For many, just hearing the song “Let It Go” for the 745th time was enough for them to leap off a cliff. But you couldn’t argue with ticket sales (over $1billion!) and the power of little girls vs merchandising, making this movie such an unimaginably HUGE monster hit, that a sequel was a no-brainer. Well, here it is!
Did you know there was an Enchanted Forest somewhere north of Arendelle? I didn’t. But in the movie’s opening backstory, we learn that once there was Northuldra, a thriving indigenous people (much like the Eskimo or Native Americans) who lived peacefully with the four magical elemental spirits of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Air. But the arrogance (and fear) of the old Arendelle king pissed-off the spirits, closing off the forest from the rest of the world, trapping the Northuldra’s inside, along with a few Arendelle guards.
We now catch-up to Queen Elsa (voiced again by Idina Menzel) three years after she froze, then saved Arendelle… but I guess nobody’s complaining. Including her lovable sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell), her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and that sentient snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad), who’s now an annoying intellectual. But there’s a strange singing voice in the wind one day that only Elsa can hear, and it means trouble! Those pesky Four Elemental spirits are on the attack in Arendelle and it’s up to Elsa and her family to find out why.
Going into the Enchanted Forest, Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and his pet reindeer, Sven, manage to penetrate through the impenetrable mist and meet not only the Northuldra people, but a shocking find about their parents. After doing battle with a cute little fire salamander, Elsa learns the existence of a mysterious Fifth Element (no, not Milla Jovovich). But what is it? As Kristoff contemplates how to propose marriage to Anna, Elsa and her sister embark on a dangerous mission to find the source of that calling voice, only to find (*gulp*) their parents shipwrecked boat! Following a map left behind, Elsa realizes she must continue on to an island called Ahtohallan, which could possibly be the source of her powers.
Look out for high-adventure, giant Godzilla-sized rock monsters, a passing resemblance to Avatar: The Last Airbender, Broadway-ready songs you won’t remember after you’ve left the theater (thank God!), and a new look for Elsa, which means more costume sales next year. The only thing missing is all the fun and straight-forward storytelling the first movie had. Jennifer Lee, who wrote that dismal Wrinkle In Time screenplay, jettisoned all the fun, whimsy, and joy from the original movie and decided to just give us a convoluted action-adventure tale about two empowered sisters… and some guy that happens to tag along with them.
I will give points for the mystic elemental overtones, but none of that aspect was more deeply explored or used. It was right there for the taking and was wasted. It did have moments of genuine humor, but only a few; some were downright awkward and unfunny. Disappointing to say the least. But on the bright side, it does have some amazing CGI animation and answers many questions about Elsa & Anna (and their parentage). It also gives Kristoff a deliciously funny send-up of music videos for his solo ballad and, I have to admit, does tug at the heart-strings in places. While the songs are pretty good, they’re not as addictive as the first movie. I’m sure many parents will be overjoyed about that!
Both Lee and Chris Buck (Frozen, Tarzan) directed this with some wonderful surprising touches and nuances, but that script shifts tones, keeps the mood so dark, and labors in its pace, that the kiddies may want to go home and pop-in that DVD of the first movie, just to get the happy, warm fuzzies back again.
The Last Airbender (2010)
M. Night Shamalama-dingdong. The man can make some great movies (Signs, The Sixth Sense, Glass) and then he can tun around and make some of the dumbest movies ever put on celluloid like The Happening, Lady in the Water, and THIS one, which defies explanation.
Based on the wildly popular animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, this live-action movie deals with “Airbenders”: humans who can manipulate the elemental forces of Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Our teenage heroes, waterbender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) discover a child frozen in the ice with his flying pet bison. This is Aang (Noah Ringer), who they suspect may be the Avatar, or Last Airbender. Perhaps he can bring harmony and peace to stop the violent Firebenders who have taken over the world. But Aang, who’s been trapped for awhile, needs to seek guidance at his old temple, so the gang takes off for the Southern Air Temple.
Meanwhile, over in Firebender Land (a Disneyland play area, I guess?), Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), a disgraced prince of the Fire Nation, detects the light from Aang’s release and goes after him. Aang’s gang gets arrested and imprisoned, but they incite a rebellion, battling and defeating the Fire Nation soldiers occupying the village. They make their way to the Northern Water Tribe where Aang can learn from Waterbending masters. Aang is captured by Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), but is rescued by a masked Zuko who wants to regain his glory again. Reunited with Sokka and Katara, Zhao tries again to kill Zuko, but Zuko secretly survives.
There are battles, escapes, more battles, hunts for the Dragon Spirit, and Princesses giving up their lives for no particular reason. It’s all one big mess with everyone speaking a sort of quasi-medieval drivel dialogue with some of the worst CGI around. And talk about the story! IF you were a fan of the animated series or the graphic novels, you were outraged at how much it was changed, twisted, left out, added, or ripped to shreds. It’d be like if Harry Potter was Russian, had a lightning bolt scar on his butt, and attended Hogwarts School… in Canada! Sacrilege!
I don’t know what Shyamalan was thinking, but not only was his screenplay DOA, but his casting was awful as well. In a blatant case of white-washing, the leads (who are supposed to be of Oriental decent) weren’t! Worse yet, they couldn’t act if their lives depended on it. If M. Night wanted to make a movie that was a $150 million slap in the face, he achieved it and with high marks. Watching his The Happening is better viewing!