Friday December 13, 2019

The snow must go on

24th November, 2019

Frozen II

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Nationwide, PG

Rated: 4 stars

A Dog Called Money

Directed by Seamus Murphy

Selected, 15A

Rating: 3 stars

A smash hit waiting to happen, Frozen II aims to replicate much of what made Disney’s 2013 animated musical such a global phenomenon (€1.6 billion in ticket sales, only slightly less in dolls and duvet covers), while tackling bigger themes about finding your place and adapting to a changing world. Simply put, this is a terrific piece of family entertainment. You might not be saying the same after 30 viewings, but the first time is a joy.

In the original, the sisterly bond between the orphaned princesses of Arendelle, standoffish blonde Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and goofy redhead Anna (Kristen Bell), was frayed by shame, fear, and climate-changing supernatural powers, but they were reunited by courage, familial love, and the rib-rattling vigour of Let It Go, a power ballad of astonishing immediacy which every five-year-old could recite within minutes of first hearing it.

Now, three years having passed, Queen Elsa has learned to control her ability to create ice and snow, but has started hearing a dreamlike voice that nobody else can hear, calling from across the sea.

Following a warning from the roly-poly king of the trolls (Ciarán Hinds), the sisters set off for an enchanted forest in the far north; a spellbound place known only through bedtime stories, trapped behind an impenetrable curtain of mist. Joining them is Anna’s boyfriend, handsome lumberjack Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his faithful reindeer Sven, and sweet-natured comic-relief snowman Olaf (Josh Gad).

Their quest is to save the kingdom from being overwhelmed by the elemental spirits of water, fire, earth and air, disturbed by human interference. There are secrets there too, waiting to be uncovered. Once Elsa feared her unique abilities might destroy the world, now she must hope they are enough to revive it.

Perhaps reckoning that their audience have matured in the interim, Frozen II is a darker story that reinforces these familiar characters with new depth and nuance. Elsa prospers without a traditional love interest, but there’s no villain in this story and while the film can rightly shrug off the absence of a Prince Charming, who would only be taking up space; it misses the focus a baddie brings. There are still plenty of laugh-out-loud jokes and eye-popping fantasy sequences in this uniformly gorgeous animation, but the new shadows cast across the story only extend so far.

Once we learn the source of the queen’s wintry powers, something unexplored in the original, we are left wondering what else the film is about, with the adjacent subjects – righting historical wrongs, embracing other cultures and finding strength in family – feeling a little underdeveloped. Only a little, though. There’s plenty of energy in the seven enjoyable new songs on the soundtrack and audiences keen to get to let it go again will anticipate a big anthem.

Reluctant hero Kristoff gets a hilarious sequence inspired by cheesy 1980s music videos, but the standout number is Into the Unknown, an Elsa-centred belter that drops right at the top of the show. Parents and chaperones should gird themselves, and their ears, accordingly.

* Irish photojournalist Seamus Murphy opens his suitably protean documentary portrait of the musician PJ Harvey, A Dog Called Money, with a group of Afghani men gathering at a ruined Kabul picture house to watch a film on an ancient projector. “20 years ago you could pay to get in to the cinema with bullets”, Harvey tells us in voiceover before we follow her around the devastated city, notebook in hand, forming impressions of the place and its people.

Between 2011 and 2014, Murphy and Harvey’s field trips also took in Kosovo and Washington DC, difficult explorations that are cut, none too gently, with scenes of the singer transforming her experiences into would become the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, released in 2016. More a film about the creative process than the private thoughts of a musician who has always maintained her distance, music emerges as the lingua franca of the film. Whether Harvey is playing a jaw’s harp with a group of jamming Afghani musicians or listening to the extraordinary freestyle rap of a group of black kids in a DC suburb, our glimpses of her are filtered through her encounters with other musicians.

Harvey is sensitive to accusations of “trauma tourism”; exploring a burned-out house in Kosovo scattered with the remnants of the lives of the people that lived there, she says, “these were country people and I’m stepping on their things in my expensive leather sandals”.

She is there to soak up moments of time, lines of conversation and feelings of empathy to use as the foundations of her own songs, an electric stimulation sensitively captured in Murphy’s poetic compositions and dynamic montages.

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