Cold Comfort

The good news is that by all reports, Black Friday is dying, at least as an in-person event. The bad news is that it’s likely to take stores at least a decade to give up on it. I predict we’ll start seeing major retailers go through a transitional period where they heavily promote a “Buy your goodies online and pick them up in the closest store” approach. That’ll last a few years before Black Friday moves entirely online and stores just run regular hours and prices.

Moving on.

Spoilers ahead, but the movie has been out for a couple of weeks.

We went to see Frozen II last night. It was a strange experience.

Because of our often unsynchronized work schedules, we often go to late night showings, so we’re used to small audiences, especially when it’s a film nominally aimed at children. But yesterday was the first time we were the only people in the theater.

It’s not an ideal situation.

Aside from the large screen, it feels too much like watching a movie in your own living room. The theater experience should be a shared one. Shared laughter, shared gasps of surprise, shared tears.

No, we didn’t miss the inevitable screaming child who needed to be taken outside. But we did miss the emotional amplification effect of having a couple of dozen other people around us.

That said, the movie itself was better than the movie-going experience. Whatever Disney may have said after Frozen became a massive hit, Frozen II was inevitable. It could have been a routine, by-the-numbers repeat of the original. So props for all concerned–especially screenwriter Jennifer Lee–for trying to do something a bit different and largely succeeding.

Where the original movie was largely future-focused (How will Arendelle survive?) the sequel looks backward (How did we get here?) It might have been better had the writers found some element of the first film to springboard the new story, rather than having to essentially retrocon the critical element–Iduna is Northuldran–into the structure. Doing it this way raises questions that weren’t answered: Why was it necessary to hide Iduna’s origins for so long? Why did they have to conceal the purpose of their ill-fated and fatal sea expedition?

But perhaps that’s too far down the rabbit hole for the film’s intended audience–or just too much to fit into a hundred-minute movie.

Viewed independently of the original, Frozen II holds up well. The story is consistent, doesn’t leave too many loose threads dangling*, and provides a satisfying–if predictable–ending.

* The biggest, naturally, being what the heck the Arendelle soldiers have been doing for the last thirty-plus years while trapped in the forest. Unless they’ve been exclusively focused on hiding and finding food, wouldn’t natural attrition, regardless of the ongoing war with the Northuldrans, have killed them all off long before Anna and Elsa showed up?

It’s not perfect. It spends a little too much time on character development at the expense of the plot–but that’s probably inevitable. The only character who could have been shorted in that respect is Kristoff*. And cutting his big growth scene would have killed what I considered the film’s best song.

* There’s an argument to be made for spending less time on Olaf’s development, especially since he doesn’t change as much as the other lead characters. But that’s necessary to position him as a contrast to the others. He’s a creature of magic and his existence is totally dependent on Elsa. In a sense, he’s a part of her (consider how his expectation that he’ll know everything and be totally confident when he gets older mirrors her uncertainties about her ability to lead the kingdom and do what’s best for her people).

I could pick some plot nits, small and large. Some of the anachronisms (most notably “I’m blocking out your calls” and “This is fine”) stand out far more than they should. If the soldiers believe Elsa is dead, wouldn’t they assume Anna was the new queen and follow her orders, rather than her having to convince them to help destroy the dam? Would the ending have been stronger if Elsa had failed to keep the flood from destroying Arendelle–would it have helped her reach the realization that she’s not the right person to be queen, and given Anna a path to build an actual ruler/subject relationship with her people by leading the reconstruction, rather than just trading on her family’s somewhat inexplicable popularity?

But again, maybe I’m thinking in terms of a different audience. And, nits and all, Frozen II does work.

Except, largely, for the songs. I agree completely with other critics who have said the new movie doesn’t have a real blockbuster song like “Let It Go”. “Show Yourself” and “Into the Unknown” try, but perhaps too hard.

“Lost in the Woods” comes off better, IMNSHO, because it’s not trying to be the big winner. It succeeds in its mission: showing Kristoff’s coming to terms with his growing recognition that Anna is always going to be–arguably–more focused on her sister than on him. And the song’s presentation within the film, with its echos of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t hurt any either.

Bottom line: Frozen II is probably the best sequel to Frozen we could have gotten. If you’re a fan, you’ve already seen it, and I doubt you were disappointed. And if you aren’t a fan, but were dragged out to see it, I doubt you’ll want that hour and a half back.