It opens as Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is settling into her routine as queen of Arendelle, her Nordic realm precariously perched on the edge of a fjord. She is satisfied that she has learnt to control the magical gift that has endowed her with the powers of a human ice-making machine and life is looking good. But something is bothering her. The neighbouring forest is enchanted which, in this case, is bad news for it’s been turned into a no-go zone by a blinding mist so thick that its indigenous residents, the Northuldra, can’t get out and everybody else is barred from getting in. It’s a stalemate and Elsa is beginning to believe that she can bring it to an end.
The film is directed by the same team who did the original and once again, they have arrived at a judicious mixture of old and new. The action is punctuated with enough songs to fill an MGM musical and although the animation is computer-generated in 3D, its style owes a lot to the glory days of the studio’s hand-drawn animation era and its traditional Disney princesses with their wide eyes and doll-like faces. The script, however, is scrupulously up-to-date with great attention paid to the films’ feminist credentials and cultural correctness. After the writers decided to tap into Nordic folklore, Scandinavia’s Sami communities were consulted and the background artists, we’re told, were equally scrupulous, composing a landscape without a plant out of place.
It turns out that the forest has gone into lockdown because of environmental damage sustained years earlier. Naturally, human beings were responsible and Elsa and her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell) suspect that the secret is buried in their own family’s history. But they can discover the truth only by risking a trip into the forest.
The expedition takes a while to get underway. First, their intentions and fears have to be spelled out in song and their escorts – Olaf, the warm-hearted snowman (Josh Gad), Anna’s suitor Kristoff (Jonathan Goff) and his reindeer, Sven – have to be briefed.
And when they get there and set about putting things to rights, the script isn’t exactly adroit in dreaming up obstacles to impede their progress. Its contrivances are decidedly creaky, the aim being to separate the group of friends so that they become small islands of desperation, each convinced that the others have left them to fend for themselves. The exception is Elsa, who charges off on her own quest, fighting fire, flood and cyclone by shooting out mini-ice floes at every turn. It’s impressive enough to suggest that she should be called upon to help in quenching the Californian –or our own – bushfires.
Anna and Kristoff lose one another amid the mayhem but she, at least, has Olaf to provide comic relief, which becomes essential when they become trapped in a maze-like cavern deep in the forest’s forbidding basalt escarpment. The Arendelle scenes are a study in autumnal colours but once we reach the forest, the film’s palette takes a sudden turn to the dark and wintry.
The climax gives both sisters the chance to be heroes but the most spectacular bits belong to Elsa and her encounters with the Dark Sea, home of the Nokk – an equine water spirit–who doesn’t exactly welcome her into his domain. These sequences have a gleam and a rhythm to them that encapsulates Disney animation at its purest and most sinuous.
The film itself doesn’t hit that sweet spot that makes Pixar animations, for example, fun for adults as well as their children. Its pace is uneven and in the early scenes, the songs slow down the action so much that the younger kids at my screening were getting restless. But judging from those US box-office figures, there’s more than enough here to build on the goodwill generated by the original and create a besotted new audience.