Watching Frozen II, it’s obvious that Disney has positioned one specific song as its follow-up to “Let It Go,” the kind of earworm meant to latch permanently in your brain, and more importantly, in the brains of the kids everywhere who will then demand to buy ice-queen merchandise. That’s “Into the Unknown,” the octave-plus leaping duet with a mysterious echoing voice that Elsa gets early on in the movie, which includes the requisite high E-flat Idina Menzel money note that we’ll all get the thrill of anticipating live at the Oscars, and has lyrics vague enough to seem empowering, mysterious, and worthy of a Panic! At the Disco cover that I worry will be co-opted by Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. Like the rest of Frozen II, “Into the Unknown” gets the job done, even if it’s not particularly inspired, but it’s definitely not the best song in the movie. That honor belongs, of course, to the random ’80s-rock banger the Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez decided to write for Jonathan Groff: “Lost in the Woods.” Finally, a power ballad for a heartsick friend of the reindeer we can all relate to.
First off, the existence of this song is an act of cosmic justice, given that Jonathan Groff only got to sing a few lines of “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” in the first movie, despite the fact that he has the voice of famous Broadway performer Jonathan Groff. There are all sorts of reasons why his character Kristoff wouldn’t sing much in a movie like Frozen — he’s supposed to be the stoic counterpart to Kristen Bell’s overenthusiastic Princess Anna — but the decision to give him half a song in the first movie was frankly still very rude. The second time around, Kristoff spends most of the running time trying to find ways to propose to Anna (and failing), but the filmmakers did figure out something for him to sing, a trade-off I will accept.
“Lost in the Woods” happens about a third of the way into the movie, when Kristoff and Anna get separated thanks to a misunderstanding. Anna subsequently follows Elsa on her latest self-destructive, ice-palace-related quest and Kristoff is left hanging out with some reindeer. He channels his sadness into “Lost in the Woods,” which is animated like a Meatloaf music video, complete with slow-motion shots of Kristoff turning to face the camera, shots where Anna appears and then dissolves into thin air, and one moment where Kristoff sings at a pine cone like it’s an old-fashioned microphone. Groff commits to the bit with the level of slightly overcooked belting it deserves, like it’s 2 a.m. and he’s showboating at karaoke. It’s really the best work he’s done in this genre since the time Glee had him do “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
I’m not sure if the references in “Lost in the Woods” will land with the children toward whom Frozen II is marketed, not that the many, many children in the audience at the showing I went to seemed to mind. Kids like cute reindeer, and at least want Kristoff and Anna to be friends (the radical anti-Establishment 5-year-old sitting next to me was very much not into the idea of them getting married). Adults can at least enjoy the winking humor of the thing, which comes with a little more subtlety than Olaf the talking snowman’s DreamWorks-style fourth-wall-breaking.
“Lost in the Woods” is the kind of song movie musicals like Frozen II could use a lot more of — not epic, pop-adjacent ballads, but clever character songs that entertain and also add color. You don’t know too much about who Kristoff is by the end of the first movie, but in the second, it somehow totally tracks when you realize he’s the kind of guy who’d let loose to a power ballad. Maybe it’s that he already has flowing locks of Scandinavian hockey hair, and there’s just a matching big emotional bro energy there. Frozen II, you really didn’t have to exist, but for this gift of big emotional bro energy, we thank you.