Monday, December 9, 2019

Frozen II Review: Spoiler Central

One of the guilty pleasures I've enjoyed in the later stages of pregnancy has been going to see movies alone in the middle of a weekday.  Theaters are typically empty, and the darkness allows me to consume an ungodly amount of Raisenets without anyone casting a judgemental look in my direction.  For example, I went and saw Lion King, the new live-action remake, which mostly made me think to myself, "Gee, I wish I were watching the original."  Also I got really sick and dizzy during the hyena scene and had to lie down.  Let me tell you, you have never felt nausea until you've felt the kind that prompts you to lie down on the sticky floor of a public movie theater.

Lilo: the most relatable of the Disney princesses.
 Yes, I know she's not a princess, but screw you.  She is a goddamn treasure.

With the end of the school quarter and no more content to dump in place of making a "real" blog post, I decided to phone it in this week and write a review of a movie I recently saw.  I have plenty to choose from.  2019 was a fantastic year for movies.  It gave us Shazam, the best DC movie next to Wonder Women; Shazam was a solid, fun origin story with a color palette that contained more than "broody Batman black."  It gave us Spider-man: Far From Home, another fun superhero movie in which Tom Holland collects yet another Zaddy while flinging some impressively intricate FX at us.

 Leave some for the rest of us, Tom.  

It gave us Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, an over-the-top violent alternative history whose ending is a punchline perfectly matching the title and whose tiny details (like the opening of a can of dogfood) walk a perfect tightrope between disturbing and amusing.  And, oh my God, Jojo Rabbit... a movie that defies any categorization into a genre, a comedy/drama that is poignant and perfectly culturally relevant, which had at least one audible audience gasp in the middle and more than a couple scenes that evoked tears.  If you see no other movie this year, make sure you see Avengers: Endgame Jojo Rabbit.

But the movie I want to talk about is Frozen II.  Frozen II is not an origin story but a sequel, and it lacks zaddies, over-the-top violence, and Taika Waititi playing Hitler.  I debated whether or not to write a review, but I have a lot of thoughts, and since I pitched my own idea for the sequel last year, I feel like I should follow up with my thoughts on the sequel they actually made.

OBVIOUS SPOILER WARNING: read past this point at your own peril.

So, first of all, here are my general impressions.  Frozen II is visually stunning.  I felt the same way about Frozen II as I felt about the live-action Lion King; every second I was watching, I was impressed with the visual artistry.  I alternated between going "wow" and saying, "Huh.  This is... not the original."  I was hyper-aware that this was not the original.

Frozen II is gorgeous to look at but it misses its mark.  First of all, the songs.  The songs were good.  But when I left the theater, I found myself humming "Let It Go."  A good metric for a Disney musical is that it should have at least 2-3 songs you remember and hum on the way out.  For example, the original Frozen had "Let It Go," and "Love Is An Open Door," and "Do You Want To Build a Snowman."  I can sing all of these songs at the drop of a hat.  Guess how many songs I remember from Frozen II?  None of them.  I can recall the sequences.  There was one about autumn in the beginning and one where Kristoff is singing like he's in a boy band that was funny, I guess, although it went on for roughly twice as long as the run time of the movie itself.  But I can't sing a single song from that movie.  The main number was one about Elsa going to find the source of her powers but the main lyric was "ahh-ahh, ahh ahhhh!"  That was the only memorable tune and it was wordless.  I bet parents loved hearing the four-ahhed chorus of that little ditty over and over and over when they got home.

This brings me to my next complaint.  As I mentioned, the central plot is Elsa searching for the source of her powers.  Her motivation is schizophrenia.  Seriously, that's it.  She hears voices and spends the rest of the movie running around chasing said voices.  There's no stakes.  She isn't having any problems with her powers or anything like that.  She just decides to go on a grand adventure for the heck of it.  It's actually infuriating how totally lacking in any real motivation she is; she puts herself in mortal peril over and over for no reason, and implies there's some sort of "mystery" without ever having found a mysterious scroll or having any disruption whatsoever to her life.  Throughout the whole movie I felt confused about the mission they were on, because it lacked any real linch pin to have set it off in the first place.

Frozen III: The Search for God

On their pointlessly unmotivated adventure, our heroes encounter new characters, which fit neatly into two categories: characters with zero personality and characters who will make good, overpriced stuffed toys in the Disney Store in time for Christmas.

There are two characters with zero personality.  One is called Honeydew or Honeymaven or something, and she's a girl and I think she builds a fire.  Her purpose is... she has no purpose.  She has a brother who is supposed to be a foil for Kristoff, who is a reindeer-lover like Kristoff.  His name is I don't remember because he's even more lacking in personality or purpose than Honeymuffin.

Pictured: Honeysweetie McDarlinghoof's original concept art.

Then there's Bruno, who is an adorable lizard whose purpose seems to be to be cute and sell merchandise.  As Elsa journeys into the magical land of Somewhere North, she encounters various Elemental forces, including Bruno or Bruni or something, who represents fire.  Bruno is annoyingly, sickening cute.  I liked him because he demands to be liked, but I felt that he was emotionally manipulating me into liking him and that he was going to be the hot new toy of 2020.

This brings me to my next complaint, which is that Bruno represented the general feel of the whole movie.  Elsa and Anna go through several costume changes and all I could think of was that this was an intentional ploy to sell little girls dresses.  Elsa has a truly magical moment with a water horse but, again, all I could think of was, "Mein Gott, Disney is gonna make a mint."  So many parts of this movie felt contrived.  Elsa's motivations, the songs, the characters, the outfits... all of it felt tangibly like someone, somewhere, asked how to maximize merchandising opportunities.

The "twist" that Elsa's mother was from the Somewhere North kingdom was painfully obvious and expected.  Literally while someone was telling Elsa the story about how her father was saved as a boy by a mysterious figure, I was like, ah-ha, it's Elsa's mom.  Case closed.  It totally lacked the impact of the first movie's twist.  Elsa's mortal peril near the climax, when she gets trapped in an ice cave, felt contrived and pointless... especially since, again, why the hell she was even there or what she was hoping to discover seemed to be without any clear-cut motivation in the first place.

I had to see this while searching for Frozen memes, so you do too now.

During the "ahh-ahh, ahh ahh" musical number, Elsa danced on a black screen with swirling geometric shapes.  It was lovely.  But it also represented the movie as a whole, in that, while visually delightful, it didn't really fit into the plot or have any sort of character development or narrative value.  You watched, you enjoyed, and you forgot.  The movie lacked the spirit of the first one.  Speaking of which, the movie really undermined its whole "you can't marry the first man you meet" narrative by having Kristoff and Anna get engaged.  Isn't Anna like, only eighteen in this movie?  Maybe nineteen?  Would it have killed Disney to nix the engagement subplot?  Or, even better, to have had Kristoff propose, and have Anna say, "No."  Then, when Kristoff looks shocked and hurt, she can explain, "Kristoff, our relationship is perfect like it is and I want to enjoy it for a while longer before we take it to the next step.  Ask me again in five years.  I'll be ready then."  And then she could wrap his hand around the ring and tell him to hang on to it, and Kristoff could smile and re-pocket it and they could kiss.  Boom!  Cinematic magic.

Other complaints.  Olaf's "death" lacked any sort of real impact, at least for me.  It was far too obvious that he'd be back within ten minutes, and he was.  The attempted themes of maturity were heavy-handed but also never quite hit their mark; they felt like they were pandering to the teenage audience without delivering any real message.  Like, what was my takeaway from this movie?  It had so many "messages" and quotable moments, but I can't quite place my finger on what the most important one was.  Finally, Anna forgiving Elsa for pushing her away was so immediate that it really felt like Elsa was given a full pardon despite breaking her promise to Anna about allowing Anna to help.  I understand that Anna loves her sister, but damn, she lets Elsa get away with a lot in this movie.

Remember how I said that I saw this movie in the middle of a weekday?  Well, it's a kids' movie, so naturally there were three families with kids there.  And at about the 2/3rd mark, while Elsa was doing some visually stunning ice magic, I heard one of the kids, about four or five years old, say, "Can we go home?"  Really, that summed up the whole experience for me.  It failed to capture my imagination or engage me.

 When will we get the sequel we deserve?

Frozen II did plenty of stuff right.  Like I said, every second of the visual experience was remarkable.  It was a lovely movie.  It's worth seeing just for the visuals.  But as far as story-telling goes, it's lacking.  It's too scattered and not cohesive enough.  This was a movie that felt like it was written by a committee; it has moments, but none quite fit together, and you get the impression that it went through a ton of drafts.  The character development and motivations are only hinted at and never fully realized; I think a lot of plot was sacrificed for dramatic, big-screen moments.  Disney has never been fantastic at sequels to its animated features, and as far as Disney sequels go, Frozen II was one of the better ones.  Would I recommend it?  Not if the same theater was playing Jojo Rabbit.  But if you can get past the lack of character motivation and shaky ground that the plot sits on, it's a gorgeous, spectacular optical feast.  Just don't expect much from the writers.  This movie was carried by the animators, and luckily, they were talented enough to pick up the slack created by the loose storyline.

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