

“Show Yourself” is completely breathtaking, marking Elsa’s conclusive transformation into the person (or spirit) she is meant to become. Her first steps onto the shoreline before the colossal glacier Ahtohallan are a tranquil exhale. She lets her hair loose and feels like, maybe, she has come home. “Come my darling, homeward bound,” Iduna sings to her from Ahtohallan’s icy walls and Elsa finally knows that home has never been Arendelle – it’s her family and her mother, it’s Ahtohallan and the enchanted forest. She has this grand moment of self-realization in which she finally knows who she is and who she is meant to become.

When Elsa learns the truth of her family’s colonial and indigenous past, her mother’s selflessness, and her own place as the fifth balancing spirit, everything finally falls into place. Iduna sings, “you are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life,” and nothing could be closer to the truth of it all. Elsa has long ached for someone to truly know her, down to the bone – waited for someone to release her, or guide her on the right path forward – but it has always been herself.

Elsa isn’t the only character who undergoes a major transformation; Anna, who has long been the affectionate, restless and outgoing sister finds herself in a place where darkness and solitude can swallow a person whole. At this site of consuming darkness, Anna learns who she is without her sister and family at her side, pushing past her grief to do “The Next Right Thing.” Where Frozen was about sisterly love, Frozen II is about self-love. The love shared by Anna and Elsa is more powerful than ever, it’s just that now they have learned to value themselves for all that they are – kind, excitable, gentle, and soft-spoken, but also candid, resolute, and unfettered. 

“Well, actually a bridge has two sides and Mother had two daughters.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Frozen II so gracefully conveys what it means to have a healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise. There are so many moments between Anna and Kristoff that, while maybe slightly obvious, are hugely important. When Anna apologizes for leaving him to follow Elsa farther North, Kristoff replies that his love isn’t fragile. Nor is he jealous of his girlfriend’s attention towards her big sister, with Kristoff and Elsa sharing a casual embrace that underscores their friendship – there’s always an implicit understanding that they both love Anna more than anything. Kristoff loves and supports Elsa just as much as he supports Anna, and that is so valuable.

From the scorching reds and oranges of the enchanted forest to the polar blues of the glacier Atohallan, Frozen II is an alluring amalgamation of color and beauty. From ambitious, sweeping landscapes to a balletic water spirit (Nokk), the animation is entirely stunning and an artful step forward from the original film. Animating snow, water, and ice in such a satisfying and detailed regard is a feat within itself. But while its landscapes are undeniably gorgeous, Frozen II would benefit from a more varied and complex female character design; Anna and Elsa essentially have the same face with different coloring, and Iduna and Honeymaren share too many similarities too. Considering the likes of Tangled and Moana also use this one-note character design, perhaps Disney Animation’s approach to its female characters needs to be rethought.

Along with everything else, the music – in both lyrics and tonality – has matured. In addition to Elsa and Anna’s yearning and revelatory melodies, Kristoff gets a ridiculous and fantastically befitting ’80s rock ballad, while Olaf performs a delightfully amusing song about growing up. As much as Frozen is cheesy, Frozen II is elegant, developed, and even occasionally meta – there are a few moments where “Let It Go” is made fun of by the characters. Despite the flaws it does possess, Frozen II is definitively better than its predecessor, and it seems that Disney’s attempt to let the film grow with its audience was a brilliant choice.

While still accessible for younger children, it is a film with thematic relevance to every single age. I was thirteen when Frozen came out, and even then I found it, while fun, a bit childish and clichéd. Now at nineteen, I’ve seen Frozen II twice and found it astonishingly relatable and compelling, crying both times. This hallowed ability to capture the attention and adoration of so many cannot possibly be understated.


Jenna Kalishman

BA in English and film studies. Early English literature as well as fantasy and sci-fi fanatic. Bylines include Lithium Magazine, Hey Alma, and Flip Screened. @jenkalish on socials.

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