Frozen II

Frozen II makes a common mistake that plagues many sequels: it tries to go bigger and grander. The original Frozen made $1.2 billion globally, becoming one of those rare features that families watched again and again. The approach, therefore, was clearly just right. This sequel did not need to be bigger. It did not need more. Enough about it works to give fans a reasonable degree of entertainment. Still, there's no denying that it's a big step down from the original.

Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is hearing some kind of musical call. Believing it may lead her to answers about the origin of her magical powers, she wants to leave Arendelle to find out what it is. Sister Anna (Kristen Bell) refuses to let her go alone. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), and reindeer Sven also accompany her. Their journey takes them into an enchanted forest, shrouded by mist, that contains a connection to Elsa and Anna's past.

Even if I wanted to tell you what that connection is, I'm not sure I could. Jennifer Lee's screenplay is a confusing, half-baked mess involving a magic river, an ancient rivalry, a dam, and four elemental creatures. Yes, the four elements of water, fire, earth, and wind are central here, as though this hasn't been done in roughly a thousand other fantasy films. That gives the movie a “been there, done that” vibe.

The plot of Frozen II is somehow too convoluted and too thin at the same time. Obviously, the intention was to create a big mythology around Anna and Elsa. A lot of factors are tossed in to accomplish this, yet they don't tie together into anything coherent, much less compelling. Following what's happening from minute to minute and understanding why we're supposed to care is a challenge. Mythologies work when multiple story and character elements tie together meaningfully, not when a lot of stuff is thrown against the wall in the hopes that it will stick and somehow feel important.

Although the story is mostly terrible, everything else is pretty good. The animation is gorgeous, particularly several stylized sequences – including one where Elsa rides a water horse – that make excellent use of color. New songs may not hit the heights of “Let It Go,” but they're sufficiently catchy. Kristoff, in one witty conceit, gets a big number that's done in the style of an '80s Peter Cetera power ballad. Elsa's big song, “Into the Unknown,” is memorable, too. Olaf is another highlight, once again providing plenty of laughs with his comedic antics. A couple scenes are fun, as when two of our heroes take an out-of-control ride in an ice boat.

All those good elements help compensate for the weak plot, although they don't save the movie from it. Frozen II suffers from being in the shadow of its predecessor. Following up one of the greatest animated features of our time is a tall order when you're a movie that's good, yet seriously flawed.

out of four

Frozen II is rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.