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FROZEN II – Christophe Beck

December 10, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I don’t think anyone – including the people at Walt Disney – could have predicted just how successful Frozen would be when it was released in the fall of 2013. With it’s winning combination of comedy and action, strong female leads, genuinely beautiful snow-capped animation, and of course *that* song, it quickly became the highest grossing-animated film of all time (although Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs still holds the true crown, adjusted for inflation). It made its two princess protagonists, Anna and Elsa, household names, and made snowmen cool again, but it was as much of a success critically as it was commercially, eventually going to pick up two Oscars, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and even two Grammys. Of course, no studio would ever sit on all this success without trying to capitalize on it with a sequel, and so here we are with Frozen II – the first traditional animated Disney sequel to hit theaters since The Rescuers Down Under in 1990.

The film is again directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and it picks up the story several years after the events of Frozen, with Elsa (Idina Menzel) having been crowned the rightful Queen of Arendelle after learning to control her magical powers. While the good-hearted ice-cutter Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) agonizes over whether to propose marriage to Princess Anna (Kristin Bell), Elsa’s sister, Elsa becomes distracted by a faraway voice which seems to be calling to her from within the depths of an enchanted forest. Compelled to follow the voice, Elsa inadvertently awakens a set of elemental spirits – Earth, Fire, Water, and Air – which quickly begin to cause havoc in the kingdom. Determined to save their home, Elsa and Anna, along with Kristoff, sentient snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven, set off to find the enchanted forest and the origins of the elemental power – but along the way discover something much darker and more dangerous, concerning Elsa and Anna’s parents (Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood), and the source of Elsa’s magic. The film has been praised once again for its humor, action, design, and visual magnificence, as well as for its topical adult themes that touch lightly on issues of racism and intolerance.

Returning to provide the film’s musical content are composer Christophe Beck and songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez. The Lopezes won an Oscar for their ubiquitous song “Let It Go” from the first film, and won a second one for Coco in 2017, and are now close to reaching Alan Menken-level status in terms of writing songs for the most popular animated films of the day. However, no matter how hard one tries, capturing lightning in a bottle twice is almost impossible, and for them to even come close to writing something that permeates public consciousness the way “Let It Go” did would be an achievement indeed. Whether anything from Frozen II catches on remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the songs that are in Frozen II are absolutely terrific, right across the board. The best movie songs all move their plot along while also having compelling content, musically and lyrically, and these all do that and more. Best of all, they all have a rich and resonant emotional element too, which allows them to connect to audiences on a much deeper level. The Lopezes talk about issues and themes without being preachy, illustrate complicated concepts in ways that even small children can understand, and they do it with intelligent lyrics and soaring music that is both appealing and interesting.

The first song is “All Is Found,” performed in character by Evan Rachel Wood as Anna and Elsa’s mother, Queen Iduna. It’s a peaceful, almost wistful song that speaks of harmony with nature, and musically it has a lot in common with traditional Nordic folk music, including lullabies, and it makes use of traditional Nordic string instruments as part of the sweeping orchestral backing. Wood’s voice is lovely too. The second song, “Some Things Never Change,” is more peppy and upbeat, with prominent guitars and pianos, and could be described as this film’s equivalent of “Love Is An Open Door”. It’s performed by all four main cast members, and is a paean to stability underpinned with a little bit of nervousness about the nature of stagnation, but the title is ironic, as of course everything is about to change.

That catalyst for change comes via “Into the Unknown,” a massive power ballad which is being touted as this film’s equivalent of “Let it Go”. It’s a showcase for Idina Menzel’s soaring vocals, and is both technically challenging and narratively important as it details Elsa’s inner conflict over deciding whether or not to leave Arendelle and track down the source of the mysterious voice she keeps hearing. The song is also musically important in terms of the rest of the score because it introduces the film’s central musical idea – the four note Dies Irae-like ‘siren call’ which acts as the impetus for Elsa to leave Arendelle and seek out the source of her power (you first hear it at the very beginning of the song, performed wordlessly by Norwegian vocalist Aurora Aksnes). The tumultuous string undercurrent is driving and dramatic, and by its conclusion it has grown to become quite epic.

“When I Am Older” is Olaf the snowman’s song, performed in character by Josh Gad, and is Frozen II’s comedy song equivalent of “In Summer”. It has quirky arrangements and humorous lyrics that play up Olaf’s status as the film’s comic relief, but it is by far the weakest of all the songs, despite some superficial similarities to “Maria” from The Sound of Music. Thankfully, the subsequent “Lost in the Woods” raises the bar again; it’s a wonderful, 100% intentional homage to the 80s rock ballads performed by artists like Chicago or Bruce Hornsby, complete with sensitive piano solos, wailing electric guitars, and Peter Cetera-style vocal harmonies. It’s also – finally! – a showcase for the vocal talents of Jonathan Groff, who didn’t get a full song in the original Frozen despite earning Tony nominations for his roles on Broadway in Spring Awakening and Hamilton. In context, the scene that features the song is shot like a MTV video, with soft-focus lenses and slow motion shots of Kristoff tossing his hair towards the camera. Brilliant!

“Show Yourself” is Idina Menzel’s second big ballad, and is yet another technically challenging performance that really drives home why she is held in such high esteem on Broadway. It accompanies the moment in the film where Elsa comes face to face with the source of her ice powers, and starts out by describing her fears at the impending revelation. However, in the second half, the attitude changes and becomes more determined; eventually, just after the 3:00 mark, there is a staggering moment of goose-bump majesty when Evan Rachel Wood comes back to perform lyrics from “All is Found” in counterpoint to Menzel, and then the two of them combine with Aurora’s siren-call in triple counterpoint, a phenomenal musical achievement which makes it – for me – the most compelling of all the songs. Finally, “The Next Right Thing” is Kristin Bell’s moment to shine, as she performs a deeply moving treatise on grief and depression, filled with poignant lyrics. Initially, Bell cries her lines more than she sings them, but eventually the whole thing builds to an enormous finale, sweeping and majestic.

The regular soundtrack album is rounded out by three end credits cover versions of the three main songs: pop rock band Panic at the Disco performing “Into the Unknown,” Texas-born country singer Kacey Musgraves performing “All Is Found,” and LA-based upbeat alt-rockers Weezer singing “Lost in the Woods”. Unfortunately, none of Christophe Beck’s score is found on the regular soundtrack album – to hear that, you have to purchase the 2-CD special edition, the second disc of which features almost an hour of his outstanding orchestral music. I have always felt that Beck has been somewhat unfairly overlooked by mainstream commentators when talking about the music of Frozen; yes, the songs always get the prominent press, but what Beck does is hold it all together. His music is steeped in the traditions of Nordic folk music – notably the vocal technique called kulning – and it contains some wonderful moments of both emotional poignancy and action-packed power.

“Introduction” revisits the recurring ‘Vuelie’ choral idea from the first film, setting the scene and reminding listeners of Arendelle’s musical identity, but as the score progresses this idea will come back with more prominence and deeper resonance – more on that later. I was also pleased to note a tiny recognition of the melody from “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” at the end of the piece on little flutes; interpolation of the melodies of the songs from both Frozen films is much more frequent here, which is something that the original score did not do well at all. The music for “The Northuldra” is anchored by a wistful-sounding ethnic woodwind idea, and is filled with magical, sparkling allure. This ethnic woodwind motif appears later in cues like “The Mist” and the aggressive-sounding “Earth Giants,” and appears to be a recurring idea related to the concept of the Enchanted Forest. Elsewhere, “Sisters” is light and pretty, again with lovely writing for strings and woodwinds, while “Gone Too Far” has more than a touch of melancholy to it, as well as some touching choral writing.

However, perhaps the most exciting and appealing parts of he score are the action cues, which are frequent and across-the-board excellent. Action plays a surprisingly large role in Frozen II – much more so than the original score – and usually accompanies the scenes where Elsa is using her powers to do battle with the various elemental spirits. Beck increases his brass content significantly in these cues, giving them weight and dramatic intensity, while the numerous excellent stirring rhythmic ideas convey speed and spectacular movement, and give the whole thing a real shot of power. “Exodus” is bold and brassy, while parts of the brilliant “Wind” provides the first appearance of a recurring motif that runs through many of the subsequent action cues. “Fire and Ice” at times seems to be channeling the Battle on the Ice from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, and features some fascinating instrumental combinations and moments of dissonance, notably involving the throbbing brass section. Similarly, later cues like “River Slide,” “Dark Sea,” and the spectacular “Rude Awakening” at times roil and churn with genuinely riveting orchestral bombast. The echoing brass writing in “River Slide” is especially noteworthy, as are the intrepid string ostinatos and heroic brass outbursts that underpin all of “Dark Sea”.

Interestingly, in several cues Beck makes use of the melody from the song “All is Found” and re-purposes it as a leitmotif for Queen Iduna, whenever her presence is guiding Elsa forward, or whenever the slowly-revealed history of Arendelle’s monarchy becomes important to the story. In “Iduna’s Scarf,” for example, a piano-led version of the melody combines with the ‘Vuelie’ vocal idea to create a compelling musical back-story involving the royals, the Northuldra people, and the enchanted forest, dressed up with gorgeous light orchestrations for woodwinds, chimes, and harp. Later, in the more moody and ominous “The Ship,” the melody can be heard emerging from the gloom on impressionistic woodwinds.

“The Flood” is the score’s big set piece conclusion, which drives up the intensity of the score to its largest proportions, and features some notably stirring performances of the action motif, vivid brass calls, and moments of sweeping drama and catharsis. The subsequent “Reindeer Circle” is the interesting variation on the ‘Vuelie’ vocal idea that I alluded to earlier, and has an almost religioso sound, earthy and naturalistic. “Reunion” provides perhaps the score’s most satisfying moment of orchestral catharsis, with heartfelt versions of several of the score’s recurring melodic ideas, while the upbeat “Epilogue” quotes the melody from the song “Some Things Never Change,” and combines it with the ‘Vuelie’ to end things on a suitably warm and positive note, a perfect set-up for Frozen III!

For me, Frozen II is one of the most satisfying musical experiences of 2019. Christophe Beck’s score is one of his career best, matching the lyrical beauty and ethnic appropriateness of the original, but then surpassing it in terms of how he manages to incorporate melodic fragments of the songs into the body of the score, which was something the original score failed to do in any meaningful way. However, the stars of the show are undoubtedly Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez’s songs, at least two of which will be nominated for an Oscar, and which one of them will win. From the soaring vocal performances of Idina Menzel on “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself”, to Jonathan Groff’s fantastic 80s throwback in “Lost in the Woods,” to Kristin Bell’s devastatingly raw emotion in “The Next Right Thing,” every single one of them is a winner. Although none of them are likely to seep into cultural consciousness the way “Let It Go” did, I personally feel that, taken as a whole, the songs from Frozen II are stronger than those in Frozen, and that’s quite a thing to have done.

Buy the Frozen II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • REGULAR RELEASE – All songs written by Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez
  • All Is Found (performed by Evan Rachel Wood) (2:05)
  • Some Things Never Change (performed by Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and Idina Menzel) (3:29)
  • Into the Unknown (performed by Idina Menzel feat. Aurora) (3:14)
  • When I Am Older (performed by Josh Gad) (1:51)
  • Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People (Continued) (performed by Jonathan Groff) (0:26)
  • Lost in the Woods (performed by Jonathan Groff) (3:00)
  • Show Yourself (performed by Idina Menzel and Evan Rachel Wood) (4:20)
  • The Next Right Thing (performed by Kristin Bell) (3:36)
  • Into the Unknown – End Credits (performed by Panic! at the Disco) (3:09)
  • All Is Found – End Credits (performed by Kacey Musgraves) (3:03)
  • Lost in the Woods – End Credits (performed by Weezer) (3:05)
  • All Is Found – Lullaby Ending (Outtake) (performed by Evan Rachel Wood) (1:54)
  • Home (Outtake) (performed by Kristin Bell) (2:56)
  • I Seek the Truth (Outtake) (performed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Patti Murin) (4:01)
  • Unmeltable Me (Outtake) (performed by Josh Gad) (1:25)
  • Get This Right (Outtake) (performed by Kristin Bell and Jonathan Groff) (3:46)
  • All Is Found – Instrumental (2:07)
  • Some Things Never Change – Instrumental (3:27)
  • Into the Unknown – Instrumental (3:16)
  • When I Am Older – Instrumental (1:52)
  • Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People (Continued) – Instrumental (0:14)
  • Lost in the Woods – Instrumental (3:01)
  • Show Yourself – Instrumental (4:18)
  • The Next Right Thing – Instrumental (3:36)
  • Into the Unknown [Panic! at the Disco version] – Instrumental (3:08)
  • All Is Found [Kacey Musgraves version] – Instrumental (3:01)
  • Lost in the Woods [Weezer version] – Instrumental (3:02)
  • Introduction (0:59)
  • The Northuldra (2:35)
  • Sisters (1:05)
  • Exodus (1:21)
  • The Mist (2:42)
  • Wind (3:06)
  • Iduna’s Scarf (4:37)
  • Fire and Ice (3:16)
  • Earth Giants (1:57)
  • The Ship (4:55)
  • River Slide (2:32)
  • Dark Sea (2:47)
  • Ghosts of Arendelle Past (2:58)
  • Gone Too Far (3:43)
  • Rude Awakening (2:05)
  • The Flood (3:34)
  • Reindeer Circle (1:40)
  • Reunion (3:50)
  • Epilogue (3:25)

Running Time: 31 minutes 18 seconds (Regular Release)
Running Time: 125 minutes 52 seconds (Special Edition)

Walt Disney Records (2019)

Music composed by Christophe Beck. Conducted by Tim Davies. Orchestrations by Tim Davies, Jeremy Levy and Dave Metzger. Recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes. Edited by Earl Ghaffari and Fernand Bos. Album produced by Christophe Beck, Robert Lopez, Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Fernand Bos, Michael Paraskevas and Tom McDougall.

  1. December 10, 2019 at 11:09 am

    I do not think the composers reached Menken-status yet. It takes more than two films to do that (and I am not sure if the Frozen II songs will be so memorable). Time will tell.

  2. December 16, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Very minor point about an excellent review, but this is actually the fourth theatrical sequel to a traditional Disney animated feature after “Rescuers Down Under” (which you mentioned), “Return to Neverland”, and “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

    • Fluba
      January 15, 2020 at 7:26 am

      I would argue that Return to Neverland doesn’t count because while it did have a theatrical release, it was developed and animated by the TV studios and isn’t considered part of the Disney Animated Canon. Beyond that, I was going to say the same thing about Ralph Breaks the Internet. Frozen II is, imho, the third sequel.

  1. January 19, 2020 at 5:10 pm

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