Disappointing in every sense of the word
Frozen II (2019): Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa's powers in order to save their kingdom.
As usual, I need to preface every review about an animated film by reminding you that I don’t watch that many animated movies. Trying to review them tends to feel rather foreign to me. However, this isn’t just any animated film, it’s Frozen II – the sequel to the biggest animated film of this decade – so I’ll give it a whack and see what happens.
The moment I walked out of the theater after seeing Frozen, (fun fact: one of the first reviews I ever wrote right there, so go easy on me) I knew I had seen a genre-defining film. Its story was timeless and inspirational, the characters were lovable and charming, and the music was damn near instantly iconic. (“Let It Go” has been stuck in my head ever since, as I’m sure it has been in yours.) So it goes without saying that the predecessor has big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, this sequel is not Cinderella. Instead, it’s one of the evil stepsisters.
Forced Disney metaphor aside, before I go any further let me just say this: this movie is fine. It’s cute, fun, upbeat, brisk, and energetic. Young children will almost certainly be entertained. But, as a sequel to Frozen? This is the best you could do? Really? The film’s problem’s start with its music, which is decent at best and decrepit at worst. The only song here with any sort of staying power is “Into the Unknown,” which is 100% propped up by the enviable diaphragm of Idina Menzel. (The Panic! At the Disco version is better, but that should hardly come as a surprise. BRENDON URIE SINGS THIS SONG IN THE SAME KEY, PEOPLE. THE SAME KEY. AS IDINA MENZEL.) Even this song, the best Frozen II has to offer, is seriously lacking in instrumental catchiness, with a very awkward and sudden ending to cap it off. If this song goes on to win Best Original Song at the Oscars, that would mean it was a depressingly weak year for Hollywood and original music. Meanwhile, the worst song in this film undoubtedly goes to Kristoff’s (Jonathan Groff) big number, which somehow manages to totally waste the voice behind the character on an awkward, out-of-place 1980’s hair metal-esque song that is clearly only here for the dads in the audience that have to watch this film. Seriously… what was that, and why do you waste Jonathan Groff on something like that? At least have that be an Olaf (Josh Gad) number! (While still out of place, that would’ve been funnier, at least.) But I want to know why it’s in the film at all, as it feels so out-of-place it borders on an actual Frozen parody.
While the music is…. Disappointing, the characters are not. Once again, the core cast is excellent, with Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) successfully reprising their beloved characters. There’s even a clever bit of gender reversal here, as Kristoff spends most of the film trying (and hilariously failing) to propose to Anna. Hey, isn’t it nice to have a guy spend an entire film talking about a woman, for once? I also thoroughly enjoyed Olaf’s comedic relief. Writer / directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee transform Olaf into a sort of teenage philosopher, and adults in the room will find themselves laughing a lot as he discovers the world with a contemplative sense of zeal, joy, and innocence. But, the overarching story? It’s a cardboard cutout of corporate mandated filmmaking. The film never takes anything even resembling a risk, forgoing anything that could be viewed as a deep and contemplative philosophical topic or theme in place of a standard hero’s journey with sisterhood, FTW! thrown in to boot. While the music was disappointing, the story may be Frozen II’s biggest offense. There is absolutely no courage to it. No edge. Every side is smoothed out for the widest possible audience appeal. Heck, the only character failure in this film arises from someone being overly ambitious to discover the truth, which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. (Imagine what our world would look like if we all taught that to our kids…) The characters hardly face any meaningful adversity, and when they even approach the topic it’s cast aside with an overly simple, single line of dialogue. There is absolutely nothing here to grapple on to, which could not be more disappointing.
I don’t know. I’m just frustrated that, in a animated sequel of this titanic proportion, Disney and the filmmakers weren’t more willing to take some risks in their storytelling. The original Frozen was significantly more interesting in its tale of overcoming the fear of something you don’t understand with Elsa’s great character arc. However, this story couldn’t be more ordinary if it tried. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the sequel to one of the biggest animated films Disney has released this century to have a bit of fortitude to go along with being entertaining. But this lack of audacity, combined with the instantly forgettable music, is what leads to Frozen II being nothing more than…. Fine. Take the kids, have a good time, then forget about it as soon as you get home. Sigh.
My Number: 5/10
Zombieland: Double Tap
What.... exactly.... do you do here?
Doctor Sleep (2019): Years following the events of The Shining, a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
It's rare for a film to leave me this flabbergasted. This dumbfounded. This awestruck by the sheer audacity of what I just witnessed. We've waited nearly 40 years for a sequel to one of the greatest horror films, (and films period, for that matter) and, in this current Stephen King Renaissance, it was inevitable that it would finally come. Doctor Sleep is that long awaited sequel. Going in, I was temperamentally excited. How bad could a sequel to The Shinning, The EFFING SHINING, possibly be? The Shining's haunting formula of psychological terror and human degradation is the standard-bearer for what horror films should be. All they had to do was replicate that genre-defining formula, or at the VERY LEAST attempt to mimic it, but instead we get….. witches. And, look. I get it. Stephen King is weird and somehow didn't like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his book. The Overlook Hotel (the setting for The Shining) isn't even in the Doctor Sleep novel. That's not my problem with this film - in fact, I actually somewhat enjoyed the lore King expanded on. That's not my issue with this film. My issue is that it ignores EVERYTHING that made its legendary predecessor great in favor of…. witches. Effing witches. Doctor Sleep is not just the most disappointing film I've seen all year, it's one of the most disappointing films I have ever seen. WHY DO YOU IGNORE EVERYTHING THAT MADE YOUR PREDECESSOR ICONIC?
Ok, I'm gushing over it to a near unhealthy degree, so let's talk about The Shining for a minute. Yes, the original is buoyed by one of the greatest performances ever, (thank you, Jack Nicholson) but the meticulous filmmaking of director Stanley Kubrick (you've probably heard of him) also amplified the sheer horror of this pillar of American cinema. The Shining plays on the very human fear of the unknown to deliver its terror, versus the stereotypical jump scare. As Kubrick himself put it, The Shining is, at its core, about one family going insane together. It's simple, quiet, and elegant. And that's what makes it terrifying. You don't have any singular omnipresent being slowly ramping the scares up to eleven before everybody dies. The Shining is, simply, a study in the human psyche when confronted with some weird and unusual, yet eerily plausible events. However, Doctor Sleep gives all of that up in favor of witches. By rooting this sequel in the supernatural, director Mike Flanagan (and more so Stephen King, for that matter) forgo the entire psychological evaluation that made The Shining as great as it was. The fear of the unknown is completely lost in favor of something realistically implausible, something supernatural and near omnipresent, which is as frustrating as it sounds.
Yes, this comes despite some admittedly decent lore-building moments. Rose the Hat is a legitimately interesting villain, and actress Rebecca Ferguson certainly had a ball playing the character. She's cool, calm, and collected, which makes her pretty terrifying when she goes off on someone. Rose the Hat is a somewhat menacing yet identifiable character as she does anything to protect her flock, but she is lost in this incomprehensible sea of noise. Because, again…. Witches.
I don't know. Maybe if you approach this film more as a suspenseful, supernatural, spiritual successor to The Shining, you'll have a better time. Clearly, I was hoping for a more forward sequel. But…. Will you? This film is 151 minutes long and it draaaaags in the second act. The writing is all over the place. At times it's great, but at others.... characters stop to drop monologues at the most random times, the Stephen King tropes feel depressingly forced, (lines like, "Fresh off the bus" are worn out in 2019 after 15 other Stephen King adaptations since It) and there's just…. Zero tension. It takes 2 full hours for the film to finally revisit the iconic Overlook Hotel, (which isn't in the novel, mind you) and when it does there are some admittedly great moments. (That can be described as fan service, but at least there was some good psychological tension here) There's one truly great sequence between Dan (Ewan McGregor) and his father figure, Jack, that doubles as a child coming to grips with the insanity of his father, all dressed as this incredibly tense and gripping moment with a seeming innocent bartender. In this moment, all the tropes that made The Shining great return with haunting effects, buuuuuuuut it really serves to make the rest of the film that much more frustrating. Where were sequences like this in the previous 2 hours? Why did it take the unforgettable set of The Shining to make this film interesting? Why did Stephen King go all-in on witches??? Not even a good performance from Ewan McGregor can save this. I don't think it should take somewhat blatant fan service for us to be like, "Oh, this is what made The Shining great, why didn't you do this earlier?" I think if you approach this more as a film about witches and their titanic struggle against Dan Torrance and Abra Stone, (Kyliegh Curran - also really good) you'll have more fun. If you're looking for anything resembling a direct sequel to The Shining, however..... stay away.
My Number: 4/10
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