Frozen II is visually stunning but its narrative is muddled; Klaus is heartwarming albeit fairly predictable.
Starring (voices): Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
The ever-growing list of unnecessary Disney sequels gets a little longer with the release of Frozen II, the follow-up to the studio’s 2013 musical megahit that fails to recapture the magic of its predecessor.
The film takes us back to Arendelle where Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), her sister Princess Anna (Kristen Bell), their sentient snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven are about to embark on another adventure.
A mysterious voice starts calling out to Elsa, who then ends up awakening the magical spirits of an enchanted forest her parents had warned her about, thereby putting Arendelle in danger. The past, it turns out, is not what it seems; a wrong demands to be righted, and it is up to the sisters and their companions to venture into the forest, find the origin of the mysterious voice as well as Elsa’s magical powers, and save their kingdom.
The journey, which doesn’t seem particularly inspired to begin with, soon turns into a convoluted mess.
On the plus side, Frozen II is visually beautiful. There are moments of mirth - mostly provided by Olaf - that work well; the snowman’s summary of the previous film is perhaps this installment’s highlight. And there are some interesting themes embedded in the story about embracing change and doing the right thing.
But the storyline overall feels forced and clunky. Pacing issues plague the adventure throughout; some parts drag on while others feel rushed. The emotional impact is diminished by what is perhaps the film’s biggest flaw: its inability to fully embrace its darkness and deliver the consequences the tale requires.
The soundtrack, too, isn’t as strong this time around. Although the songs have, once again, been crafted competently - and you really can’t expect anything less from the very talented Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez - the tunes just aren’t as memorable. With tracks like ‘Into the Unknown’, the songwriters seem to be trying to come up with another showstopper in the vein of ‘Let It Go’ by following the same musical formula that brought them success previously, and that ends up making the results less special. Somehow the film’s catchiest song is ‘Lost in the Woods’, an amusing ‘80s-inspired power ballad (sung by Kristoff, a character the movie has no idea what to do with) that couldn’t care less about the fact that it is completely at odds with the vibe of the rest of the film and sounds so much like Chicago that Peter Cetara and co. practically deserve royalties for it.
On the whole, Frozen II doesn’t leave you with the sense that it was created because Disney had an essential, interesting tale to tell. Instead, a story seems to have been forced together to make a sequel that didn’t necessarily need to exist. It has some enjoyable moments, but this sequel ultimately pales in comparison to the original.
Starring (voices): Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, and Norm Macdonald
Directed by Sergio Pablos
Tagline: Welcome to the jingle.
Santa Claus gets a fictional origin story in Klaus, a lovely animated comedy that delivers the message of kindness while spreading some Christmas joy.
The film revolves around the spoiled and lazy Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) who comes from a wealthy family and has no ambition or work ethic. To teach him a lesson, his father sends him to the frozen town of Smeerensburg where he must work as a postman and process 6000 letters in a year or else he will be cut off from the family fortune.
Delivered to a cold, distant island by a snarky boatman (Norm McDonald), Jesper quickly ends up in the crosshairs of the feuding locals and discovers that the town is divided into two warring factions that are at each other’s throats. Desperate to fulfill his mission so that he can leave the gloomy town, Jesper convinces a woodsman named Klaus (J. K. Simmons) to donate the toys he has made to children who will ask him for the gifts through letters, and enlists a teacher named Alva (Rashida Jones) to help the kids learn to write. His scheme begins to work, but the effects of his plan inspire consequences that he did not anticipate.
Its overall storyline may be fairly predictable, but the tale is brought to life with such heartwarming spirit and offbeat style - like The Emperor’s New Groove meets Tim Burton for Christmas - that it’s impossible to resist the film’s charm. The movie’s strengths include its artistic direction, terrific animation, well-suited voice performances, and an entertaining script.
Where Klaus majorly falters, though, is in pairing its unique vibe with the generic pop monstrosity ‘Invisible’, a grating misstep that takes you out of an otherwise charming viewing experience when it needlessly appears in the film. It almost feels like the filmmakers were forced to add a commercial element to a movie that didn’t need such tonal dissonance.
Still, Klaus succeeds in creating a lovely Christmas episode about kindness and generosity.
Sure you know where the story is going, but the journey is delightful nonetheless.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection