It’s not an exaggeration to say the release of the Frozen 2 soundtrack this past weekend — just ahead of Frozen 2’s November 22 release date — counts as an event. Not since the heyday of Disney’s ’90s animated musicals has a film soundtrack had such high expectations to live up to.
Sales of the original Frozen soundtrack blew away all other competitors when it was released in late November 2013 (just a few days before the film itself); it then went on to reign as the No. 1 album of 2014. At the 2014 Oscars, “Let It Go” won Best Original Song; the next year, at the 2015 Grammys, the album won Best Compilation Soundtrack, garnering Robert Lopez — who wrote all of Frozen’s songs with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez — the rare EGOT distinction. (The pair is credited with writing the entire Frozen 2 soundtrack as well.)
Oh, and if you had younger kids, your kids were probably obsessed with it. In 2014, Frozen was everywhere: The film itself grossed a staggering $1.27 billion worldwide, and the film’s fandom was so eager for more that it drove over $5 billion in retail sales of related Frozen merchandise — just in 2014 alone. Not only that, but five years after the film’s release, the soundtrack was still on the CD sales charts. That’s some heavy lifting.
So does the new Frozen 2 soundtrack hold up to all that hype? Yeah, pretty much.
The Frozen 2 soundtrack has just seven new songs — plus a reprise, several covers, and a few “outtakes.” But there’s a lot to explore.
The Frozen 2 soundtrack boasts the soundtrack versions of its seven totally new songs as well as covers of those songs by artists Kacey Musgraves, Panic! At the Disco, and Weezer. Both Kristen Bell, who voices Princess Anna, and Jonathan Groff, who plays her boyfriend Kristoff, get songs of their own. (There’s also a teensy reprise of the Groffsauce classic “Reindeer(s) are Better Than People.”) The soundtrack also comes with a few surprises — most pleasantly, the revelation that Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood, a new addition to Frozen cast, has a great singing voice. (Fun fact for Broadway buffs: Wood is in a band with guitarist Zane Carney, brother of Hadestown’s Reeve Carney.)
Wood plays Queen Iduna, Elsa and Anna’s late mother. Apparently, her spirit is still alive and kicking, and in the Frozen 2 soundtrack’s opening number, “All Is Found,” she gets a beautiful refrain — “where the north wind meets the sea / there’s a river full of memory” — that recurs throughout other songs and the film’s score. Musgraves covers this song, and it’s just lovely.
If you already know you love Frozen, you’ll specifically want to seek out the “deluxe” version of the soundtrack, which contains a few more songs listed as “outtakes.” These songs — which were apparently all cut before they made it into the movie — include extra solos for Anna and Kristoff, and a gorgeous duet, “I Seek the Truth,” between songwriter Anderson-Lopez and Patti Murin, who originated the role of Anna in Frozen on Broadway.
The best of the outtakes is “Get This Right,” a fun, conversational duet between a self-doubting Kristoff and an ever-adventurous Anna, which doubles as a kind of spiritual sequel and answer to Frozen’s “Love Is an Open Door.”
Oh, and here’s the best part if you like to sing along: The deluxe soundtrack contains with instrumental — a.k.a. karaoke — versions of all the songs.
Let go of the idea that there’s a new “Let It Go” on the Frozen 2 soundtrack
The centerpiece of the new soundtrack, however, is clearly meant to be “Into the Unknown.” It’s the showcase song for Broadway superstar Idina Menzel, who plays, Elsa. But is it the diva power number that fans of “Let It Go” have been wanting?
Eh. I’m leaning toward “no.”
Menzel earned her superstar rep for belting into the stratosphere on songs like Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” and Frozen’s “Let It Go,” and Frozen 2’s “Into the Unknown” seems to take off the musical gloves and let her fling high notes left and right as Elsa wrestles with restlessness and the call of a new adventure. She’s joined in the chorus by Norwegian pop artist Aurora, who voices an eerie incorporeal voice that’s been summoning Elsa out into the snowy wilderness.
Audio ads for the Frozen 2 soundtrack all feature Menzel’s version of the song, but if that version itself isn’t far enough over the top, the album also sports a cover from Panic! At the Disco, with frontman Brendon Urie repeatedly shrieking the central motif at the very top of his — and humanity’s — vocal range.
It’s all very showy and attention-grabbing. But that doesn’t make it the album’s best song.
As a musical theater nerd, I personally get annoyed whenever lyrics feel repetitive or time-biding — that is, when they seem to exist just to fill out a line, or when they say something generically relatable but not character-specific. The Frozen songwriting team usually avoids those traps. (Robert Lopez co-created Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, while he and Anderson-Lopez also did songs for Disney’s Coco and the Broadway version of Frozen.) But “Into the Unknown” has a few lyrics that fall flat, like “some look for trouble while others don’t” and “Ignore your whispers, which I wish would go away.” It’s fine, but compared to the tight, character-building lyrics of “Let It Go” — “a kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen” — it’s not nearly as satisfying.
The other detail that makes “Into the Unknown” less effective for me is that it’s overly packed with drama. If we assess how well the Frozen movies function within the constraints of the musical theater genre — where songs must drive plot and/or provide important character revelations — then “Into the Unknown,” like “Let It Go,” is a “want song.” It arrives early in the plot and reveals the heroine’s inner desire for something new, thus providing the motive that will propel the rest of the storyline. But “Into the Unknown” gives away too much, too early, both structurally and theatrically. High notes spell out drama, which is why “Let It Go” really only has one good one. Too many high notes too often, and the drama becomes less effective.
Think of “Into the Unknown” in terms of the function it serves in Frozen 2’s overall story. In fact, let’s consider in the context of a Broadway show that the first Frozen film has a lot in common with, Wicked.
In Wicked, the want song — the equivalent to Frozen 2’s “Into the Unknown” — is “The Wizard and I.” It’s followed by the big exciting number that closes the first act, “Defying Gravity.” And then later, there’s the “eleven o’clock number”: the late-in-the-second-act showstopper that marks as a crucial character turning point or climax. In Wicked, that’s “No Good Deed.” Each of these songs has one or two dramatic points, but they work because they aren’t all high-intensity all the time.
Perhaps because an animated movie like Frozen 2 doesn’t have as much room to steadily build drama through multiple songs, it seems to have overloaded on drama in one big early number with “Into the Unknown.” But that makes the song less exciting for me than it may be for others.
At first, my pick for best song went to Kristoff’s solo number, “Lost in the Woods” — but upon reflection, I think I was just glad Jonathan Groff finally got a chance to really sing in a Frozen movie. (He’s probably best known now for Manhunter, but before that, he found fame originating Broadway roles in Spring Awakening and Hamilton.) After a few listens, “Lost in the Woods” starts to feel too generic. Any character could sing these lyrics at any time — which is great if you want a song to be a pop hit, but disappointing as a character-builder for Kristoff. It doesn’t help that the out-of-place ’80s rock instrumentation gives the song an REO Speedwagon-y, Peter Cetera ”Glory of Love”-era vibe. Nothing against the Speedwagon, but it doesn’t quite mesh with Kristoff’s 19th-century Norwegian ice-harvester aesthetic.
Basically, I want good musical scores to give me specific, interesting character development through interesting songs that propel the plot — high notes optional. That’s why “I Seek the Truth,” Anna and Elsa’s duet from the outtakes section of the deluxe edition, is probably the Frozen 2 song I’d take with me to a desert island. It’s a beautiful duet with insights into both characters, and it’s one of the more complex songs in the score. (In general, the “outtake” songs are collectively the score’s strongest group of songs, and I wish the movie had had room for them!)
But if the outtakes don’t count, then after many listens, I’ve decided that the best song from the Frozen 2 score is “Show Yourself,” which Elsa sings when she apparently reaches the end of her quest and locates the source of the “disembodied voice” she’s been following. Menzel and Wood get a gorgeous duet in this number, with Wood appearing to attach a definable spirit to the incorporeal voice performed by Aurora in the earlier “Into the Unknown.”
“Show Yourself” also has plenty of suspense and excitement, but at this point in the story, that intensity level feels more earned than it does on “Into the Unknown,” and the duet is thrilling.
Of course, we don’t yet know which song works best in the movie itself. Perhaps, in context, Josh Gad’s songs as Olaf the Snowman will win the day! One thing is a given, however: This weekend, movie theaters will be full of Frozen fans wanting to experience these songs in their full glory. And I’ll be right there with them, heading into the mostly known experience of Frozen 2.