What we can learn from Disney's Elsa in Frozen 2
Taking our kids to see Frozen 2 on the weekend had been a hotly (pun intended) anticipated event in our household. The first film touched us all, as it has millions of fans around the world.
There is always a concern that a sequel will be a disappointing wash-out that fails to capture the hearts, imaginations and attention of the audience. Thankfully, Frozen 2 has been worth the wait since the original was released in 2014, with Disney getting it right to keep it on ice until now.
As we drove home, my partner declared he thought it was better than the first Frozen. Which got me thinking about what exactly was different in this latest instalment of the Disney blockbuster.
I’ve never been one to enjoy a film and simply leave it at that. I tend to think about a powerful movie for days afterwards. My son, now 13, surprised me a couple of years ago when we were driving home from a movie and he said, “That’s what I love about seeing a movie with you mum – you always talk over the meaning”. Now firmly a teenager of the monosyllabic vocabulary squad, even he was able to muster the words to express how much he liked Frozen 2.
As for me, it seems that there is stronger characterisation this time around – affable snowman Olaf draws genuine belly laughs from the audience members (both big and small); we have more sympathy and understanding of Queen Elsa knowing the depth of her magical powers; and we can’t help but love loyal and down-to-earth Princess Anna. We are already familiar with their personality traits.
But what makes the Disney writers pure geniuses, in my opinion, is their ability to tap into what’s happening in the real world and create a storyline that is almost a fantastical parallel narrative of the greater problems the world faces in 2019. Through fictional storytelling, the actions of the characters offer us a positive way forward – for living both our individual and collective lives with more awakening.
Here’s my key take-out of the themes from Frozen 2 that I wish we could only transpose in greater volume to our real world and its leaders. I can’t help but think that, if even on a subliminal level, the children watching the film in 2019 who will be the leaders of tomorrow, absorb the messages the film imparts, then our own ‘Arendelle’ will be a far better place.
Queen Elsa has learned to tune in to her powers and listen more closely to her intuition. There’s no suggestion this time around that she’s crazy or that sorcery rules the palace. She listens to her gut and heeds the signs she receives – and she’s developed the confidence to boldly articulate that to those around her instead of fleeing in fear.
Rather than focus on the spoils of palace life, Frozen 2 takes us even more into the outside world and environment than the original Frozen. Almost the entire film is set outside of the kingdom, as the team go on another adventure to save Arendelle. There’s a very deliberate focus on the natural beauty of an enchanted forest, its flora and fauna and the steps they must take to protect it. I can’t help but draw on the parallels of our time being a watershed moment in history in having to act and take dramatic steps to protect our planet from the devastation of climate change.
UNITY AND UNDERSTANDING
Without wanting to give too much away, the plot eventually reveals that in the past there was a wrong that occurred which now needs fixing. At one point in time, the leaders of the kingdom acted in a colonialist manner instead of a collaborative manner towards the tribal people of the land, which in turn has led to years of darkness and sadness. When the truth is revealed, the sisters see it straight away and know that the only way forward is to literally do “the next right thing”. There’s a touching scene where the tribal people of the enchanted forest sing their native song with pride for the residents of Arendelle, including its leaders, who want nothing more than to work in harmony with these new people they meet and have been cut off from. They are drawn together and focused on the ties that connect them, rather than their differences.
The lead male character Kristoff breaks down the male archetype of the swashbuckling, all-knowing and super-confident man that my generation watched in movies as children. Here, with this slightly goofy, awkward but sweet, reindeer-whisperer, Disney depicts a real man – with all his insecurities, vulnerability but also his kindness, strength and dependability in a crisis. Through his friendship with reindeer Sven, we see his willingness to let down his guard and admit he feels “lost in the woods”. When the woman he loves, Anna, follows her sister to head into the ‘unknown’ because she must put her family and kingdom first, he’s understandably left feeling lonely and vulnerable. Yet, he’s right there, on reindeer-back to scoop her up out of danger when the time comes, and the first thing to come out of his mouth is not an ego-driven statement of abandonment by his lady. He simply says, “I’m here, what do you need”? Kristoff is the male, modern Disney embodiment of kindness being the new cool.
One of the most endearing qualities of Frozen that resonated with audiences was its shift in the Disney narrative. In Frozen, the future of Arendelle in the end came down to two sisters who had the courage, and love, to rise above the usurpers and protect all they held dear. Along the way, they discovered both themselves and the strength of their bond. That very theme continues in Frozen 2 and once again, the feisty duo are the heroines of the film. We learn that the two women can attribute a great deal of their courageous spirit to their late mother who had an incredible story of her own. There were literally claps in the audience when Elsa uses her powers yet again to defend the kingdom. I choose to believe that a little bit of that magic slips into the consciousness of all the little girls sitting in that audience in their blue Elsa costumes.
COURAGE AND RESILIENCE
As gutsy as the ladies are, that doesn’t mean they’re never scared, afraid or question their choices. When inevitably the hard times fall and the going gets tough, we see the very real human emotion of fear and doubt creep in, the questioning of their strength and whether they have the courage to continue. In one scene, Anna is alone and in total despair. She breaks into song to remind us that when all seems lost and overwhelming, you can find the courage to go on.
“I won’t look too far ahead, it’s too much for me to take but break it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice is one that I can make. So, I’ll walk through this night, stumbling blindly toward the light – and do the next right thing.”
It might seem like just another Disney ditty, but we can never know when these lyrics might just creep into the minds of one vulnerable young person, or even adult, in a moment of deep darkness. We can’t all be super-heroes and have magical powers, but we can fight to pick ourselves up, take the next step and the next breath – no matter how hard the journey ahead appears.
LISTENING TO THE TROLLS
The irony of the world ‘trolls’ is not lost on me here. In folklore, a ‘troll’ was an odd-looking creature, either in giant or dwarf form – and so, that’s how the Frozen trolls appear – as moss-covered rock beings. In the internet age, a troll is also the name for trouble-making keyboard warriors who deliberately post inflammatory or offensive remarks online to stir a reaction. In Frozen 2, once again the wisdom of the chief rock troll is sought. To me, they represent the indigenous and native peoples of our lands who hold in their traditions and history the ancient secrets and wisdom of how to work together to preserve our lands. How might our real world be a very different place if individuals and leaders would only listen more to the right ‘trolls’ – here, seen as the custodians of the land – rather than be distracted by the unproductive noise that comes from the other type of ‘troll’?
At first the people and the spirits of the enchanted forest who Elsa encounters are mistrusting and sceptical. But, guided by her instincts and acting with a desire for peace, Elsa is able to calm the fire within and befriend every perceived ‘enemy’ she comes into contact with. When the truth is revealed, the sisters instinctively know what to do. They won’t stand for the injustice that has taken place, choosing not the easy path but the path that’s right. They literally break down barriers and resistance with their compassion.
EGO – LET IT GO
At the end, Elsa makes a decision that is for the betterment of the kingdom and in the best interests of the people of Arendelle and those whom she loves. It’s also the right choice for her. Isn’t this the type of leader the world craves right now – one whose genuine desire to serve the people and prioritise humanity is a cause far more noble than any self-serving power-trip?
The very essence of Frozen 2 is indeed, love. There’s the love between friends – Anna and Olaf; Kristoff and Sven; there’s the love between siblings; there’s romantic love between Anna and Kristoff; there’s the love of their parents, their heritage and their home; the love of land and mother nature – our earthy world.
It’s been said that Frozen was the first Disney film to depict issues around mental health. In Frozen 2, I believe that theme continues, but what we see emerge is an Elsa with more self-love. Although she remains tormented at times and is unsure what the affects her calling into the unknown will have on those she loves, she ultimately has stepped more into her own power. She’s let the light in and has learned to love and trust her own ice-queen quirkiness and not hide who she is anymore, knowing how to use it for the good of serving those around her.
It’s enough to melt even the most frozen of hearts.