Frozen II: The Problem with Unnecessary Sequels

#52FilmsbyWomen: Week 1

Frozen II (2019, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck)

Image result for frozen ii poster

I unabashedly love 2013’s Frozen. I think it’s the best film the Disney Animated Features put out that decade.  In 2013, Disney was, and still is, in a state of performative self-reflection. While I have serious misgivings about much of the output coming from this, Frozen is an example of how this can work by using the commentary on Disney’s tropes to create fully formed character arcs in its leading women.

In the first Frozen, Anna starts the film as a naive young woman subjected to the Disney trope of looking to find love at first sight.  Throughout the film, she grows and accepts that the necessity of marriage and the need to find love at first sight are unrealistic. Instead she’s saved by the familial love between sisters.  Similarly, Elsa starts the first film denying her true self and shutting out those who mean the most to her. She undergoes her own arc by learning to accept herself without resorting to isolation. In this way, “Let it Go” is both a subversion of and one of the best Disney “I want” songs of all time.

Frozen was a fully formed film with substantive character arcs that didn’t need further development.  However, we live in a capitalist society, and when a film makes over a billion dollars, a sequel is required whether the existing story can support it or not. That was the situation that Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck found themselves in when forced to create a sequel to their previously stand-alone film. With very little left to be developed in terms of character, Frozen II turned to the adventure of the week mentality that drove the Disney animated television series in the 90s.

This adventure of the week mentality is endemic to unnecessary sequels. Characters arcs are what drive good storytelling. When implemented correctly, characters can drive their own plot. Personal growth is a strong and relatable goal, and films that are created as stand-alone pieces let their characters develop into their better (or sometimes worse) selves. What then is left to be done in an unplanned sequel? If the protagonists are to remain unchanged, a film has 3 options: take the protagonist elsewhere, have the protagonist go through the same arc again, or deny the character any additional development.

Allowing a protagonist to go through a different arc is seldom done in a cash grab sequel as the producers are hesitant to change a character who has brought them significant income.  Sending protagonists through the same arc again was somewhat embraced in Frozen II’s plot.  Elsa must once again learn to trust Anna, a lesson which was conveniently unlearned between films. Finally denying the protagonists any additional development is what drives Frozen II and most unnecessary sequels. When characters have already gone through their emotional arcs, its often the simplest to just let them exist in an unrelated plot. This lazy solution is what makes up the majority of Frozen II. The characters learn nothing about themselves, but Disney makes another billion dollars.

If all you want as a movie-goer is to see characters you loved 6-years prior go on an adventure together, then Frozen II might be what you’re looking for. However, if your love of the original came from the development of characters, the emotions they experience, and how it reflects reality, then Frozen II offers you nothing.

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