The Frozen Effect

So what’s so special about this movie (besides the fact that it the highest grossing animated film of all time beating out Toy Story 3, and he 5th highest film period- and it’s still playing in some theaters)?

Take that, Woody.

Take that, Woody.

It’s because this movie, with very small exception (those blasted trolls) is perfect.  As Beauty and the Beast did for me back in the 90s, so Frozen has done for a new generation of children – it’s blasted us out of the park.  The stunning animation, the incredible songs (“Let it Go” took Best Song in the Oscars), the characters, and the story – it was amazing.  It’s a bit slow in the beginning, but once you hit that big musical Oscar winning number, you’re taken in.  Okay, well, I was, as were my daughters, and obviously a whole lot of other people.

And that’s the answer – this was a movie that struck not just children, but adults as well.  Whereas little children saw pretty princesses, older kids and adults saw their lives.  You can’t help but identify with the sisters Elsa and Anna – both individually and in their relationship to each other.

And they're just so gosh darn cute.

And they’re just so gosh darn cute.

A brief synopsis – though this post is anything but brief – bear with me.  Elsa has those magical ice powers, but she hurts her sister while playing with her powers, so the parents get a troll to heal her and then completely disregard everything he warns them about.  They decide the best way to help the girl is to lock her up in her room and try to get her to suck up her feelings (tied to her enormous creative power) so she doesn’t freeze the place.  Oh, and little sister Anna has her memory wiped, so has no idea why her sister has shut her completely out.

Now take away the fantasy part of it, and see if that doesn’t sound familiar in any way.   I see Frozen in many ways as a metaphor for mental illness.  Elsa’s parents tell her to suck up her feelings.  They keep her isolated from others, for fear of her endangering them, and, I suspect, fear of embarrassment.  And little sister is left outside the door, repeatedly knocking, begging, pleading for Elsa to let her in.  “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”  is a song that can get very irritating, but it’s important.  Especially the last line, where you see both sisters, isolated from one another, slink down in despair on either side of the door.

“Do you want to build a snowman?  It doesn’t have to be a snowman.”

elsa anna

Anna – for goodness sakes, NO I DON’T.

After the deaths of the rather controlling parents, Elsa is forced to come out to lead her people.  Anna is thrilled to have her back, but she annoys the heck out of Elsa until finally she can no longer keep her feelings inside.  She unleashes them on the entire kingdom, starting an eternal winter.  Cursed as a witch, she is chased away from the castle, but once she’s away, she realizes suddenly that now she is free.  Free to be who she is.  And her song “Let it Go” resonates with me like no other song does, no matter how many times it is played.

So I’ll give you the song, along with my commentary.

“Let it Go”

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the queen.

People with mental illness are isolated.  From friends, from coworkers, from family, even from others with their illness.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!

What happens on the outside (her enormous outburst) reflects what she has been keeping inside – a swirling storm of emotion.  You can try to keep it in, but it won’t stay in forever.  It didn’t for me.  And heaven knows I tried.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be

elsa good girl

My parents never DID get me that Xbox.

Oh wow, this is a big one for me.  Be the good girl, Alice, always be the good girl.  Growing up with a brother who had enormous outbursts due to his manic depression, I felt I had to be the good one for my parents to make up for it.  I tried to do whatever I was told, and when I deviated, well, I heard about it.  In school I figured out early that to cry, or show emotion, could invite ridicule.  My smile was made fun of – so I tried not to smile around these people.  I didn’t even look up.  For a long time.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

They tell you never to mention mental illness – especially if you ever want a job or to be taken seriously.  But, eventually, people will find out.  Even if you think you’re hiding it so well, you aren’t.  People with any kind of sensitivity will see through the mask.  I know my kids did.  And when I finally admitted to it, and told others what was going on – there was a definite lift I felt.  No one thus far has ridiculed me.  If anything, they’ve in some way understood.  So if you have a total meltdown at a dinner party, don’t worry too much.

Try not to freeze the entire country, though.

Try not to freeze the entire country, though.

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!

A typical first reaction to spilling the beans about your illness – okay, this is me.  Deal with it.  I don’t care what you say.  I’m running away, don’t follow.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

Distance does change the scope of the problem.  Staying at a mental hospital showed me I was far from the only one that was sick, and I was by far not the sickest.  One of my biggest fears was going to a place like that.  Well I did it, twice, so what can’t I do?  What fear can’t I conquer?

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

It'd really suck if she slipped right here . . .

It’d really suck if she slipped right here . . .

Often, when you shut up your feelings, you shut up your creativity, your potential.  What could you do if you weren’t hiding in your bedroom?  You’re an adult now.  There aren’t any real rules (except the obvious ones like paying your taxes and going to work so you get paid).  Other than that, if you want to buy dolls or ponies, buy them.  If you want to make a go at Broadway, try it.  No more rules.

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry!

Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on!

The song is picking up now – it’s gone from sad, to more hopeful, to angrily determined.  Just TRY and stop me now.

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past!

Here is the point in the song where the animation just leaves you breathless.  Elsa raises her arms and builds a castle.  That’s right.  She builds an entire freaking castle out of ice.  All that, ALL THAT CREATIVITY, locked away inside for so long.  How sad is that?  But how many of us do that?  And for how long?

Think how much her parents could have saved on architects by now.

Think how much her parents could have saved on architects by now.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!

You don’t have to be perfect anymore, Alice.  No one is.  You’re okay just as you are.  Your Things, after all, told you so all along.

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!

So she’s out in the open now (well sort of, she’s still not back home), but at least she’s able to be herself in this place she’s built with creativity denied to her for most of her life.  Later, when Anna comes to ask for help with the whole eternal winter thing, the song of both sisters is reprised in a beautiful duet.  Anna insisting she can help her, Elsa insisting she has no idea what she’s talking about, and ending with Elsa once more lashing out, freezing her sister’s heart.  Only true love can rescue Anna now.

And it does.  But not from a prince.  Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa, and Elsa heals her with her love.  Sisterly love.  So yes, this is an awesome movie.  I’ve told you a lot, but not nearly all of it.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please do, especially if you have a sister or are the mother of sisters.  You won’t regret it.

Aw.  If they watch it, maybe your daughters will quit fighting for at least five seconds.

Aw. If they watch it, maybe your daughters will quit fighting for at least five seconds.

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15 responses

  1. I haven’t seen Frozen yet Alice but using it as a metaphor for mental illness is a fascinating observation. From your description, it seems like a natural fit. Disney is very good at building shows around big concepts – makes them very real. From Snow White to Beauty and the Beast and everything in between – there is always a depth there that provides a solid foundation for the show. Well written Alice and an excellent analysis.

    Oh, as an aside Alice , I recently wrote a couple of guest posts and I’d be delighted if you can find the time to drop by for a read: one is at Cordelia’s Mom http://cordeliasmomstill.com/2014/11/06/serendipity-guest-post-by-paul-curran/ and the other at Mindful Digressions http://mindfuldigressions.com/2014/11/06/of-breasts-and-bananas/?c=20767 Thanks so much Alice.

  2. Awesome interpretation of the movie! We watch it every day it seems, but I never took it from this point of view. I will next time I watched it! Interestingly, a few months back (maybe in May), I also compared the lyrics of this song to something in my life. Great bloggers blog alike? 😉

    1. I think so, yes! I identified with this song from the first moment too. As soon as I saw the movie, we went and got the soundtrack.

  3. Noxema Queen's Mom! | Reply

    This is exceptionally well written. It is by far my favorite of your blog entries. I don’t blog so I can’t give you a sticker, but I think a super big gold foil star is in order. Also maybe Apple cider next time I am in town….

    1. Thanks! It took me a second to remember who you were (duh-oh). You are a big gold foil star yourself just listening to me.

  4. Interesting interpretation. My daughter loves the movie, but I think that’s just because she’s 4, and 4 year old girls are programmed to worship Disney.

    And I think she wants ice powers of her own.

    1. Yes, Disney princesses were made for little girls. It’s interesting to note that the line hasn’t actually been around that long – it just seems that way. One daughter shares a name with one, and we could find nothing with this character on it back when she was born. Now there is stuff EVERYWHERE. They certainly know how to market.

  5. Frozen was the best Disney musical ever. I’m not sick of it yet.

    1. Definitely one of the best. I still have a special place for Mulan, though.

      1. So do I, but mostly for that one song.

        1. Let’s get down to biz-ness. To defeat . . . THE HUNS!

  6. Hmmn… I think if I get a working copy of the DVD of this from my sister, I’m going to have to watch it by myself, given that just reading your commentary on the song has had me in tears. However, today is very definitely Not A Good Day, so maybe it’s just that.

    And The Things are right. You’re bloody brilliant.

    1. It’s very sweet, but also funny. The sister Anna is pretty good comedy relief, I think more than the snowman. Elsa wears these gloves to try to hold back her frozen power and Anna says “I just thought she had a thing against dirt.” ha.

      1. Brilliant. And very cheeky kid sister ish.

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