Back in 2013 there was no indication that the most successful animated movie of all time would be released that year. Frozen caught people off guard as it took the world on an icy adventure for the holidays, a winter that persisted well into the next year. The movie and its music became a cultural zeitgeist that became inescapable as their staying power lasted for months. There was no where you could hide to get away from kids singing “Let it Go” and asking if you wanted to build snowmen. But for anyone that knows of the behind the scenes last minute changes, Frozen was an even bigger surprise for its creators than it was for audiences.
The infamous story of how Frozen was changed at the last second to switch Elsa from being the villain to a good guy should be well known. This only happened after “Let it Go” was completed and was too positive for someone with bad intentions. The change was followed by unprecedented success which speaks to the versatility of the crew over at Disney Animation. It tells the story of a team that was able to pivot into something stronger than what they had originally. The lesson gleaned from the situation seemed to be that everyone should be open to change.
It seems that this lesson was was put to liberal use for the creation of Frozen’s sequel. In an interview with Variety, Jonathan Groff, who voices Kristoff, explained that he went into the studio many times to record lines for the movie. “You go into the studio, they rewrite the movie a million times; I don’t even know what the movie is about really until I see it, because they’ve changed it so much”. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction as building the plot without a clear goal in mind is not just embracing change. The only other studio to operate this way was DreamWorks before it was bought by Universal Studios. The man in charge at the time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was notorious for rewriting stories at the end of production cycles and being flippant when making decisions. This cost the studio a lot of money and time which only added pressure on the employees. This is a road that has been traveled before and does not bode well for the future of the creatives at Disney.
The aftermath of this process is on full display as Frozen II is a mess. It lacks the confidence of its predecessor and is much more inferior when it comes to its storytelling capabilities; the characters lack motivation, arcs, and direction in meaningful ways. In the first film, Kristoff had a similar arc to the one Han Solo has in A New Hope. He seems to be this rogue that is revealed to actually be a good person and ends up caring for Ana. Elsa not only has a personal arc to embrace who she is, but also learns to open up to other people. Ana is on a quest for reconnection with her sister, fighting tooth and nail to try and understand what is happening with her. She also falls in love with two different guys on the same day she met them, but I never said the movie was perfect. Finally, Olaf is comedic relief and has no arc other than to try and make the audience laugh. When you compare this to how Frozen II handles the cast, it seems like a master storyteller at work.
The only character with any real direction is Elsa. She longs for something different, a feeling personified as a mysterious call beckoning her. This direction is ruined though as it just ends up being another self discovery moment about embracing one’s self—which she already did in the last film. Kristoff wants to marry Ana, that is his whole purpose for the entire runtime, and she just wants to be with her sister. Some might consider these aspects as good character traits and while this might work for a minor character, this is the main cast. The only one who is consistent is Olaf as he is the main joke delivery method.
It’s obvious that the dip in quality is huge and that the approach for the second movie didn’t work out. While the financial success proves that audiences don’t care about the intricacies of stories, the rest of the industry has taken notice. With the film sitting at a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, there is no chance this will win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars in 2020. Remember how I said Frozen is the highest performing animated movie of all time? While this is technically true in a traditional sense, The Lion King (2019) is actually considered to be an animated movie by The Academy and has made more money than Frozen at the box office. So I guess it isn’t the highest grossing animated movie of all time, just adding onto the pile of missteps that the brand has taken. The only hope for Frozen II to gross more than $1.6 billion dollars, and that might be just out of its reach.