Out now is “Frozen 2,” the cinematic sequel to the 2013 film of the same name that spawned an array of TV and short film spin offs, a Broadway musical, a merchandising juggernaut and a still inescapable ear worm in “Let It Go.” Audiences can find the film in theaters in several formats, including 4DX, an immersive viewing experience including motion, scents, water effects and peripheral lighting.
First, the film:
“Frozen 2” picks up with a flashback to a bedtime story told to Anna and Elsa by their father about the Enchanted Forest inhabited by an indigenous people, the Northuldra, and the peace treaty forged with them by his father. After the peace went sour, the forest was sealed behind a wall of mist until Elsa, hearing the call of a voice from the north, leads Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven to the forest to find the source of the voice. Along the way, they encounter the Northuldra, an Arendellian guard and the four spirits of the Enchanted Forest: earth, air, fire and water.
The film is an overall romp. There are more character groupings in this film, more funny little creatures, more reindeer, more great outfits. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez return with another batch of solid tunes, though none that amount to the immediate spine chilling hit of “Let It Go.” If possible, the visuals are even richer, deeper and more dynamic that the much lauded fractal fantasies of the 2013 film. The film is set at the juncture from fall to winter and the color palette alone makes the movie feel unique compared to the first. For children, there will be moments of genuine shock at plot twists. There is also a degree of physicality granted to Elsa that is rare for a more traditional princess film (think more “Moana” than “Tangled”).
After “Frozen” netted a seemingly untold fortune for Disney, it’s easy to see the temptation to recreate the successful recipe that netted them billions of dollars. To the extent that all musicals follow a particular pattern, one carefully refined by Disney over the past decades, a certain amount of retreading is forgivable. However, “Frozen 2” retreads the path of its predecessor to the point of producing a sense of deja vu. That sensation is no more apparent than during Olaf’s song “When I Am Older,” and during Elsa’s power ballads “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself.”
The feeling persists in the introductions to members of the Northuldra, each of which seems to be a counterpart to a member of the party from Arendelle. I imagine this is part of a slightly ham handed message that “we’re all alike no matter how different we seem,” but it just doesn’t land. For a film trying to be daring and corrective, it feels lazy to fall back on a cast of indigenous characters who are blandly loving mirrors of their white counterparts.
Now, what does 4DX change about this viewing experience? Each seat is on a four chair rig that completes broad motions and is attached to a water feature, while individual seats contain rumble effects and small fans. Large fans line the top of the theater interspersed with strobe effects, and a smoke machine guards each side of the screen.
There is a sense of constant motion. Even when the screen focuses on placid water untouched by even a ripple, the seats are stuck in a gentle whirl. When leaves are blown about, you move to follow their path. As Elsa gallops on horseback on a path of ice, you experience the sensation of being on a mechanical bull.
The outdoor setting and seasonal component of the film mean that there is near constant wind or fans blowing, and the presence of ice and snow mean there are more than a handful of mist bursts shot into your face. I will admit that after the first time that happened, I turned off the water (the only customizable option that I observed).
The best audience for 4DX is probably 10-13 year olds who might get bored during a movie, but will not be alarmed or discombobulated by the multiple stimulations. In my theater, several younger children decompensated and were either taken out by their parents or sat on the floor. The whole set up itself is elaborate, and also loud. Large scale movements are proceeded by the ominous clacking of paddles and rotors, while the fans roaring to life can drown out subtle sounds in the film.
Overall, “Frozen 2” is a film worth seeing, but the songs are not memorable enough to run through your head even moments after you hear them (which is a bad thing for Disney, but a good thing for those of us still trying to “Let It Go”). If you have a preteen or a particularly unflappable child, the 4DX will probably be worth it for their enjoyment, but know that if you get at all motion sick, this will be a long hour and 43 minutes.