Grade: A-/B+
Rated: PG

Has there been a more anticipated Disney sequel than Frozen II?

Frozen was an instant classic, winning Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song. Within the first few weeks of its debut, children young enough to have barely mastered sentences could be heard belting out “Let It Go” with the same intensity as Idina Menzel, the Broadway talent who sang it in the film.

Frozen was a tough act to follow, but Frozen II gives the 2013 original a run for its money.

For me, the differences can be summarized with a few simple observations. I thought Frozen was marred only by two songs that stood out because they were less successful than the rest: a goofy snowman song that seemed to run counter to the mood of the film, even for comic relief, and a troll song that could have been cut and no one would have cared. But overall, the film brought Broadway style to the fairytale format (a Disney specialty) and also embraced the “meet cute” formula of romantic comedies, with fun characters and interesting side plots and plot twists that were simple enough for even those budding young sopranos and tenors to understand.

Frozen II, meanwhile, comes closer to the operetta in its use of music, where songs are sometimes employed instead of dialogue to move the story forward, and those songs (as a result) seem to come at more frequent intervals. That’s not bad, mind you, just different. Still, it’s been three months since the film premiered, and I have yet to observe any youngster singing a song from the sequel. I also couldn’t pick out a favorite song the way I instantly could with Frozen—though “Into the Unknown” was nominated for an Academy Award and the Frozen II soundtrack reached #1 on the Billboard 200 Album chart. So it might take a second listen for those songs to kick in.  I also thought that Frozen II, a darker film in tone and subject matter, had a plot that was both more richly imagined and a little more contrived, and therefore a little harder for younger children to comprehend. Maybe that’s because Frozen steered fairly close to the shoreline of fairytale land, while Frozen II comes closer to fantasy. There are ghosts and spirits and people living in a netherworld.

As I said, Frozen II gives the original a run for its money, and I think when all is considered they’re close to being equal, with the original nudging ahead by a nose . . . and the horse analogy is appropriate, given that Elsa gets to ride spirit horses in this animated film.

My wife and teenage daughter do not share my opinions. They both think Frozen II is the superior film, and the data at Rotten Tomatoes proves they’re not alone. At the popular movie aggregate site, 90 percent of the critics gave the original Frozen a “fresh” rating, while only 77 percent did so for the sequel. But the numbers were flipped for the general public, with 85 percent loving the original and 92 percent loving the sequel. In any case, the numbers do not reflect a disagreement over whether the film is successful or not. Frozen II is good. The only question is, how good.

Frozen directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are back again, and so are all the original voice talents: Kristen Bell as younger princess Anna; Idina Menzel as the older Elsa, who can freeze things with her touch; Josh Gad as Olaf, the enchanted talking snowman; and Jonathan Groff as Kristoff the ice cutter who’s best friend is the reindeer Sven and who wants to propose to Anna.

After an opening flashback in which a young king tells his very young daughters the story of how their grandfather, then king, built a dam to establish a treaty with the neighboring tribe of Northuldra, the action picks up three years after the first film ended. Elsa hears a faraway voice she can’t identify, but one she thinks must be tied to her powers, one she knows she has to follow. Of course, it’s not much of a movie if just Elsa goes on a quest, and so Anna insists on going with, as do Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven. Along the way the quest changes, with the sisters trying to learn more about the Enchanted Forest, and more about the people of Northuldra and how they relate to the people of Arendelle. And of course there are plenty of emotional moments, perilous episodes, and times when a character appears doomed, all deftly balanced by comic relief—the cutest of which is supplied by a tiny little salamander who, like Elsa, has an unusual reaction when agitated.

As with the first Frozen and practically all Disney animated films, the animation is spectacular and spectacularly captures the changing moods of each sequence. Those spirit horses are particularly well rendered, but some of the animation of the natural world is so detailed that it might remind viewers of the world of Avatar. Because of the detail, because of the music, and yes, because of a plot that’s a little more involved than the original, Frozen II seems destined for a lot of repeat play. And because it leans hard in the direction of fantasy (Frozen wasn’t exactly a grab-your-plastic-crown princess movie, and the sequel is even less so), it holds appeal for a broader range of viewers. With a robust 7.1 channel soundtrack and high-def presentation, it’s easy to appreciate a film like Frozen II.

Entire family: Yes
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: A-/B+ (includes sing-along version)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Amazon link

Rated PG for action, peril, and some thematic elements

When I say that Frozen II is darker than the original, I don’t mean it in the way that the Harry Potter films got menacingly, traumatizingly darker. Characters have close calls. Characters have sad moments, but hey, it’s Disney. That’s all part of the formula. There’s nothing here that children who watched and enjoyed the first Frozen can’t see, as both are rated PG, after all. Parents of young children just might have to explain the situations more in this one than they had to with the original.