“That’s just your fear. Fear is what can’t be trusted.” -Elsa, Frozen II
It was about halfway through my rant about the importance of explicit representation to my wife that I realized I was ripping apart a Disney animated movie made for children. But let’s back up.
“Cowards!” I believe was my first word uttered walking out of a date night screening of Frozen II.
“I liked it and I had fun” was my wife’s response.
“Of course it was fun! And gorgeous! And funny! And charming! But…” I couldn’t hide my disappointment and I also couldn’t verbalize it.
Frozen II picks up a few years after the events of the original, ground-breaking (ice-shattering?) Frozen. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven live in the Arendelle castle singing songs about how great life is and how they never want things to change.
But Elsa can’t quite shake a restless feeling. After all, what is life without change? She is being called, somewhat literally but also figuratively, to a new adventure. She is grateful for what she has, her family, and her kingdom but there is something out there that she needs to discover.
And when she is finally forced to take action the movie follows our lovable group as they set off on a new adventure. Elsa is following a mysterious voice, Anna is following Elsa so she doesn’t get into trouble, Kristoff is following Anna so…he can propose marriage at the worst possible time, and Sven and Olaf are just happy to be there.
Yes, in this sequel, much like the original, the center of the story revolves around Elsa running into the wild to discover something about herself while her sister and a dude with confusing intentions follows behind. It’s a rinse and repeat of the prior arc except this time the movie feels foreboding.
The sing-song call that Elsa follows blindly is haunting, there are hints of a terrible truth about the sister’s ancestors and it bubbles around the surface, hell even the talking snowman is having an on-again, off-again existential crisis about his friends growing old.
The creators of this movie really seemed to be diving into something darker or deeper and un-Disney like for an animated movie. At some point I considered the possibility of a traumatic death, or a big reveal about a character’s sexual preference, or a statement on the long-term impacts of colonialism, or questioning of our society’s obsession with marriage. This journey felt different and more important and like they were gearing up to say something meaningful.
By the end, however, the big reveal was no reveal. Or at least no new reveal. Elsa learns to embrace her powers and that she can rely on her sister. It was a carbon copy ending of the original but without the epic rendition of “Let It Go”. It was a poor man’s retelling of Frozen but less entertaining that Olaf’s literal retelling of Frozen that occurs in the middle.
Which brings me to my cowards remark. Is it fair of me to demand the creators to take a huge risk with their beloved characters? Was I looking too hard at minor details as clues of an epic ending that did not exist? Do I have the right to be upset that they took an easy, unoriginal route in a movie that positively celebrates strong, independent women? Isn’t that aspect alone enough to satisfy my socially conscious mindset? What, exactly, did I want to happen? How did I want it to end?
I don’t have the answers. All I know is that the true beauty of the original Frozen was how different it was compared to a typical Disney princess movie. The original’s “twist” ending of the day being saved because of a sister’s love and not a man’s secured it’s spot as an all-time great film. That ending sounds trivial at this point in 2019 but in 2013 it was groundbreaking and important. And maybe that’s why I expected something bigger in this animated princess movie, because the original taught me it’s not only possible to push boundaries but it is important and necessary, no matter the genre.
So how did I want it to end? Without fear, I suppose, because even Elsa knows that fear is what can’t be trusted.