It may be hard to remember that in 2013, when Frozen crashed into American consciousness with the force of an icy atom bomb, it was by most metrics, a good movie. Beloved by audiences and critics, Frozen felt like the first real (i.e. blockbuster) indication that its monolithic mother company was finally ready to loosen its hold on the twentieth-century values that had defined Disney for its long and literally storied existence. Love at first sight is suspect. Family is what matters most. Self actualization, not matrimony, is the path to happily ever after. We may not yet have a fat princess, or a gay one, or enough princesses of color, but it was one of the first major signs that the meta is, slowly (very slowly) but surely, shifting. It’s part of the instinct fueling all those CG-laced remakes of last-century’s classics (it’s not Stockholm Syndrome if Emma Watson’s involved).
Six years later, Frozen is still a good movie, even after an endless parade of “Let It Go” a cappella covers and aisles of glitzy blue merchandise have buried many of the film’s more subtle charms under its massive cultural and commercial legacy. But with the first movie clocking over $1 billion in the box office, Frozen 2 (Frozen II?) was as inevitable as the avalanche of ice queen-themed dolls, lunchboxes, costumes, Funko Pops, fruit snacks, duct tape, and tomato soup that followed the original.
I was seventeen when I first saw Frozen. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would love it. I’d fallen hard for Idina Menzel’s iron-clad pipes with my first listen to the Wicked soundtrack a few years earlier, animation remains to this day one of my favorite storytelling mediums, I love fantasy but dislike romance-heavy plots, and I, a blond, have a red-headed sister. Check, check, check, and check. I could appreciate Frozen on musical, artistic, narrative, and personal levels, with the added bonus that I had neither younger siblings nor small children who could overwhelm me with their obsession with Anna and Elsa (or worse yet, Olaf).
Frozen 2 is, by all reports and lived experiences, fine. It’s beautiful, of course; the animation, texturing, CG, compositing, and lighting teams all did a fantastic job (90s direct-to-video sequel this is not), but the film was bound to suffer for what it is by nature: a sequel to one of the most monumentally successful and culturally significant animated films of the last decade, if not the last half-century. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give the sequel is that it knows what it is. It’s self aware without being obnoxious about it, even if it gives off the impression that OG Frozen is standing behind it with a nailbat and an ice castle full of unmeetable expectations.
But there’s another problem that plagues Frozen 2, apart from its needlessly complicated plot (but why does the fifth spirit matter?), good but not great songs (all forgettable if it wasn’t for that Panic! At the Disco credits cover), and thematic toothlessness (can a film really be about sacrifice if nothing is lost?), and that problem is me. The problem is that I’ve become six years more cynical since Frozen, six years more aware of the monopolizing megalith that is Disney and its disturbing power to shape the laws of my country, six years less willing to suspend my disbelief that Frozen 2 was conceived because someone had a story to tell and not because someone else had Christmas merchandise to sell. We all look a little bit older, indeed.
It’s the Disney dichotomy: How can I reconcile my distaste for the capitalist, materialistic greed of the corporate entity with the immense power it has to inspire creators, to inspire children, to use what I count most sacred—the power of story—to inspire even cynical, suspicious me? The commodification of art, especially art that costs $33 million and requires hundreds of people to create, is necessary. But does my $8.50 mean yet another expansion of IP law for the sake of protecting Mickey Mouse from the public domain? Does it mean contributing to income inequality and shady corporate lobbying? Probably not. But all of ours together does.
Whatever else, my $8.50 meant a Saturday matinee on the outskirts Ann Arbor (Frozen 2 is far too plebeian for a downtown theater), surrounded by children who found an anthropomorphized snowman to be the funniest thing in their short lives, whose nervous gasps accompanied every moment of slight danger, who cheered their protagonists on to “the next right thing.”
I’m not sentimental about children—my grandfather once apprehensively asked my mother how I am going to be a librarian if I “don’t like kids”—and I think they should be banned from wearing light-up boots in a movie theater, but even I can understand the irony. Like so many great dynasties before it, Disney’s empire is built on a chorus of tiny voices. At its worst, it’s built on their potential to be marketed towards. At its best, it’s built on their capacity to be inspired.
We may all be six years older, but maybe we’re still childlike enough to hope for the best.