"Frozen 2" Review: The Risks of a Sequel
Warning: Contains spoilers from the movie "Frozen 2"
The story of Elsa and Anna continues in full swing after the Snow Queen restores summer and her bond with her sister. Now we explore the mystery behind her powers and perhaps a deeper message that is necessary for our times.
Frozen 2 is a tale of rediscovery and reconciliation. What the plot begins to do is call Elsa to a realization she might not have had in the first movie. She was queen, yes but she did not feel like she belonged. So the spirits bring her to the Enchanted Forest. Anna and crew join her for protection.
When they arrive at the Forest, they learn about how it is cursed, sealing away both its natives, the Northuldrans, and the soldiers of Arendelle. This curse was a result of a feud between the kingdom and the natives, as well as the dam built for Arendelle's prosperity at the expense of the Forest's magic and the native's peace.
This was a brilliant setup for a sequel that promised answers to Elsa's origins and what happened to her and Anna's parents. She would find out how she gained her magic and learn to grow from that knowledge.
At the same time, the story is taking itself in a bolder direction in three ways. First, it sets itself as a story without a present antagonist. The threat or conflict stems from the wild natural magic around them.
Second, it presents a different history to a fantastical Disney setting. We usually see the kingdoms of the Disney world as somewhat happy places. The exceptions would be places like the more realistic Paris of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the wild Pride Lands. For the sake of their romantic storylines, Princess stories were set in places with no complex history, other than a monarchy that is strict and creates clear class divides and cleavages. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
Third is the element of personal responsibility. Usually, we have big or small problems caused personally by our protagonists that need to be resolved and learned from. That is the usual way Disney movies would go. However, this time, the responsibility is weighed more towards the nation, the setting of the story. There is the personal one, where we see a protagonist taking her role as Queen seriously. This is particularly true of how Elsa of Arendelle feels about her duty to make up for her kingdom's past sins. Although there is no big mistake like in the previous movie, this one is more towards her duty as representative of a nation that committed an offense to another. This is because the big mistake was committed by Arendelle in the past and it has yet to be resolved, compared to Elsa restoring summer from the winter she made.
These elements make for a fascinating story. Put together, we have a recipe for a relevant social commentary our children need to hear.
The Lack of an Antagonist, the Presence of Serious Sins
There is no villain in Frozen 2?
Indeed there is none. At least not one that is present, alive and out to get our heroes.
One would presume that the spirits are the antagonists because of the direct harm they cause the characters. In actuality, their actions were a result of the crimes of the humans within the story, more specifically the King of Arendelle, Elsa and Anna's grandfather. King Runebald feared the danger the magic of the Enchanted Forest would bring and sought a nuclear solution. By constructing a dam, the king would irrigate the farmlands of the kingdom while keeping at bay the powerful forces he feared.
The end result? The Northuldrans lose their water supply and are trapped in a mystic fog as a consequence of humans trespassing the domain of nature. Joining their enemies, the natives gradually decline in the isolation.
The fact that there is no evil warlord trying to conquer the natives hits home much more. The real villains may actually be our ancestors, people who have taken away land and freedom from others for their own benefit. Without a physical figure to pin the blame on for the consequences of past sins, we would only look to their descendants who can take that responsibility in order to repair the damage.
Arendelle is presented with a world-shattering dilemma. Their people have lost their homes, their comforts and their security because of a natural disaster. With the truth given to their leaders, the people must now move forward.
Anna's Resolution, Elsa's Conclusion
Anna presents a radical solution to the problem they face. Realizing how the kingdom's prosperity has ruined the forest, she decides to destroy its instrument, the dam. This way, the water would flow naturally and the natives can go home in peace. She did this by luring the Earth Giants to the dam so that they can break it down. Consequently, this brought a torrent of water rushing through the river and heading towards the kingdom of Arendelle, which would result in its destruction.
What happens next is something up for debate. Elsa freezes the flood and saves the kingdom. Although the people there have been evacuated and were never in any real danger, they would have witnessed the destruction of their homes and their normal way of life.
The ending is a consequence of Elsa's revival and her renewed sense of purpose as the fifth spirit. Elsa chooses to fulfill their destiny and joins the Northuldrans as the protector of the Enchanted Forest while Anna becomes Queen of Arendelle. This arc would have worked for Elsa if there was a specific reason why she needed to stay in the forest, rather than be the one to repent for the kingdom's sins. This all depends on how her ice powers are viewed as a direct consequence of Arendelle's sins or divine providence at work.
Frozen 2's attempt to conclude the mystery of Elsa's powers and complete her personal arc ring somewhat hollow when factoring in how the message of postcolonial responsibility is being transmitted. The ending suggests that Anna's act of destroying the dam was already the penance, yet it would not mean that the people of Arendelle would keep their word to never repeat the same mistakes. After all, if another flood does come, Elsa would stop it with her powers anyway. This undersells Anna's resolution and, in a way, reinforces Elsa as a savior and utility for the people of Arendelle, rather than the prophet that needed to make a difference here and now.
Again, it all depends on how we look at the ending. Perhaps Anna's act can serve as an inspiration for us to be more accountable to our environment and the damages powerful nations wrought on the less powerful. At the same time, Elsa's role can reflect our new generation of environmental advocates.
Still, the presentation of the ending risks the sequel's power in the Disney canon. Had the physical entity of Arendelle been destroyed and the people of the kingdom lose their normal way of living, there would have been a stronger sense to take on responsibility for historical sins. Given the world we live in is in the middle of a climate crisis, that would have been a most fitting reminder of our duty to the world.