By Spencer Beck
As a long-time fan of Disney, I could not have been more ready for the Frozen sequel to completely rock me to my core. Even though I initially enjoyed Frozen 2, with further reflection I noticed a lot of discrepancies within the film’s soundtrack that suggest the movie didn’t really succeed at improving upon the original. To me, the original film deserved its esteem because the soundtrack completely drove, and supported, the larger narrative. In contrast, both the sequel’s narrative clarity and its lyrical exposition left much to be desired.
Upon its release in 2013, Frozen sparked a worldwide fever and a multi-million dollar franchise in entertainment. The movie focuses on two sisters, Elsa and Anna, reuniting after a long separation as a result of Elsa’s ice powers. Desperate not to lose her sister again, Anna embarks on a journey to bring Elsa home and end her imposed eternal winter. The songs in Frozen are successful because they are incredibly integrated; not only do they follow and elaborate on the storyline, they also reference one another to create a sense of cohesion. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” visually explores the ways in which Elsa isolates herself from her sister as they age, continually interacting between a locked door. Later, in the couples ballad “Love is an Open Door,” Anna’s metaphor for falling in love is literally the opposite of isolation because Hans is the first person in a long time not to shut her out. In “Let It Go,” Elsa’s song about freedom, the declaration of her desire to “Turn away and slam the door,” tells us that another self-imposed isolation isn’t really what she wants. This foreshadows the movie’s climax where Elsa learns to control her powers as a result of her love for her sister, and is able to comfortably and confidently assume her throne. Motifs of open gates, open doors, and further allusions pepper the two subsequent shorts and their soundtracks, Frozen Fever (2015) and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017), thematically harkening back to the original themes.
With Frozen 2, many of the songs work individually, not as a combined film score, and fall flat compared to the unused demos which could have potentially been included in the film. This movie revolves around Elsa, now a successful queen, whose investigation into the magical forces attacking her kingdom leads her and Anna to discover secrets regarding their mother’s past, the death of their parents, and the origin of Elsa’s powers. In Frozen 2, songs hardly reference each other in terms of content, and don’t really build upon the plot or characters. Olaf, the sisters’ goofy snowman companion, uses music to express his state of mind. Olaf’s original Frozen song, “In Summer,” expresses the wants of a character who is essentially comic relief; its visual and lyrical metaphors for melting paired with the dramatic irony created by his naivety render it witty and fun. Olaf’s song in the sequel, “When I’m Older,” which details his cluelessness about scary situations he faces in the woods, doesn’t build on any of that. This is because it doesn’t focus on something intrinsically “Olaf” in the same way as his unused demo, “Unmeltable Me.” “Unmeltable Me” uses clever wordplay while bluntly expressing the development of a simple character—Olaf’s first song centers around melting for his desires, now he has achieved summer and done the “unmeltable.” Likewise, the song of Anna’s love interest Kristoff, “Lost in the Woods” (his first full-length solo), renders him yet again the butt of a joke after an entire song in the previous film where his family openly mocks him. Bad 1980s music video cuts and all, “Lost in the Woods” derails from the serious tone of the rest of the film. In contrast, “Get This Right,” an unused demo, focuses on his proposal to Anna in a way that is sweet, heartfelt, and vulnerable. When Anna joins in (becoming my hero by proposing to him herself when he’s too nervous) and they sing together about their future, it’s a direct allusion to everything she was missing in “Love is an Open Door.” They share equal roles in the song and the relationship, and it isn’t a little too perfect as with Hans. Not only does the song showcase Kristoff’s internal character, it also shows Anna’s newfound confidence which has grown beyond the introverted and socially awkward girl of the first film.
Another issue with Frozen 2 is its criminal underuse of a duet between Anna and Elsa after the suckerpunch “First Time in Forever” and its reprise bequeathed to Frozen. While I enjoyed their solo musical numbers, “I Seek the Truth,” another song cut from the final product, would have carried on this tradition by joining Anna and Elsa’s voices in an emotional ballad even as lyrically, their paths begin to diverge. The duet itself would have recalled their emotional and physical reunion in “First Time in Forever (Reprise).” It commences with Elsa’s address to her deceased mother following their realization that Queen Iduna died trying to find the source of Elsa’s power. In stating, “I think that I've been given this power for a reason and I need to know why,” and asking “How do I govern this land with a power inside that I can't command?,” Elsa actually confronts the mystery behind a power that continues to prevent her from feeling comfortable as Queen. Furthermore, Anna, vowing not to let their mother’s secrets or Elsa’s fear allow her to shut the “door” on her again, sings in tandem but expresses entirely different reasons for undertaking the journey. It closes with their mother’s lullaby, harkening back to an earlier scene in which she cared for them while they were still a family. This is significant because they both feel betrayed by their mother’s secrets: Elsa because she didn’t know her mother wanted to “cure” her, and Anna because her mother and father died trying to resolve the danger they felt that Elsa posed towards Anna. Additionally, “I Seek the Truth” would have effectively transitioned the sisters from their emotional dependency upon one another to the separate paths they take by the end of the film, without it feeling unjustified within the story. The lullaby, as they sing it together, thus re-examines themes from Frozen of Anna and Elsa’s individual personalities having to reconcile with their sororal bond.
Knowing we could have had such a clear portrayal of Anna and Elsa’s changing frames of mind (which I feel were not concretely present in the film), I can’t help but feel let down by its actual songs for Elsa, “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself.” “Into the Unknown” establishes that Elsa is lonely, yet does not explain why she suddenly begins to doubt her capabilities as a ruler or a sister. While she asks the voice she's hearing “Are you someone out there who's a little bit like me?,” there is no catalyst because this is well before they discover the truth about their mom. All we know is that for some reason, she feels alone despite her family because they do not understand her powers. Even so, she chides this voice to leave her because it would risk the life she’s built for herself in Arendelle. “Show Yourself,” the song in which Elsa realizes her inner voice was the singing she heard, completely ignores that true desire for friendship and explanation in order to rehash an old power moment introduced in “Let It Go.” But while in “Let it Go” Elsa’s power comes from self-acceptance and realization after years of repression, “Show Yourself” forces power she doesn’t want upon her. She’d already come into her own, and now has to begin the process of accepting her difference from her people again. Elsa thought a nature spirit, one of the five to exist in Arendelle, called her to it during the song. But since Elsa is Arendelle’s fifth natural spirit, then once again she is truly alone in her understanding, and left alone at the end of the film to navigate the mysteries of even more abilities she has no precedent to understand.
Ultimately, it felt like the musical score suffered a heavy blow this film from inconsistencies and last minute substitutions in such a way that though entertaining during the watch, the more I analyze it, the more it falls apart. Frozen 2 had every opportunity to effectively set up the character’s internal states and developmental progressions in order to render the storyline both explicit and believable. And to anyone who has heard the film’s unutilized demos, they had already achieved that, but chose to sacrifice the films cohesiveness. Perhaps it was for the sake of time, to work in the most “marketable” songs, or to include thin attempts at humor. I might never know why they chose this different and understated direction, but it leaves me feeling a bit cheated, since Frozen 2 didn’t fully improve upon its outrageously popular predecessor.