My granddaughters are crazy about the latest Disney movie, Frozen. On my recent visit, I got to watch the show, along with them, several times. Children do enjoy repetition. Frozen is, without a doubt, a Disney masterpiece with appealing characters, a heart wrenching storyline, breathtaking visuals, and award winning music. I defy you not to tear up when an act of self-sacrificing love saves the day – and not your typical Disney love moment when Prince Charming’s kiss awakens Sleeping Beauty. This is an act of love and sacrifice of one sister for another.
The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen. If you are familiar at all with the original, you will take the word loosely to mean hardly recognizable. But therein lies the genius of Disney – take an idea and spin it widely in a commercial vein that will find traction far and wide. There is the question of marketing to consider – dolls, books, figurines, costumes, games, DVD’s, and CD’s. The wise consumer knows the movie is just one long commercial for the merchandise. And yet, there is entertainment value and lessons to be learnt.
In the Disney version, Elsa (the oldest daughter of the King and Queen of Arendelle) has been born with a gift – she can create snow with the twirl of a hand, freeze the ground with the stamp of her foot.
Her younger sister, Anna, is delighted at Elsa’s ability and the two sisters run wild through the castle building snowmen and playing in wintery landscapes created by Elsa. Until one day when Anna is accidently struck in the head by a potent blast of Elsa’s freezing power and needs to be rushed to the wise troll king to be healed. He makes a foreshadowing statement – fortunately it was the young girl’s head. Heads are easily changed. If it had been her heart, that would be a different story. A frozen heart is most always fatal. The troll king erases all memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna’s mind. He warns Elsa that her gift will only grow stronger and, while it can possess great beauty, it also contains great danger.
As is often the case in Disney movies, parents are not especially helpful. Elsa’s parents choose to isolate the poor girl, keeping her from her sister and the world. She is taught to hide and control her secret – conceal it, don’t feel it. Elsa’s emotions turn to ice as she learns to suppress her power. Eventually, in another true Disney twist, the parents are suddenly knocked off. Elsa finds herself in charge of the kingdom. Coronation Day brings Elsa and Anna back together with icy fireworks as Anna announces she will marry Prince Hans after knowing him only one day. Isolation has had a negative effect on Anna as well – too ready to fall in love with the first person who shows her any attention at all. Elsa refuses her blessing on the marriage and ends up revealing her freezing power as she tries to fend off Anna’s objections. Elsa escapes to the mountains to create an ice palace where she can finally be herself – let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered her anyway. She rules over a frozen wasteland. Unbeknownst to Elsa, her freezing spree spread beyond her mountain palace – she has frozen all of Arendelle, as well. Anna goes after her sister, confident that she can convince Elsa to reverse her actions. A wild adventure ensues where good guys become bad guys, a comedic/philosopher snowman named Olaf comes to life and both Anna and Elsa must confront the women they have grown to be.
My enjoyment of the movie comes from watching how granddaughters, Emma and Brit react to the story. They have quickly learned the actions and lyrics for the most popular songs and with their Elsa and Anna dolls in hand, act out and sing their way through the movie. At five-and-half-years-old, Emma is able to unwind the more emotional aspects of the story. She tells me, “Grandma, this part makes me want to cry.” Yes indeed.
Two-and-a-half-year-old, Brit will run up to Emma with her Anna doll outstretched and ask, “Wanna build a snowman?” She sits on the floor and shakes her little head, singing, “Use to be best buddies, now we’re not. Wish you tell me why.” Emma holds up her Elsa doll and says, “Go away, Anna.” Brit slumps and turns, saying in a mournful voice, “Okay, bye.” If you haven’t seen the movie, pop over and watch the first minute of this You-Tube video. You’ll understand exactly what I’m describing.
Emma knows all Elsa’s words and actions for the wildly popular hit tune, Let it Go. As I watch her performance, I am struck by wonder at the facial expressions and body movements. Emma, a savvy, computer-literate, little girl, pulls up You-Tubes of each song from the movie as well as a host of videos of other kids performing the numbers – some of these are quite elaborate with soundtracks, voice overs and costumes. There is more than enough material available at the click of a mouse to fuel her desire to imitate.
Why should adults watch Disney movies with kids? We get to tease out what lies below the surface – under the ice, so to speak. In the final moments of the movie, it’s easy to miss the fact that Anna turned away from what she thinks will save her (true love’s first kiss from Sven) to save her sister from the sword of good guy turned bad, Hans. The act of love is Anna’s and that is what unfreezes her heart. It wasn’t anything anyone else could do for her. And through Anna’s actions, Elsa learns the secret of her icy gift. As the troll king said, fear was her enemy. Gifts of great power are controlled only through love, never fear.
I am left thinking, what a mixed bag children’s entertainment is these days. There are valuable messages in Frozen that a wise adult can pull out and emphasize. Who wouldn’t want to play on the theme of the love of one sister for another when dealing with two sisters? And love healing all – wonderful stuff. I wasn’t above making a big deal over the fact that Anna didn’t need true love’s first kiss to get the job done.
So, are Disney movies turning a feminist page? I love this You-Tube Emma showed me of Elsa leading the other Disney Princesses in the song, I Don’t Need a Man. But, lest we toot a congratulatory horn too loud here, all the Disney Princesses are still an animated version of female beauty impossible to achieve, and though Elsa may have escaped the need for a guy, Anna is obviously headed for romance with Sven. But you do get the idea she will be calling the shots. After all, she is a Princess and he is the ice block supplier to the kingdom. Quite the disparity in social position.
If you have a young daughter or son, granddaughter or grandson, niece or nephew, sit down and watch Frozen with them. You won’t regret the time spent ferreting out the teachable moments and you’ll probably find yourself breathless, tears in your eyes, waiting for a miracle – just like the child beside you.
(All animated pictures courtesy of Disney promotional material on Google images)