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'Frozen II' review: A charming if less magical sequel

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 In "Frozen II," Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) finds herself in an enchanted forest that is surrounded by a mysterious and magical mist.  Credit: Disney

PLOT A young queen seeks out the source of her magical powers.

CAST The voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad

RATED PG (scenes of peril)

LENGTH 1:43

BOTTOM LINE The "Frozen" crew brings back enough music and magic to carry the day in this animated sequel.

("Frozen II" opens Nov. 22.)

The young heroines of "Frozen" return for another snowbound adventure in "Frozen II," in which Elsa of Arendelle searches for the source of her icy magical powers. Whether she finds it is probably not the burning question in your mind. What you want to know is: Will this animated Disney sequel produce a song to rival the original's Oscar-winning smash "Let it Go"?

Close, but not quite. Songwriter spouses Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez return with seven new tunes, including "Into the Unknown," a moody, swirling anthem that nicely suits this movie's questing theme, though it lacks the cathartic-therapeutic power of "Let It Go." What's more, the sudden octave-and-a-half leap on its chorus, surely beyond most young voices, will probably keep it from becoming another talent-show staple.

"Frozen II," in general, might not capture hearts the way the groundbreaking original did in 2013. "Frozen," Disney's first animated feature directed by a woman (Jennifer Lee, who shared credit with Chris Buck but wrote the screenplay herself), helped launch a new wave of women taking center stage in Hollywood, both on screen and off. Its twist on the fairy-tale myth of "true love" — basically, removing the Handsome Prince from the equation — was so clever and revelatory that it has been reworked in other movies. ("Isn't It Romantic," a rom-com spoof starring Rebel Wilson, comes to mind.) "Frozen II," by contrast, turns out to be a fairly typical sequel: overly busy and meandering, but sure to please all the young Elsas in the audience.

Again written and co-directed by Lee, "Frozen II" opens in familiar Disney fashion, with a bedtime story — about a magical forest and the ancient Northuldra people — that turns out to be true. Now grown, Elsa (voiced by Syosset's Idina Menzel) hears a siren's call beckoning her to that forest. She'll be joined by her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), and Anna's preparing-to-propose boyfriend, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), along with the comic-relief snowman Olaf (Josh Gad).

Because there's no villain to drive the story, Elsa and her crew simply move from one sequence to the next, battling wind spirits in the form of a tornado, then earth spirits in the form of massive rock creatures (very Hulk-esque) and so on. The animation, with its Aurora Borealis-inspired color scheme and elaborate water effects, is often dazzling but occasionally abstract. There are moments when the animators seem to be searching for meaningful visuals but end up with crystalline patterns on black backgrounds.

Still, how often do we see young women as the heroines of their own adventures? The "Frozen" films work largely because Anna and Elsa can be anything and everything they choose: princess, warrior, wife, ruler. Even if this sequel lacks the magic and depth of the original, that message still comes through. 

Correction: A previous version of this review misspelled the name of the character Kristoff.

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