It’s rarely a good sign when you start hearing voices. It’s even worse when you have, y’know, a kingdom to run.
And Elsa really wants to be a good queen to the tiny city-state of Arendelle. Who could blame her? It’s her duty for one thing, given that she inherited the place from her father. Second, Elsa went to all the trouble of saving the kingdom in the last movie (with a little help from her friends and especially her sister, Anna). And she can’t let that sort of derring-do and sacrifice go to waste now, can she?
But the singing voice is maddeningly persistent. And it seems to be calling her to a mysterious, magical forest—a land that her father told her and Anna about long ago.
That territory, Northuldra by name, isn’t exactly a vacation spot in Arendelle lore. Long ago, Elsa and Anna were told when they were just children, their grandfather went up to make peace with the people there (even giving them a shiny new dam). But he was betrayed. What followed might’ve been the shortest war in Arendelle history: A fearsome battle broke out, but then the forest’s nature spirits got involved—sending many an Arendellian scurrying and sealing the whole place away behind an impenetrable wall of magical mist.
Could the voice be now calling Elsa into that mist? And if so, for what purpose?
Elsa needs to find out quickly. Because even though the mist is still firmly in place, the forest’s magical spirits have begun causing havoc beyond that foggy perimeter. Arendelle is under attack not by the Northuldrians, but by these elemental forces themselves, magical manifestations of earth, air, fire and water. Soon, the city’s citizens are forced to flee to the countryside.
Elsa is determined to save her kingdom. But she’s also determined to find the source of this mysterious voice. Could it be whispering to her to help her better understand the source of her own magical powers? Is it related to the elemental attacks on her kingdom? She doesn’t know for sure. But she tells Anna, “I believe whatever is calling me is good.”
Anna’s not so sure, and she’s determined to protect her big sis at any cost. She’s going with Elsa to the fearsome north, and don’t try to stop her. Anna’s beau Kristoff and his hulking reindeer, Sven, volunteer as well. And Olaf, the talking snowman? He promises to bring snacks.
Yes, Elsa’s ready for another adventure: to investigate the voice and further explore the nature of her wonderous, fearsome powers. But this time she won’t be doing it alone. This time, she knows there are people in her life that she can’t let go.
What’s stronger than Elsa’s fearsome freezing powers? Why, the love of two sisters, of course. No chill has fallen over Elsa and Anna’s relationship here: Both are deeply committed to each other’s well-being, and the sacrifices that Anna especially is willing to make for her sister are powerful and, at times, profound.
But on some level, Frozen II is about (ahem) letting go—about the separate paths that we sometimes must travel to pursue what we’re meant to do and, by extension, to pursue the greater good. Elsa, for instance knows that Anna can’t follow her all the way to where she needs to go, despite her sister’s loyal determination not to be separated from her again.
But it’s not easy. And at one pivotal point, Anna falls nearly into despair. But she perseveres and does what she can do to help both Elsa and Arendelle itself. She realizes that her next step, though it seems as if it might destroy everything, is still the right choice for her to make.
The film reinforces this one-step-at-a-time approach to decision-making with a song called “The Next Right Thing.” Though desperation threatens to overwhelm her (“Hello darkness/I’m ready to succumb”), Anna makes the brave decision to trust “a tiny voice [that] whispers in my mind” that tells her, “‘You are lost, hope is gone/But you must go on/And do the next right thing.’” And so she does.
Kristoff, incidentally, is still completely committed to Anna (despite some rough patches here and there). And Olaf, now gifted with permafrost that heat can’t melt, is growing up and growing more thoughtful. He mulls a number of existential questions and laments the changes he sees going on all around him. But eventually, he realizes that there’s one thing that’ll never change: love.
Elsa’s powers in the original Frozen were fairly unfettered by particular spiritual baggage. Like the enchantments we’ve seen in a bevy of other magic-coated tales, her potent ice-shaping powers simply are.
But Frozen II takes a step past that understanding of Elsa’s abilities, pushing into an “origin story” explaining her magic abilities that seems more akin to nature-centric paganism.
Four elemental “spirits” are at work here—those of earth, air, fire and water. Each has its own symbolic stone totem in the enchanted forest, visually evoking the monoliths at Stonehenge. Elsa accidentally creates a sky filled with ice crystals, each of which bears elemental symbols as well.
Each spirit comes with its own physical embodiment, too: Fire comes as a gecko-like creature (a reference to the mythical salamander, perhaps); water as a horse; earth as giant, rocklike critters; and air as a tornado-like swirling wind that characters start calling “Gale.” (Elsa later learns of a fifth element that she must find.)
All of these elements are powerful, godlike entities that in many ways shape the world around them, for good or ill. And when the destruction of a place is circumvented, we’re sagely told that the “spirits” spared it. [Spoiler Warning] Elsa, we eventually learn, is somehow the magical key to uniting these four spirits in a kind of harmony. And by movie’s end, Elsa begins to feel like something closer to a goddess herself.
We hear a troll say that everyone must “pray” that everything will turn out right.
Despite highly publicized speculation, Elsa does not come out as a lesbian here. She does develop a friendship with another young woman named Honeymaren, but there’s nothing in the film that suggests a sexual or romantic connection between the two.
Frozen II’s only romantic subplot advances in the form of Kristoff and Anna’s relationship. Kristoff really wants to ask Anna to marry him, though he struggles to find the right way to pop the question. Nevertheless, they’re still clearly an item, and we see them both hug and kiss repeatedly.
When they’re riding in a Sven-pulled sled, Anna asks Kristoff what he’d like to do—hinting that she’d like to make out (which, the film suggests, is something that’s happened before). Kristoff sings passionately, with the help of several reindeer, about a love gone wrong. (Anna also tells a dressed-up Kristoff that she prefers him “in leather,” an innocent remark in context but one that may sound suggestive to some in the audience.)
Elsa, meanwhile, is still very much wedded to her duties and the exploration of her powers¬—still shunning any explicit romantic attachment at all. In a flashback, we see the girls playing with icy figurines. And while Anna has the boy and girl figures smooch and “get married,” Elsa makes a face in disgust.
An Arendelle soldier still pines for an old flame he last saw some 34 years ago. In flashbacks, we see Elsa and Anna’s father and mother together frequently, clearly very attached to each other. When people look at Olaf askance, he assumes they’re staring at his snowy nudity. “I just find clothes restricting,” he explains. Elsa wears a slightly low-cut gown on one occasion.
In flashback, the sisters’ father recounts that when he was a boy, the people of Northuldra betrayed his own father. We don’t see the act of betrayal, but we do watch as sword-wielding Arendelle soldiers battle with the forest’s human inhabitants.
Olaf insists that water can remember things, and it turns out that’s true here. Using her powers, Elsa conjures up “memories” (in the form of icy sculptures) that seem to point to the moment right before someone died. She sees two people about to be drowned in a shipwreck in one instance. And later, a sculpture materializes of a man about to murder another.
The nature spirits we see can be quite violent and, at times, dangerous. Fire races through the forest, and while Elsa tries to extinguish the flames with her ice, Anna’s still nearly overcome by the smoky fumes. A watery avatar pushes Elsa under as if in attempt to kill her; a flood threatens to engulf a city. Rocky giants galumph after people, tear up trees and throw titanic rocks, destroying things (as titanic rocks are prone to do). One character is rescued just in the nick of time from them. All the spirits create quite a bit of havoc in Arendelle—tearing up streets and threatening citizens. Several characters are yanked up in a pretty frightening tornado.
Characters fall from some significant heights. One freezes. Two slide down a massive hill in an icy boat, eventually landing in a rushing, giant-infested river. Olaf suffers lots of abuse that snowmen, you think, would be prone to: his twig arms are yanked off, his nose is pushed through his face, etc. Sometimes his whole segmented body falls apart, albeit comically. But he and others suffer forms of trauma that might make sensitive watchers cry.
We hear references to death and dying.
Olaf is a font of often useless information, including the fact that certain animals “poop squares.” He warns people from handling his disembodied feet because, “I don’t know what I’ve been walking in.”
An act of betrayal forms a critical piece of the narrative. Also, we should make note of some more socio-political elements, that we’ll unpack down below.
The original Frozen, released in 2013, was something of an animated revelation. Beyond its long and storied run at the box office (it eventually made nearly $1.3 billion worldwide) and its iconic song “Let It Go” (a song that likely haunts many a parent to this day), it purposefully upended Disney’s “true love’s kiss” trope and turned it into an inspiring statement on familial love. And while the movie was not without controversy, I thought that most of the messages were pretty great.
Six years later, all those little 5-year-olds who sang “Let It Go” ad nauseum are older now, on the verge of teenhood themselves. And it seems like Disney wants this franchise to grow up a little, too—while still bringing new 5-year-olds into the Frozen fold.
Olaf is the most obvious conduit for the franchise’s growing maturity: As a snowman whom Elsa has magically enabled to survive heat, he’s growing older, too, and he’s got questions, man—along with a certain faux world-weary charm.
But that thematic approach extends to the movie’s other themes as well. Messages about family and friendship and love are still here, but the characters are dealing with issues related to loss and grief and betrayal and what to do in the face of all of those things. The movie’s exhortation to do the “next right thing” when things look hopeless is deeper than it might first appear. For those who suffer from their own dark struggles, this message may resonate powerfully.
But the movie treads into still more complex territory as well, offering barely hidden allusions to real-world issues: Frozen 2 comes with an explicit environmental message, of course, but it goes deeper—one that might lead to thoughts and conversations about America’s own complicated history with its land and its people. You don’t need to step too far afield to see its commentary on duplicitous leaders, fearful policies, environmental overreach and even issues related to reparations.
All that may well make Frozen II feel, to many conservatives, relentlessly and problematically progressive. And that’s before we even get to the spiritual issues discussed earlier. Any whiff of Christian influence we find here comes well buried in quasi-pagan mulch.
For these reasons, Frozen II is not a slam-dunk, take-the-whole-fam movie for everyone. In its attempt to create a more mature movie, Disney made it, ironically, a little more superficial. Its feints toward current, complex questions move it away from the original’s timeless, inspirational relevance. And for some, those same feints—along with some much darker narrative moments, too—will push this movie out of bounds.
That said, other families may see this film as a great opportunity to talk about Frozen II’s spiritual issues, as well as its other themes of loss, change and hope, from a Christian point of view.
Parents naturally influence their children when they’re young. But as kids grow, they begin to notice other voices, too: friends, other adults and the media around them. That process can feel disorienting for parents. But you still have a significant window to influence the kinds of adults your children will one day become. Here are more ideas on how to be a voice of influence.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.