January 28, 2014

Disney Shatters My Frozen Expectations.

I returned home from a morning away to a daughter who was very giddy.

She’d been preparing a performance for me and was stuttering with excitement, tripped twice on her way down the hall. I followed her into our bedroom, as instructed, and sat down on a stool she and Jesse set up for me. The lights were shut off, the curtains drawn.

She said to Jesse, “Show her the commercial to get her ready.”

“Coming right up,” he said and pulled up the following on his I-pad:

The trailer says:

Who will save the day? The Ice Guy? The Nice Guy? The Snow Man? Or No Man?

How did I react in that moment? Did I whoop? Give a touchdown yee-ha? Did I shout out an amen? I don’t quite remember, but all those reactions were plausible. We saw the movie Frozen over the holidays—Opal’s first movie in a theater—and I was indeed impressed with the fact that Disney had actually stepped it up.

(Reminds me of the handsome oaf in high school who got voted “best car.” Then, at your 15th reunion, he announces that he’s actually been doing great work within the national circuit of animal rescue societies. Not much is expected, but it’s a nice surprise.)

Jesse then pulled up the song “Let It Go” on Youtube from the movie and held it up, on pause, for Opal like a telepromptor. She gave him a thumbs up. He returned the gesture and pushed play.


What ensued in the next three-and-a-half minutes would be impossible to register within the limited confines of language. (No offense, language. You know I love you. But sometimes, sometimes, it is even out of your capable reach.)

Opal danced and sang on our bed, as if this was her one shot at Broadway. She gave it her all, attempting to mirror Queen Elsa in her movements and words.

This means so much to her,  Jesse mouthed to me.

When the queen took off her cape, Opal threw off her sweater.  (Unfortunately, the string got caught in the first run, thus gripping her in an unexpected wave of frustration and tears.) When the queen ran, Opal ran. When she stomped, Opal stomped. When she took off her tiara and let her hair down, by golly, Opal whipped off her tiara and nearly took out the lamp with the velocity of her pitch. And, at the end, when the door closed behind a newly self-possessed Queen, Opal clapped her hands with a convicted completion and dipped into a full-body bow.

I shot up from my stool in a frenzy of claps and hollers, utterly unable to control my emotions. I don’t know what came over me. I was crying, wiping, and shining proud-mother glances at Jesse between rigorous claps. I lost my god-forsaken mind. And I totally understood—for a flicker of a second though this is something I would never do—why mothers would put their children up on stage at such a young age.

The enormousness of her genuine, young heart is nearly impossible to bare. It eclipses all else and is nothing less than a religious experience.

I was able to film her “practicing her performance” a bit later. She had big visions of bringing it to preschool and “calling all the students’ names to have them join in.” She liked the idea of me filming it on the condition that it was for the purposes of instructing her fellow students of the specific choreography.

(If you could avoid letting her know about this post, I’d be much obliged.)

Note how my four-year-old daughter says, “Be the good girl you always have to be” with the conviction of a teenager who’s plight has never been honored. Note the meticulously timed sweater-removal and tiara-toss. Note the undeniable look of satisfaction on her face at the dramatic conclusion. (Jesse’s iPad is on the chair, playing the video version of the song. Hence, her continuous need to check back with that spot for guidance before moving on to her next move.)

Here’s the thing, and I’ll just come out and say it: that song—along with the accompanying video—totally moves me, too. It takes the upmost restraint not to belt out the lyrics along side Opal. The part: Let it go, let it go, I’m one with the wind and sky, where the queen runs up the stairs as she’s creating them (metaphor, anyone?) gets me every time.

Next thing I know, I am punching the air and mouthing along, flinging my body and whipping my hair.

What could Opal be feeling as she sings these words? At eight-years-old like her cousin, I can understand. At 15, no doubt. But to resonate with these lyrics at four? Wonders never cease.

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!

Here I stand, in the light of day.

Let the storm rage on!

The cold never bothered me anyway.

Hell yea, Disney.

So, I’ll take a few steps back here—it’s no secret that I’ve had some issues with Disney in the past.

Namely, I was thoroughly—and, ahem, verbally—unimpressed with Disney’s classic female characters and what they had to offer. In the article, Disney Princesses are Sh*tty Storytellers, I mentioned how “I’d like to throw them all in a beat-up station wagon, drive them into the middle of back-country Appalachia and tell them I’ll pick them up in a week.” I was dying for some depth and creativity in the Disney Princess stories I had encountered, and was finding very little of both.

Then, I met Merida from the movie Brave. Something about the merger of Disney and Pixar, and the powerful herione that was born from that union, gave me hope for the future of Disney films, and for my princess-loving daughter.

And then came Frozen.

My interpretation of the film is as follows:

Queen Elsa of Arendelle is the older sister of Princess Anna and was next in line for Arendelle’s throne, until her powers over ice and snow led her to become the famous Snow Queen, ruler of winter. She is terrified of her ability to turn whatever she touches to ice, and the people of Arendelle judge her harshly. She tries to hide away, afraid of hurting anyone—especially her sister, Anna—with her unruly forces. And she is able to do just that until the day of her coronation, when she has no choice but to emerge from behind the walls of her castle. She is incapable of denying who she is any longer, and the outcome is that she freezes the entire town.

The scene we see in the video of the song “Let it Go,” and the one that resonates so deeply with Opal, is where Elsa begins to accept herself for who she is. She sees that the qualities she’s been spending so much time locking away are what set her apart, carve her into the universe as uniquely Elsa.

During the song, we see her begin to actually have some fun with her powers. And we see a bit of a self-reliant edge to her at the end. She will no longer be a victim of fearing what could happen if she exposed her true self. The worst already happened, and she survived.

Who on this fat, green earth cannot relate to that?  What artist does not fear—or, at the very least, feel humbled by—the lightening bolt of inspiration that courses through them? What writer doesn’t question the influence of her own words?

This is one of those anthems of self-worth that can appropriately be bellowed by preschoolers, teenagers and middle-aged women alike. We all bring our own powers to let go of, to surrender. We all let our hair down in some wild way.

So, when I see my daughter pretending to fly back and forth through the living room, stripping off her tiara without breaking her stride, while bellowing “Let it go, let it go!” I can’t help but to—at least partially—forget what I was so mad at Disney about in the first place.

And did I mention that Elsa and her sister, Anna, were the ones to unite forces and save the day? Hell yes. As it said in the trailer, no man saved the day.

(Granted, it would have been preferred for Elsa and Anna be a bit more imperfect on the outside, to more accurately parallel their beautifully flawed insides, but hey. Something for Disney to work for in the next feature film.)

Growth is really all we can ask for, right?


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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