In the early 2010s, Walt Disney Animation Studios was coming off two princess films - The Princess and the Frog and Tangled - that were solid, but not wildly successful. Then came Frozen. A reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen", Frozen delivered Disney magic in spades, with a heartfelt story about sisters, a duo of incredibly cute creatures and a massively successful hit in "Let It Go". It all culminated in Frozen receiving widespread praise from critics and earning over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Now six years later, Frozen 2 is hitting theaters, though it's perhaps more to do with Frozen's success than the story demanding it. Frozen 2 doesn't reach the heights of the first film, but with more complex emotional themes and better songs, there's still plenty of Disney magic.

After the events of Frozen, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are living happily in Arendelle, having family game nights with Anna's boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and the magical living snowman created by Elsa, Olaf (Josh Gad). However, Elsa begins to hear a voice calling to her from the north and when magical spirits drive the residents of Arendelle out of their homes, Anna, Elsa and their friends decide to follow the voice. They track it to a mystical enchanted forest surrounded by an impenetrable mist that parts for Elsa's magic. In order to save Arendelle, the sisters will have to trust each other - and trust in themselves - as they learn the truth about Elsa's powers and the history of Arendelle.

To the credit of screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Allison Schroeder, Frozen 2 finds a compelling way to continue the stories of Anna and Elsa, with the former focused on protecting her sister (to the detriment of her other relationships) while the latter is still struggling to find her place in the world. However, in the writers' bid to give every character their own distinct arc, Frozen 2 winds up feeling a little bit like a hodge-podge of storylines that sometimes intersect. That's not to say the arcs aren't strong, because Frozen 2 does mine some very complex emotional themes for Anna, Elsa and even Kristoff's storylines. The Disney movie doesn't shy away from big and tough emotions, diving deep into some themes that are surprisingly dark for a children's movie, though Frozen 2 does offer a roadmap for kids to deal with the emotions it brings up. Still, it's not as cohesive a movie as Frozen was, which may be down to the sequel never even attempting to introduce a villain. Instead, Frozen 2 takes the risk of forgoing the typical Disney movie story structure for a more mature style - and while it doesn't entirely work, other aspects of the film are compelling enough to keep viewers engaged.

Such aspects of Frozen 2 that help propel the film forward include its new musical numbers, written by returning duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. While there isn't a wild breakout hit on the level of "Let It Go," overall the music is much stronger and has more standouts, like Menzel's "Into the Unknown" and Bell's "The Next Right Thing". (Groff's "Lost in the Woods" is also sure to be a crowd-pleaser.) In addition to the music, the animation of Frozen 2 is altogether absolutely stunning, and completely breathtaking at certain key moments. The filmmakers use Frozen 2's animation to visually complement the movie's themes, and just as the story is more complex, the animation is even more sophisticated as well. The level of detail is truly mesmerizing and elevates all other aspects of Frozen 2.

So while the larger story of Frozen 2 may leave something to be desired, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee deliver a visual and audio feast for viewers - one that will leave an emotional impact. Frozen 2 does lose some of the magic of the original movie, but that's to be expected when Frozen was such a surprising success. To their credit, the filmmakers smartly (but sparingly) play on Frozen's success, and use Olaf's brand of silly humor in more clever ways. Plus, with Sven meeting a whole herd of reindeer (including baby reindeer) and Frozen 2 introducing the impossibly adorable salamander Bruno, Disney delivers a whole cadre of cute animals for viewers young and old. There's a compelling mix of silly and complex in Frozen 2 that demonstrates Disney's evolving animation output. While much of Frozen 2 hits the mark, there's still something missing - whether that's some unknowable magic, a more cohesive story or a better reason for existing than simply to capitalize on Frozen's success.

Ultimately, Frozen 2 is a magical return to the world of Anna and Elsa, one that has matured with those who fell in love with the original. It's dazzling, entertaining and fun for the whole family, though it does skew a little older. It might be a little too dark for very young viewers, but again, Frozen 2 does handle its more complex themes in ways that children will understand, and will help children to understand themselves better. Many fans of the first film will find something to like in the sequel, and Frozen 2 does provide an enjoyable theater experience with its gorgeous visuals and impressive soundtrack coming to life on the big screen. Altogether, Frozen 2 is an admirable sequel, even if it's not quite as great as the original.


Frozen 2 starts playing in U.S. theaters Thursday evening November 21st. It is 103 minutes long and rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements.

Frozen II (2019) release date: Nov 22, 2019