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[This story contains spoilers for Frozen 2]
You can chalk up the worldwide success of the 2013 Disney animated film Frozen to a lot of factors, from its female-driven story to its comic-relief snowman who loves warm hugs. But more than anything else, what made the film such a hit was its Oscar-winning music, from songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. “Let It Go” became one of the most popular and ubiquitous numbers of the last decade, either within film or just on pop radio. So it’s no surprise that Frozen 2 has songs aplenty, including at least one that’s surely meant to be the new “Let It Go.” A couple of other numbers, however, truly stand out among the rest.
Though the 2019 sequel does introduce a few new characters, voiced by actors like Sterling K. Brown, Martha Plimpton and Jason Ritter, Frozen 2 leaves its songs once again to the voices of its lead actors returning from the original. Actors like Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Kristen Bell all have stage experience — Menzel got a Tony Award for playing Elphaba in Wicked, too — and their lively, energetic performances all help these songs out a good deal. Menzel, after the massive success of “Let It Go,” gets to have two massive solo numbers: “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself”.
The former song feels very much like this movie’s attempt at a second “Let It Go,” as Elsa sings out to the wilderness beyond Arendelle, having heard a mysterious voice calling her toward an enchanted forest and her true destiny. Yet “Show Yourself,” Elsa’s solo during a dark journey of the soul wherein she learns more about what that personal destiny is, is a much more powerful song with a better tune and more descriptive lyrics. “Into the Unknown” is catchy, of course (and the fact that rock band Panic! At the Disco was hired to perform a cover of the song that plays during the end credits shows that Disney wants you to remember that song above all else). But “Show Yourself” is a more cathartic tune that impacts our lead character, where “Into the Unknown” is a vaguer version of the classic, Broadway-style “I Want” song best found in The Little Mermaid with Ariel singing about wanting to be “Part of Your World”.
One of the quirky little ironies of the first Frozen is that Groff, a Tony nominee for both Spring Awakening and Hamilton, barely got to do any singing as Kristoff. His only number of note is “Reindeers Are Better Than People,” which Groff sang well and with a requisite amount of charm and humor. But it’s no “Let It Go” or even “For the First Time in Forever.” Mercifully, things have changed in Frozen 2 for Groff, who winds up walking away with — yes, really — the best song in the entire film. On one hand, the subplot featuring Anna and Kristoff is very sitcommy and distracting: Kristoff wants to propose to Anna, but every time he tries to do so, he gets tongue-tied and fails to say what he wants. (Disney animation fanatics may note that this subplot is weirdly similar to one featuring two lovers in The Rescuers Down Under, where a male character tries and fails to propose marriage until the very end.) At one point, because Elsa has gone off on her own, Anna goes as far as leaving Kristoff behind, where the doofy ice salesman is left to stew and sing “Lost in the Woods.”
“Lost in the Woods” is a chance for Lopez and Anderson-Lopez to once again stretch their comedic muscles as songwriters. (Lopez’s first big Broadway hit was Avenue Q, the sly and adult satire of Sesame Street.) Though Kristoff’s love for Anna is real, and his frustration at not being able to put a ring on her finger genuine, “Lost in the Woods” is a hilarious throwback to the power ballads of the 1980s, down to how the song is visualized like a music video that might have featured a hair-metal band doing a slow number. Groff is, of course, an accomplished singer so he’s belting it out no matter what. But the animators get to play around as much as the song itself does, mimicking ’80s music-video styling to hilarious effect. It’s a perfect blend of animation and music, with modern flair.
The rest of the songs in Frozen 2 are mostly fine without being truly impressive. (The first film has at least one true clunker, the obnoxious “Fixer Upper” sung by a group of meddling trolls. Frozen 2 fortunately has no such genuinely bad songs.) Though Bell’s a fine singer, Anna doesn’t have nearly as much to do musically; she’s part of an early group number, “Some Things Never Change,” and she gets one solo, the dark “The Next Right Thing.” But unlike the original, Anna feels a little backgrounded musically. Olaf, on the other hand, does not, with the mildly funny “When I Am Older,” another case where the visuals aid the song as much as the performer does. It’s slightly better than Olaf’s solo in the original, “In Summer,” replete with visual humor and an undercurrent of maturity and darkness.
The good news about Frozen 2 is that its songs feel of a piece with what everyone fell in love with six years ago. If, however, you’re looking for a song that’s just as incredible as “Let It Go,” the kind of thing you can sing with your family or just by yourself for years to come, this movie is going to leave you wanting. But that’s only so important — what matters more is that the best of this film’s songs marry well with both the performer and the artists bringing the scenes to life in such a way that, generally speaking, is an improvement. Just don’t go in expecting something quite as iconic as Elsa singing as she walks around a self-created tower of ice.
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