Movie Review: 'Frozen 2' And 'A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood'

Nov 21, 2019
Originally published on November 21, 2019 7:59 pm
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Two movies - Disney's animated fairy tale "Frozen 2" and the Mr. Rogers movie "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood" - both films aimed at different audiences and different age groups. But critic Bob Mondello says after seeing them both on the same day, he has been reconsidering what we mean by children's entertainment.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: A bedtime story told to sister princesses Elsa and Anna by their dad sets up "Frozen 2's" new adventure.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FROZEN 2")

HADLEY GANNAWAY: (As Anna) You've seen an enchanted forest?

ALFRED MOLINA: (As King Agnarr) Yes. It was a magical place, but something went wrong. Since then, no one can get in or out.

GANNAWAY: (As Anna) Wow.

MATTEA CONFORTI: (As Elsa) Papa, that was epic.

MONDELLO: Epic and, as they'll soon learn, tragic - but let's stick with epic as we flash forward to the post-"Let It Go" Elsa and Anna, living the dream in their Nordic kingdom with their pals strapping Kristoff, reindeer Sven...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FROZEN 2")

JOSH GAD: (As Olaf) I only wish this could last forever.

MONDELLO: ...And snowman Olaf.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FROZEN 2")

GAD: (As Olaf) And yet, change mocks us with her beauty.

KRISTEN BELL: (As Anna) What's that?

GAD: (As Olaf) Forgive me. Maturity is making me poetic. Tell me - you're older and thus all-knowing. Do you ever worry about the notion that nothing is permanent?

MONDELLO: Anna hasn't worried about that, but the filmmakers appear to have spent a lot of time on notions of permanence, values holding true even as the stories around them change. Where the first "Frozen" was Disney's acknowledgment that its passive princesses in the past were not ideal models for contemporary girls, "Frozen 2" spends much of its energy examining the world in which those princesses are growing up, a world designed here for audiences who've heard about Indigenous peoples and how their contact with Europeans was problematic.

An Indigenous voice that only Elsa can hear beckons her to that north land where something went wrong in dad's childhood story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTO THE UNKNOWN")

IDINA MENZEL: (Singing) You're not a voice. You're just a ringing in my ear. And if I heard you, which I don't, I'm spoken for, I fear. Everyone I've ever loved is here within these walls. I'm sorry, secret siren, but I'm blocking out your calls.

MONDELLO: The kingdom has cell phone service? Regardless, in the world of "Frozen," you do not question a power ballad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTO THE UNKNOWN")

MENZEL: (Singing) I am afraid of what I'm risking if I follow you into the unknown.

MONDELLO: This is "Frozen 2's" earworm, or will be after we've heard it a few thousand times. Meanwhile, credit the filmmakers with a sure sense of millennial ecopolitics, the very best of intentions regarding Indigenous populations and the budget to throw every pixel of digital eye candy currently available at a story that is centrally about sticking together when the going gets rough.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FROZEN 2")

BELL: (As Anna) You are not going alone.

MENZEL: (As Elsa) Anna, no. I have my powers to protect me. You don't.

BELL: (As Anna) Excuse me. I climbed to the North Mountain, survived a frozen heart and saved you from my ex-boyfriend. And I did it all without powers, so, you know, I'm coming.

MONDELLO: The characters are sprightly, the songs tailor-made for the Broadway show they'll someday inhabit. And if "Frozen 2's" story feels as focus-grouped as it does well-meaning, well, did you really think Disney would follow up a $1.3 billion money machine by building a nonformulaic snowman?

It's tempting to suggest that things were simpler and more innocent a few decades back, but anyone who thinks Fred Rogers wasn't following a formula wasn't paying attention. It just wasn't corporate or polished in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR")

FRED ROGERS: (Singing) It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood.

MONDELLO: Rogers was folksy and charming. And Tom Hanks...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR")

TOM HANKS: (Singing) Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

MONDELLO: ...Who plays him in Marielle Heller's "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood," captures that sunniness...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR")

HANKS: (Singing) Please, won't you be...

MONDELLO: ...As soon as he zips up his sweater.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR")

HANKS: (Singing) ...My neighbor.

MONDELLO: The film chronicles an interview Rogers did in 1998 with an Esquire magazine journalist whose life is fictionalized in the movie. But what isn't fictional is the Rogers' insistence on tackling subjects that no one else in broadcasting thought children could handle - death, grief, anger.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And action.

MONDELLO: When Rogers first spots journalist Lloyd Vogel while recording an episode about camping tents...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD")

HANKS: (As Fred Rogers) Do you know what this is?

MONDELLO: ...His spotting the journalist behind the camera...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD")

HANKS: (As Fred Rogers) It's Lloyd.

MONDELLO: ...Is treated as comic.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hold, please. We can't find fire him, can we?

MONDELLO: But almost immediately, Rogers pulls things back to the real world - the world of hurt when he sees bruises on Lloyd's face.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD")

HANKS: (As Fred Rogers) Oh, it's nice to meet you. But are you all right?

MATTHEW RHYS: (As Lloyd Vogel) Play at the plate.

HANKS: (As Fred Rogers) Oh, I see. That looks like it hurts.

RHYS: (As Lloyd Vogel) Let's chat afterwards.

MONDELLO: In fact, Matthew Rhys' Lloyd was punched in the face by his father, and Mr. Rogers will get him to open up over time about that, much as he got children to think about pain in their lives.

The impulse to deal with complicated topics, you'll note, is not that far from "Frozen 2's" taking on concerns about permanence. What's different is that the man Hanks is playing came naturally to those concerns, not with a Hollywood studios calculation. But then, he wasn't contemplating "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood 2."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE")

BELL: (Singing) Yes, some things never change...

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE")

BELL: (Singing) ...Like the feel of your hand in mine. Some things stay the same...

KRISTEN BELL AND JOSH GAD: (Singing) Like how we get along just fine.

BELL: (Singing) Like an old stone wall that'll never fall, some things... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.