That is the question facing Disney as it prepares to release Frozen 2, the sequel to the outright cultural phenomenon that was 2013’s Frozen. The follow-up opens in dozens of countries this week, including the U.S. and Canada on Friday, and unsurprisingly it’s on course to do big numbers. Yet, at every turn, its success will be judged by the dizzying standards of its predecessor.
Industry trackers expect Frozen 2 to take at least $100 million domestically across more than 4,200 screens in its first three days. Some go higher: in its current forecast, Boxoffice Pro anticipates a $130 million domestic opening, with a range of $120–$160 million.
Assuming Frozen 2 meets these projections, it will set a number of records. It will become the first animated film to open with $100 million outside summer, and will score the best-ever opening for Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS), beating Zootopia’s haul of $75.1m in 2016.
In fact, Frozen 2 has already broken a record. Atom Tickets and Fandango, two major movie ticket sellers, have both announced that they sold more tickets for the film in the first 24 hours of presales than for any other animated movie. But presales hype doesn’t necessarily translate into opening weekend success, cautions Forbes.
Frozen opened in 2013 during the Thanksgiving holiday, and took $93.5 million over five days. Its $1.27-billion global cume, which stunned everyone, re-established WDAS as a major box office force. The film stood as the highest-grossing animated feature of all time until this year, when Disney’s remake of The Lion King bested it with $1.66 billion.
Whereas Frozen’s initial triumph came unexpectedly, boosted by popular characters and a memorable soundtrack, the sequel arrives under the weight of expectation and lukewarm reviews (see below). What’s more, Disney has opted to debut it a week ahead of Thanksgiving — families may wait until the holiday, undermining the film’s opening weekend.
On the other hand, Frozen 2 has a fairly clear run until its fourth weekend, when Jumanji: The Next Level opens. The ensuing weeks will see a string of kid-friendly releases: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (which could well be another billion-dollar hit for Disney), Cats, and Spies in Disguise. By then, we should have a clearer idea of whether Frozen 2 is set to surpass its predecessor’s box office total.
Of course, much of that will depend on its performance overseas — not least the increasingly animation-obsessed China, where it is also released on Friday. Frozen earned 69% of its gross outside North America. The sequel’s global rollout begins today, and will be out in 34 territories by Friday.
Set three years after the original, Frozen 2 sees sisters Anna and Elsa venture far beyond the secluded kingdom of Arendelle. The official synopsis is as follows:
Why was Elsa born with magical powers? What truths about the past await Elsa as she ventures into the unknown to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond Arendelle? The answers are calling her but also threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven, she’ll face a dangerous but remarkable journey. In Frozen, Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. In Frozen 2, she must hope they are enough.
The film is directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and produced by Peter Del Vecho, the same team that made the original. Lee also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Allison Schroeder, who previously co-wrote the Academy Award-nominated Hidden Figures and Christopher Robin.
All four main voice cast stars will reprise their parts for this new chapter: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Josh Gad (Olaf), and Jonathan Groff (Kristoff). Also returning are husband-and-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
Frozen was a critical as well as commercial hit, scoring a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the time of writing, Frozen 2 comes in at 80%. It’s a decent score, but it doesn’t reflect the sense of déjà vu that permeates most reviews.
Echoing others, Associated Press’s Jocelyn Noveck singled out the film’s visuals for praise:
[I]f it all seems less effortless, more workmanlike than the first film, with a very complex storyline that will definitely be harder to follow for younger fans, there’s plenty to like, especially the lush visuals. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck give us an animated ocean that looks incredibly real, a more mature, autumn-hued color palette, and a magical forest surrounded by a wall of mist.
Robbie Collin gave the film four stars in The Telegraph. Like many critics, he addressed the soundtrack:
The most burning question about Frozen 2 was whether or not Disney would be able to concoct a new show tune with enough hurricane force to knock “Let It Go” off its perch … [T]he answer is a rafter-shaking yes. The song … is called “Into the Unknown,” and it goes into your ear like musical caustic soda, scouring away all other tunes in its path. I sung it to myself for the entire train journey home, fell asleep singing it, woke up singing it, and am in fact still singing it right now, while typing this.
Peter Bradshaw struggled with the plot, as he wrote in The Guardian:
I couldn’t help feeling that there is something a bit underpowered and contrived about the storyline in Frozen 2: a matter of jeopardy synthetically created and artificially resolved, obstacles set in place and then surmounted, characters separated and reunited, bad stuff apparently happening and then unhappening. At times, Frozen 2 almost felt like an extended bonus featurette that could have gone with the Blu-ray edition of the first film.
At The A.V. Club, A.A. Dowd laments that the film — and Disney’s general strategy — lack originality:
Frozen 2 takes the very Disney route of offering more of the same, just with a fresh coat of paint. Creatively, it’s not too far removed from those high-tech cover versions of old animated hits the company has been churning out these past few years. At least here there’s another story to tell, though even that’s been designed to address lingering questions and unresolved backstory from the last one, rather than pave a truly new path.
David Sims, writing for The Atlantic, agrees:
Frozen 2 sometimes gets impressionistic enough to reach the heights of its forebear, which was at its best when Elsa cut loose and made towering ice sculptures to symbolize her loneliness. A couple of sequences see the queen skiing across a raging ocean, encountering water spirits in the shape of horses, and exploring caverns of crystalline memories. Those standout moments, reliant on music and visuals, hit harder than the bulk of the dialogue. Most of the time, though, this elaborate plot doesn’t yield anything remotely original.