Back in the 90s, Disney would draw eye-rolls for its haphazard, direct-to-video sequels to animated classics, in which iconic characters were thrown back together for diminishing returns.
"Frozen II" follows the bland tradition of "The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride," "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea" and "Aladdin: The Return of Jafar."
Inoffensive, minimally competent and thoroughly mediocre, "Frozen II" is a cloying, forgettable follow-up to a far better movie. It's destined to be a "watch next" suggestion tile on Disney+ that you skip in favor of something more appealing, like another episode of "Hannah Montana."
The 2013 film, which boasted classic songs, a timeless story and ample laughs, instantly ascended to classic status. The animated shorts that followed continued the momentum, and the studio resisted the urge to cash in on a quick sequel. With the creative team and core voice cast of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff all back, there was no way to screw this up, right?
The gang gets back together and doesn't much know what to do. After a funny, whimsical first half hour, the film loses touch with its sense of humor as it sinks deeper into its plot, a ramshackle tale of time travel, water spirits and... get this, dark overtones of genocide and blood sacrifice.
Elsa, whose ice-manipulating powers caused all the problems in the first film, has now, well, chilled. She's troubled by a haunting singing voice that leads her and the gang to explore an enchanted forest in which the chief vegetation is the Plot Device Tree.
Anna (Bell), Elsa, Olaf (Gad) and Kristoff (Groff) turns out that the heritage of Arendelle is built on uncomfortable history between the settlers and the forest's native population. The heroes split up into parallel journeys of self-discovery to settle the problems of the present by righting the wrongs of the past.
The slow, perfunctory story is peppered with unremarkable musical numbers and lavish but inconsequential battles. The musical shortcomings are especially disappointing, given that musical geniuses Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are back. Save for Kristoff's sendup of a 1980s power ballad, there's little memorable in the soundtrack.
Just about all of the most winning moments belong to Olaf. His existential musings and goofy pantomimes are laugh riots, and make the moments in which the sentient snowman gets into danger all the more harrowing. Compared to Olaf, the other protagonists are emo bores.
Here's hoping any future "Frozen" sequels focus on Olaf rather than relegating him to sidekick status. The way this sequel goes just doesn't work, and seems like an awkward rehash of a song-and-dance performance that knows the words but not the music. Unless the pitch for "Frozen III" is worthy of the vibrance and creativity of the first film, Disney should just let it go.
RATING: 2 stars out of 4.