When I announced last week we were going to Knoxville to take in Disney’s “Frozen 2” in 4DX Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18, the 4-year-old who has dressed as Elsa for Halloween and wanders the house with a toy microphone belting “Into the Unknown” squealed with delight. My 8-year-old son, however, pretended to be indifferent because his little clique at school Frozen is about girls and for girls and no self-respecting boy can admit to liking it.
It was to be our family’s first foray into the 4DX experience – which adds sensory stimuli to a 3D movie like blasts of wind and mist, flashing lights and comfortable chairs that pitch and yaw with the characters frenetic movements to help make you feel part of the action.
The technology behind 4DX cinema isn’t exactly new. Dollywood’s old “Thunder Road” ride is forefather of the 4DX experience and “Star Tours” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers galactic thrills in a similar vein. Still, I was a bit apprehensive. My only experiences were in short bursts, a five-minute thrill ride. How would the experience be over the length of a feature film?
The answer? Fine. Mostly fine.
I’m not an advocate for 3D in regular movies, but I think it can add quite a bit to an animated film. In this area, “Frozen 2” doesn’t disappoint. It is a beautiful film and the animation style lends itself to the depth created in 3D. The falling snow, the enchanted forests and Elsa blasting magic through the air all manifest themselves richly in the 3D version of the film.
In fact, in some ways, I think “Frozen 2” is probably the perfect film for this type of theater experience. The elements themselves are characters and so the perfectly time puffs of air, the mists and the flashes of lightning really do work to create an immersive experience.
In the trailer, Elsa battles a dark, rumbling sea, trying to use her ice powers to fight her way across the massive waves. It’s a tense scene in the film and you’re drawn in all the more by the 4DX experience.
The part that took some adjustment, at least for me, was the seat itself. This is a full on ride. As the action ramps up, the seat jolts and jars and jumps with the action on the screen. I can be sensitive to motion sickness and had to close my eyes a couple of times just to calm everything down. For personal preference, I would have dialed it back by half in the biggest action set pieces.
Where I enjoyed the chair more was in the more subtle movements, gently adjusting during the quieter agonies – all set to beautiful song - of the middle portion as our heroes are divided and face adversity. “Frozen 2” – like the previous “Frozen” – is blessed with otherworldly vocal talent. As the voices crest and fall, the seat moves quietly, softly in concert as if the audience is participating in some small way.
The final arbiter, of course, is the kids and they loved it – after a bit. The boy was jolted in his chair during the preview and held tight for the first 15 minutes until he got his sea legs. The 4-year-old, however, was all in from the start.
My 14-year-old was the biggest fan and as soon as the movie was over was making plans to see the next Star Wars movie in 4DX, proving Mr. Scorsese correct, I suppose.
As for the movie itself? It really is a wonder. As I said, it is visually stunning, just lush animation. The story is a worthy successor to the first and some of the set pieces – particularly Elsa battling the sea itself and what happens after are breathtaking.
Still, it’s a children’s movie and if you come ready to pick nits, I’m sure you can find them.
As a father who is doomed to watch this movie over and over and over once it hits the streaming services, I can tell you there are far worse options to endure.
Ultimately the thing I’ve been thinking about since we watched the movie is the talent – built over years now – that went into getting me to care about an animated snowman and his friends. I don’t want to spoil anything but at some point we all need to have a conversation about the vocal talents of Josh Gad and Kristen Bell. It’s amazing how they and the massive team that came together to create this movie - could make something so deeply affecting and have at its center a strangely-designed snowman.
Do I want to build a snowman? No, but it turns out my kids and I will happily watch one while bouncing around in a nice warm theater getting puffs of air blasted into our faces.
Or as the boy who can’t publicly admit he likes something like “Frozen” said, “That was actually pretty good.”