Frozen 2 review

For F*** Magazine

FROZEN 2

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Cast : Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, Ciarán Hinds
Genre : Animation, Musical
Run Time : 1 h 43 mins
Opens : 21 November 2019
Rating : PG

In 2013, Disney’s Frozen, based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, became a worldwide phenomenon. The film was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing animated film (until this year’s remake of The Lion King, if one defines that as ‘animated’). “Let It Go” became all but inescapable, winning the Oscar for Best Original Song. It seems like making a sequel would be a no-brainer, but the filmmakers took some time before committing to making Frozen 2, beginning work in earnest in early 2015.

Elsa (Idina Menzel) is settling into her role as the queen of Arendelle, but a mysterious voice that only she can hear beckons her to journey beyond the castle. Elsa initially resists, but when she realises that this voice reminds her of a lullaby her mother Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) used to sing, she is compelled to venture forth. Elsa’s sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven join Elsa on her journey. They travel to the enchanted forest of Northuldra, which has for years been shut off from the outside world by a thick veil of mist. Revelations come to light as Elsa reckons with the secret origin of her cryokinetic powers, and the sisters learn truths both beautiful and hard to face about their family history.

One can see why directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee were initially hesitant to make a sequel to Frozen, because it has become difficult to separate the phenomenon from the movie itself. Frozen’s immense popularity brought about backlash and cries that it was overrated, and it’s easy to forget how good the movie was. Frozen 2 does not merely do everything the same, and is about something.

It is a spoiler to say what exactly some of Frozen 2’s themes are, but it does address the ideas of growth, change and maturity. After everything the characters have been through in the previous film, there is a sense that they’ve arrived, but the events of Frozen 2 push them further along in their character arcs. The sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna remains the beating heart of the film and there are genuinely emotional moments between them, especially when Anna feels that Elsa is still not trusting her fully.

The animation is superb, and the movie features multiple set-pieces in which the animators get to flex their prowess. Water and hair, elements that are notoriously difficult to realise with computer-generated imagery, are rendered beautifully in the film. The forces of nature feature heavily in the narrative, with wind, water, earth and flame all imbued with a dynamism and a consciousness. Also, the costumes in this movie are gorgeous – Elsa is given several show-stopping outfits that look like the world’s classiest figure skating dresses.

There is also a very cute salamander named Bruni, who is like a smaller, happier distant cousin of Tangled’s Pascal. He is very Pokémon-esque and we want one.

While it is commendable that Frozen 2 tackles heavy themes, the movie sometimes strains under the weight of this and is not fully able to support the exploration of those ideas, which requires nuance and time. There is a conversation about the movie’s themes of how history is framed to be had between parents and kids, and not every parent will be up to the task of explaining what Frozen 2 is really about in a kid-friendly way.

While Frozen 2 tries new things and is not a straight re-tread of the first film, there are times when it seems like it’s obligated to deliver what audiences love about the first. We’ll talk more about the songs next, but there are a few that feel like analogues of songs from the first movie and can as such come off as derivative.

Frozen 2 puts great emphasis on the characters from the first film and gives Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf more to do. However, this is sometimes at the expense of the newer characters, such as the likes of Northuldrans Yelana (Martha Plimpton), Ryder (Jason Ritter) and Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews) and Arendellian Lieutenant Mattias (Sterling K. Brown) feel somewhat perfunctory.

If you weren’t a fan of Olaf in the first one, Josh Gad is ever so slightly more annoying here, but there are several moments involving the character that work.

Music is arguably an even bigger part of Frozen 2 than the first one. Songwriting team Kristen and Robert Anderson-Lopez return from the first film, alongside composer Christophe Beck. The songs are a mixed bag: some are good and others feel somewhat derivative. The big number “Into the Unknown”, which is pitched as this movie’s “Let It Go”, can’t help but feel like inherently less than “Let It Go”. Thematically, it is the ‘refusal of the call’ stage of the archetypical Hero’s Journey in song form. It does feature a good use of countermelody, with Norwegian singer Aurora giving voice to the mysterious entity that calls out to Elsa.

The filmmakers seem to have realised how woefully underused Broadway star Jonathan Groff’s singing voice was in the first film, and as such have given Kristoff more songs. He gets what is arguably the film’s best number, “Lost in the Woods”, a playful riff on 80s-90s boyband ballads that is reminiscent of Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” and “You’re the Inspiration”.

The haunting lullaby “All is Found”, performed by Evan Rachel Wood, is analogous to “Frozen Heart” from the first film. It conveys a sense of foreboding but is also an emotional anchor to the piece.

The end credits feature pop versions of the film’s big songs: Panic! At the Disco sings “Into the Unknown”, Kacey Musgraves sings “All is Found” and Weezer sings “Lost in the Woods”. Brendon Urie’s famous four-octave rage gets showcased nicely in “Into the Unknown”.

There’s an authenticity to Frozen 2, which is respectful of the Nordic culture that is its inspiration. The filmmakers were unable to take the customary research trips for the first film, but made it a point to visit Iceland, Finland and Norway during pre-production on Frozen 2. One of the most interesting elements of Frozen 2 is itself an elemental, an entity called the Nokk that takes the form of a horse and with which Elsa has a dramatic encounter. The contrast between the fairytale-like Norway and the ancient, mythic Iceland is meant to represent the difference between Anna and Elsa.

Part of what’s interesting about Frozen 2 is the battle between being its own thing and being the sequel to Frozen, and the filmmakers have mostly struck a good balance here. Stick around for a post-credits scene.

Frozen 2 has a lot to live up to and delivers both breath-taking animation and a substantial story. While the strain of the weighty themes can sometimes be felt and some of the songs feel like also-rans versions of songs from the first film, Frozen 2 is mostly a lively and engaging experience.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Carrie Pilby

For F*** Magazine

CARRIE PILBY

Director : Susan Johnson
Cast : Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, Gabriel Byrne, William Moseley, Jason Ritter, Colin O’Donoghue, Vanessa Bayer, Desmin Borges
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Run Time : 1h 38min
Opens : 6 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Sexual References)

High-functioning geniuses are all over TV, typically solving crimes while earning equal measures exasperation and adoration from someone named Watson. In this coming-of-age comedy-drama, the titular character does no crime-solving, but does do plenty of soul-searching.

Carrie Pilby (Powley) is a 19-year-old Harvard graduate living in New York City. She has a keen intellect, having been accepted into the school at age 14, but is socially mal-adjusted. Carrie resents her father (Byrne) for neglecting her and remaining in England. Carrie’s father has engaged therapist Dr. Petrov (Lane) to counsel Carrie. Petrov assembles a ‘to-do list’ for Carrie: go on a date, make a friend, spend New Year’s Eve with someone, get a pet, do something you loved doing as a child and read your favourite book. While Carrie initially scoffs at the list, she tries moving out of her comfort zone to tackle the tasks on the list. She begins working as a proof-reader at a law firm, befriending her colleague Tara (Bayer) while trying to ignore the dopey Douglas (Borges), another colleague. When Carrie goes out with an engaged man named Matt (Ritter) to out him as a cheater, painful memories of a relationship with Professor Harrison (O’Donoghue) are unearthed. As smart as she is, maybe love is the one thing Carrie can’t figure out.

Carrie Pilby is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Caren Lissner, adapted for the screen by Kara Holden and Dean Craig, and directed by Susan Johnson. The film bears many hallmarks of the quirky, hip indie comedy-drama subgenre, and has trouble shifting gears from glibness to sincerity. Structurally, it doesn’t flow all too smoothly, and seems like it might work better as a TV show – perhaps a less obnoxious Girls (just kidding, this reviewer doesn’t watch Girls and is merely going off the show’s reputation). While there are glimmers of razor-sharp wit, the dialogue is generally too smart aleck-y for its own good. On the up side, it certainly isn’t as mopey as many young adult-aimed coming-of-age stories are, and there’s a pleasant tinge of optimism that sometimes cuts through its annoyingness.

The film rests squarely on the shoulders of English actress Powley, who strikes this reviewer as a teenage Maggie Gyllenhaal with a dash of Felicity Jones. Powley is an engaging presence and she gamely tackles the comic material, fully embracing the character’s awkwardness. One gets the sense that for as much time as we spend with Carrie, she’s still not too much more than the “socially-impaired teen prodigy” archetype. We get the sense that Powley is, as a performer, a whole deal more likeable than the Carrie character is written. The main way her social awkwardness manifests is how she’s quick to tell everyone just how smart she is. Despite the sympathy Powley is capable of generating, Carrie still feels a little too manufactured to be a fully-realised character. Hailee Steinfeld was originally cast as Carrie, and had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts – we could see her pulling the role off too.

Nathan Lane plays the straight man here, suppressing his innate comic sensibilities. He’s able to marshal a warmth and wisdom befitting a therapist, sharing some fun, gently adversarial scenes with Powley. Byrne isn’t in the film for too long, but he shines when Carrie and her father get to share an unconventional bonding moment.

From O’Donoghue’s dashing young professor to Ritter’s would-be cheater to William Moseley’s multi-instrumentalist, Carrie is positively surrounded by handsome men. It’s never easy navigating the winding paths of romance as one faces adulthood, much less for someone who’s never fit in. However, Carrie’s romantic misadventures seem largely in line with the experiences most of us have had. Carrie’s run-ins with the opposite sex seem to hew closely to established rom-com tropes, though there are several conversations that she has which possess adequate depth. Long-serving Saturday Night Live cast member Bayer is hilarious, even though Tara is the ‘sassy best friend’ stock character through and through.

Carrie Pilby has garnered positive attention for being a film about a woman which has a female director, female producers and a female co-writer, and while its sometimes amiable, this is far from ‘hidden indie gem’ material. This might be too twee and grating for some, but others will be able to relate to its imperfect, awkward protagonist. And as a bonus, there sure are some good-looking guys in the cast.

Summary: Sometimes loveable and sometimes insufferable, the uneven Carrie Pilby is a lot like its idiosyncratic title character.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong