I was expecting some snappy tunes and a few scene-stealing moments from Josh Gad's Olaf in Disney's current cash cow Frozen II. What proved surprising was a scene of small-scale genocide aimed at the indigenous people that live in an enchanted forest that borders Arendelle, the home of Anna and Elsa. It and its ramifications are rather heady stuff and I'm quite sure the youngsters, who will be clamoring – if they aren't already – for the latest doll, toy castle or any of the other myriad pieces of the movie's merchandise, will likely ignore the film's politics, brushing aside scenes dedicated to it as the boring parts.
Then again, this is in keeping with writer and co-director Jennifer Lee's past work, especially Zootopia, with its warnings of the dangers of intolerance and prejudice. Injecting important social concerns into animated films is nothing new and introducing young viewers to these topics early on is a noble endeavor. However, unlike Zootopia which zips along at a brisk clip, Frozen II gets bogged down by its message, the theme being front and center during the film's last 45 minutes, which drags to the point the viewer is likely to become indifferent to its moral.
Things start off on a dour note as we're treated to a flashback in which young Anna and Elsa are being told a bedtime story by their father King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) about their grandfather, who was a general in the Arendellian Army. Seems he and a brigade of troops went missing in the far northern forest of Ahtohallan some 34 years ago which has been shrouded in mist and rendered magically impenetrable ever since. Jump forward to present day where Elsa (Idina Menzel) is being haunted by dreams beckoning her to Ahtohallan, something she keeps from Anna (Kristin Bell), who inadvertently keeps ignoring her boyfriend Kristoff's (Jonathan Groff) attempts to propose to her.
As her dreams persist, Elsa decides she must head north to investigate and with her sister, her beau, his faithful reindeer, Sven, and the blissfully clueless snowman Olaf in tow, they set out and discover not only the source of her powers, but a horrible secret as well. While there is a serious tone driving the narrative, that doesn't mean moments of levity or inspiring songs are absent. The first big number, "Some Things Never Change," is as witty, funny and energetic as anything from the previous film and will likely be the movie's breakout hit. The soaring "Into the Unknown" allows Menzel to remind us what a powerful voice she has, while "Lost in the Woods" is a 90s-style power ballad that will have you tapping your toes whether you want to or not. Finally, "When I am Older," puts Olaf in the spotlight and Gad doesn't disappoint in bringing the looney to the funniest snowman in cinema history.
The tonal shift in Frozen II is its biggest problem as its serious concerns regarding the exploitation of the Northuldra, the indigenous tribe living in Ahtohallan, clashes with the film's sense of mirth, which is much more successful. Sven and Olaf's antics never fail to amuse, Kristoff's numerous thwarted proposals are quite funny and there are certainly more hits than misses where Robert and Kristen-Anderson Lopez's songs are concerned. Unfortunately, this clashes with Lee's agenda which, as honorable as it might be, comes off as obvious and clunky. This certainly doesn't make for a bad film, just one that fails to meet its potential. No matter, as long it proves a mega-hit, Disney will be more than happy with the result.