Disney’s animated “Frozen II” is wetter and wilder than its predecessor, showing that sometimes the elements can come together to make magic twice.
Co-directors Jennifer Lee (who again writes the screenplay) and Chris Buck gather most of the voice cast from the first “Frozen” — including Idina Menzel as the snow-powered Elsa and Kristen Bell as her nonmagical sister Anna, along with Josh Gad as the snowman Olaf and Jonathan Groff as hunky reindeer herder Kristoff. More importantly, they bring back husband-and-wife songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who made “Let It Go” the Oscar-winning earworm that even Elsa is a bit embarrassed about now.
The prologue reunites us with Elsa and Anna as happy children — a bit of retconning that rewrites the separation the two sisters suffered in the first film — hearing their father, King Runeard (voiced by Jeremy Sisto), recall the history of their home, Arendelle. Runeard tells how his father, King Agnarr, brokered peace with the far-off Northuldra people, symbolized by a dam to hold the water of the Northuldra’s main river back from drowning Arendelle. But the peace was short-lived, and the nature spirits — air, fire, water and earth — that protected the Northuldra cut off the forest from Arendelle with a shroud of mist.
Cut to today, and all is well in Arendelle, with Elsa as a kind queen, Kristoff stumbling toward a marriage proposal to Anna, and Olaf musing about finding the world making more sense. But Elsa keeps hearing a distant voice that compels her to venture beyond Arendelle — which is suddenly in danger from those nature spirits.
Elsa wants to go it alone, but Anna insists on going on the journey with her — and Olaf, Kristoff and Kristoff’s trusty reindeer Sven join the posse into the mysteries of Northuldra. Much of the fun of “Frozen II” is in the reveal, so you’ll get no more plot spoilers here. Know that the bonds of sisterhood and family will be tested, as Elsa and Anna learn that they don’t know everything about their royal ancestors.
The Lopezes’ song score tries to replicate what worked in the first “Frozen,” with varying results. Menzel gets two strong song of determination, “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself,” which nearly add up to the power of “Let It Go.” (As in the first “Frozen,” Menzel’s version of “Into the Unknown” sounds better than by the pop act — this time it’s Panic! at the Disco — over the closing credits.)
Bell gets the bigger dramatic number this round, with “The Next Right Thing,” and Gad’s Olaf gets another goofy song with “Some Things Never Change.” The best song in the movie, though, goes to Groff, in the mournful “Lost in the Woods,” which is produced as a perfect parody of an 1980s power ballad.
Lee and Buck ramp up the animation action, with some perilous chase scenes and a gorgeous sequence (shown in the first trailer) of Elsa using her ice powers to tame the ocean. Lee’s script (which gives story credit to Buck, Lee, Mark E. Smith and the Lopezes) also dares to approach the darkness of the source author, Hans Christian Andersen, in a way that’s surprising for a Disney franchise.
It’s no small thing trying to repeat the success of a Disney animated movie, and Lee and Buck don’t shrink from the challenge. Their “Frozen II” takes the charming characters of the original, and adds enough new thrills — and even chills — to make it a worthy continuation of the first “Frozen.”
The ice queen Elsa and her warm-hearted sister Anna return, confronting a threat to their home of Arendelle, in a worthy sequel.
Where • Theaters everywhere
When • Opens Friday, Nov. 22
Rated • PG for action/peril and some thematic elements.
Running time • 103 minutes