Set a few years after a supposed "happily ever after," "Frozen 2" sees royal sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) embarking on personal, existential journeys, battling not any standard Disney villain but simply the often bristling path to adulthood.
Already a blockbuster, and clearly aimed at families, the largely well-received sequel -- which set a domestic box-office record for animated films opening outside of summer and has made close to $300 million in the U.S. through two weekends -- doesn't shy away from difficult and rather mature subject matter. (Note for those who haven't seen the film yet: This is a spoiler-heavy story.)
The standout musical numbers dial in on the challenges of growing up, and of finding and maintaining a sense of self amid moments of severe change. Arguably the most sophisticated of the songs, "The Next Right Thing," sung by Bell's Anna, touches on grief and how to battle through near-crippling depression.
But the story also nods to worldly topics including man-made environmental disasters and colonialism, which become more evident in repeated viewings.
While the lyrics sung by Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff focus more on detailing the characters' inner thoughts, that's not to say the other subjects weren't on the mind of composer/lyricist duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. It's just that, as Anderson-Lopez notes, "You wouldn't want to hear a big song about water rights," a key plot point that teaches the characters the world is less hospitable than they once imagined.
For all the film's action and myth-like lore, some of which may feel overly expository at first, "Frozen 2" is ultimately balanced between the songs' intimate exploration of mourning and personal insecurities and the story's broader, and very topical, themes. In "Frozen 2," the antagonist can be anyone or anything from the difficulty of having to change to confronting the mistakes of prior generations.
"They gave us this playground," said Anderson-Lopez of directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, "that on one hand it could be this crazy action and political movie, if you want to look at that way. But they gave us enough internal stakes for our characters to truly still have a musical ... . The villain of this movie is change."
Practically preceding the "OK, boomer" meme with prescience, one of the key developments in "Frozen 2" reveals how Anna and Elsa's elders made a mess of the environment, more or less relegating a magical forest to doom in favor of greed-driven self-interests. What happened wasn't the fault of an entire kingdom but instead resulted from the pivotal choices made by those in power. Anna and Elsa are forced to grapple with the realization that those they have long admired opted to do what was best for the few in the present rather than what was right for the many for decades to come.
"What we talk about with 'Frozen' is that it's a reflection of growing up and becoming adults in the world," says screenwriter and co-director Lee, who now leads Walt Disney Animation. "We think particularly of kids today, they're wrestling with so much. It's really about reflecting on all the issues that we're facing rather than telling you how to face them. Anna and Elsa make their own choices, and I commend Anna for her ability to face a hard past and realize she has to do what's right for everyone. What courage that takes. It's an admittance of how hard it is to navigate this world.
"We all sit here with the stakes of our families, the stakes of our community, the stakes of our environment, the stakes of our world, and we wrestle with it," Lee continues. "So with this, we wanted to touch on all the parts of growing up that are extraordinarily hard to navigate."