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Chris Knight: Frozen II is not as fresh as its predecessor, but just as frosty

When the animated tale Frozen blew into theatres exactly six years ago, its box-office take of $400-million made it the third highest grossing film of 2013, behind The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Iron Man 3. But it was also one of only two films in the top 12 that wasn’t a sequel. The other was Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity at No. 6.

Now Frozen II joins the pack of 2019 hopefuls, whose box-office leaders as of this writing feature just one original story among the top 12, Jordan Peele’s Us. Frozen II’s status as a sequel almost guarantees that it’ll earn a frozillion dollars from fans. But it feels as though it’s relying more on good will and name recognition than any inherent charm in its screenplay.

It brings together original writers and co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, though notably missing from the credits is Hans Christian Andersen, who didn’t do sequels. It opens with a bit of “retcon” prologue, where we learn the hitherto unheard tale of how Anna and Elsa’s grandfather encountered the  Northuldra people in the enchanted forest outside the kingdom of Arendelle.

Now it seems that Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) is hearing a mysterious siren call from the northern forest. Her musical reply, “Into the Unknown,” with backing vocals by pixyish Norwegian singer Aurora, is the most powerful of the film’s new songs, though it lacks both the emotional punch and the ear-worminess of “Let It Go.” (Not altogether a bad thing.)

She is compelled to head out and investigate, accompanied by her stalwart sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s always-about-to-propose boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and, for comic relief and malapropisms, sentient snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). He meets a strong breeze that he names Gale, and I was disappointed when the cute fiery lizard they come across wasn’t similarly christened Bernie.

Along the way they will learn unpleasant truths about the history of their kingdom, and experience incredible animated landscapes and creatures, including something I’m going to call a wave-horse, because if I say “sea-horse” you’ll get completely the wrong idea. The animators have gone with an autumnal palette that makes for a lovely change from the original’s winter whites.

As for all the rest, well, rest assured it will provide more than enough fresh content for those who have seen the original 20 or more times – and if you don’t know who you are, that’s OK; your parents do, and they can’t wait for a new chapter to watch with you.

There’s a romantic power ballad from Kristoff (“Lost in the Woods”), a cute number about growing up from Olaf (“When I Am Older”) and a gentle message, spoken and shown and even sung (“Some Things Never Change”), about the tension between permanence and novelty. Which, come to think of it, pretty much encapsulates the issues with sequels, animated or otherwise.

None of this comes across nearly as fresh as the original, whose central bond of sisterly love made for a welcome change from Disney’s historically romantic happily-ever-afters. And it may be at once a bit too stiff, and a little too pushy about wanting you to like it, but what of it? Cajoled never bothered me anyway.

3 stars

Frozen II opens across Canada on Nov. 22, with some screenings on Nov. 21.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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