BWW Album Review: FROZEN II Still Makes Movie Magic
The trailers for Frozen 2 have made it clear that this much-anticipated Disney sequel is in a darker mode than the often-cutesy vibes of the original. That aesthetic is just as much in evidence on the soundtrack. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who won Oscars for their work on the original Frozen, return with a new batch of songs that are a little more melancholy and a little more mature, but also lack a little bit of the sparkle that set the original apart. Sequels are always hard, and the Frozen 2 soundtrack proves that true.
Don't mistake me: the Lopezes are talented, clever, and skillful songwriters, and every new track they've written for this movie is charming and thoughtful. The songs are good, but they're not quite great; that alchemical something that helped their previous work skyrocket to ubiquity just didn't happen this time around. And that's okay! The music is still enjoyable and works in service of the story and characters.
In some regards, the score does manage some improvements from the original. The opening track, "All Is Found," is sung by Evan Rachel Wood, a newcomer and significant new character for the Frozen franchise. It's haunting and moody, helped along by Wood's ethereal voice, and giving a sense of foreboding that hangs over the story from the start. It's not as playful as the original's "Frozen Heart," and it signals that what lies ahead will be very beautiful, but also very dangerous. That sense of "something's wrong" carries into "Some Things Never Change," the sweetly perky re-introduction to all our favorite characters.
The other smart shift the sequel makes? Giving Jonathan Groff's Kristoff more of a musical footprint. Unlike the original, where he shared leading-man duties with Santino Fontana's smoothly villainous Hans, Groff is the only (human) male presence in this movie, and his musical content is adjusted accordingly. His big song is "Lost in the Woods," a playful, '80s-power-ballad-esque song about Kristoff feeling left behind by Anna's adventuring. It lets Groff be incredibly goofy and hammy while belting out a song that's decidedly a better use of his voice than "Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People."
It does seem like the formula prescribed for this soundtrack is that the female characters carry the emotional weight, while the men are mostly comic relief with a dash of plot-mandated emotional turmoil. Olaf's "When I Am Older" sticks to the familiar vaudeville pastiche of "In Summer," but as much of the clever wordplay. It's still sweet and funny, but it has very little new to say.
"Into the Unknown" is Elsa's big ballad, and judging by the film's marketing up to this point, it's the song that's being pushed as the next "Let It Go." It certainly is a huge, gorgeous ballad for Idina Menzel, but there's no such thing as "the next 'Let It Go'" - that was a spontaneous reaction to an unexpected song, not a carefully crafted marketing ploy. Story-wise, "Into the Unknown" is just as active as "Let It Go," and it's a very good song on its own! It suffers only in comparison, and that is as much the fault of the marketing as of the film's structure. Incidentally, there's also a surprisingly fun and entertaining "end credits" cover of the song by Panic! At the Disco, which is unexpected but in a great way.
Towards the end of the album, there are a pair of songs that really showcase the film's less chipper, more mature vibe. "Show Yourself" propels Elsa forward in a new way and is, in some ways, more powerful than "Into the Unknown." The final song, "The Next Right Thing," is quite possibly the darkest musical moment Disney has had in a while, and it's actually very moving. Lyrics such as, "This grief has a gravity that pulls me down" are eloquent and evocative, and there's a sense of real, difficult emotion, rather than the glossy Disney-fied version that too many animated movies and their music can often slide into. Anna (Kristen Bell) has typically had the innocent and goofy songs, but this one lets her take on heavier emotions, and she nails it. In isolation, the soundtrack of Frozen 2 is perfectly enjoyable and even manages some powerful emotional moments. If you love Frozen, you'll enjoy this soundtrack for sure. But because it is, inevitably, connected to the original, it's hard not to notice that it's just a little bit less, well, magical.