The best stories, the best art, change with us. I’m recently replaying the Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the first time in nearly fifteen years. The weight of the story and its characters were lost on 20-year-old Jed, but 34-year-old me finds it deeply affecting. The mood and weight of it speaks to me on a very adult level. Not adult as in mature, but adult as in how I’ve grown from being a teenager. Looking back, when I first played the game in college, I was a different person with difference experiences. Life was, for the most part, new to me. It wasn’t as real. Now, however, I have the telltale lines of age on my face and the stories to go with each one. It’s the mark of good art to touch a person’s soul in ways they didn’t expect at just the right moment and stick with them their entire life. Great stories help and heal as well as entertain. A spoonful of sugar and all that. Majora’s Mask, Catcher In The Rye, and The Beach Boys Pet Sounds have been this for me and, now, I can safely add Frozen to that list.
I will admit up front that Frozen didn’t initially capture my attention. I was, sadly, not present for “Frozember”. I knew very little about it at the time and dismissed it as something that wasn’t for me. I thought (wrongly) that it was damsel-in-distressy and passed it over for being geared toward young girls. I missed out and went about my way.
By the time I got around to watching it shortly after it was released on BluRay, the hype-train had propelled itself into pop culture with the force of a thousand Beauty and the Beasts. I’d heard from some that it was ok while others say it was the best Disney movie ever made. My age has granted me a fair amount of cynicism and I went in with expectations in check. It couldn’t be as fresh and fun as Aladdin; how could it? It would never touch my favorite Disney movie Pinocchio; nothing would. I had seen Meet The Robinsons and Winnie The Pooh and enjoyed them for the fun and breezy stories they told. I was prepared for something cute, light, and ultimately, another decent Disney movie. What I wasn’t prepared for was something that spoke to a very real issue in my life. That March afternoon, alone on the couch, I felt a connection to a cartoon character that still sticks with me months later.
The best way to talk about my relationship with this movie is to start at the end and work backwards. Spoilers for my life follow.
In November I was diagnosed with, among other things, severe depression. It’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life, and I only just now got to the bottom of why my Check Engine light was on. The huge ups and the dangerous downs were a matter of course for my life and they were taking their toll. I’m going to get married in a less than a year and I realized I needed to be alive for the wedding. I’m not living my life solely for myself and I had to make drastic changes.
Back to that March evening on the couch. Watching the film, I was taken by the depictions of the two leads, Anna and Elsa. They weren’t Princesses merely there to be married off or put in harms way only to be saved by a man. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see two women that are such good models for young girls. Six minutes into the film and I felt it was living up to the hype. Songs weren’t half bad either.
Basically at this point, it was the opposite of Up for me. The first ten minutes of Up were the most heart-wrenchingly real moments in recent Disney animation, and the rest of the film played as something of an afterthought. Great movie, but it’s overshadowed by its powerful prologue. The beginning of Frozen played as a sweet tale of sisterly fun that pulls you into a believable relationship and instantly tears those bonds away.
This candy-colored cartoon, seemingly about a singing snowman, Trojan-horsed it’s way into my life and introduced me to a kindred spirit. She was scared. Her pain was getting stronger. She kept the ones she loved at arms length to avoid hurting them. Elsa and I were going through the same thing. Being trapped in your own mind and body, constantly anxious and full of dread or bursting with unchecked elation. It’s a unique pain many don’t understand in this day and age. “Just cheer up. Everyone has a bad day.” We fake it for ourselves as well as them, but the front can only be held for so long. As humans we’re only so strong.
I still remember the chills I got when I heard the words for the first time:
“Conceal it. Don’t feel it. Don’t let it show.”
It was how I was living my life for years. I understood how she lived and felt the struggle every day. People telling you to calm down. They had no idea. Telling you to control it. It was a fallacy. There was absolutely no control to this thing. How could anyone know? Hearing these truths out loud in of all places, a Disney movie, struck me like a bolt. The feelings of isolation and fear. Fear that whatever cold darkness tangled up inside would hurt the friends trying to help. Keeping yourself apart from a world that treats you like a monster. Removing yourself from people before they pushed you away. I had no more control over my emotions than I would over a Scandinavian blizzard or a biblical rain of frogs.
It’s exhausting to live in close proximity with someone who is depressed. It’s stressful sometimes being our friend. Anna was at her wits end. She was confused and didn’t understand. Was it something she did? Could she have done anything differently? She begged to be let in. It’s not easy being on the outside but Elsa felt that letting anyone in would only lead to disaster. The only way to feel safe is to put up an impenetrable wall, or in this case, a flash blizzard covering the land in fresh blankness. It’s in this emptiness that Elsa created her own world where she would rule. No one to get hurt by and nobody to put in danger.
Upon hearing “Let It Go” for the first time, I understood something about myself. I knew millions of people had listened to it in their car on the way to work or played it for their kids for the billionth time. At that moment, however, it felt written for me. It perfectly encapsulated what I wanted and needed: to be comfortable in my isolation. Months later it’s taken on a different, more responsible flavor, that of having the presence of mind to be safe in my own wreck of a brain. It’s a song that can be a rallying cry for the depressed and the lonely to be on their own and, at the time, it was empowering for me to be alone and free. It’s since become a mantra for me, not to keep people out but to let my own emotions have breathing room. It took a single Disney song to tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid of myself.
Elsa is so focused on herself that she pushes Anna away and, in doing so, ends up doing what she always feared. Anna is mortally hurt and Elsa has only herself to blame. What people see is someone who is dangerous and needs to be put away. They don’t see the person inside who hurts, who is scared. When confronted with something they don’t understand, they react with fear and mistrust. It’s easier that way. Apathy is their solution and, unfortunately, one many choose when faced with mental illness. Reacting violently is akin to merely turning your back or passing misguided judgement. What a person needs, at that precise moment, is someone to listen. Anna loves Elsa; there is no doubt. She put her sisters needs above her own and quite literally battled the elements in order to bring her back safely. What was missing was something I’ve found to be absolutely vital in the past year and that is someone just asking me what was on my mind. What was happening in my life. What about me felt wrong and misaligned. Thinking you can fix mental illness by talking at it only puts a bandage on the laceration. A kind ear makes the world of difference and it was what personally saved me.
Elsa fell into the trap that I’ve been in for nearly my entire life. We took what our emotions and brain told us as gospel. We couldn’t allow another’s perspective. Years of being told what should happen and what could happen did nothing. Asking for my voice in the fog was what helped turn the corner. Elsa should have sung “Let It Go” not to herself, but to her sister. Making the people who loved me understand what I’m going through is absolutely the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. In the end my fears were unfounded: they loved me and they understood. Of course they did and why shouldn’t they? It took Anna sacrificing herself to put Elsa’s true self into perspective. True love isn’t a kiss or a fairy tale wedding. It’s putting yourself on the line to be there for a person who means everything to you. Not just putting the needs of another before your own but to allow the wall of snow to melt and allow a loved one in. It’s what saved Elsa, Anna, Jed, and millions of others.
The absolute best part of the film is that Elsa is never “cured” of her powers. Not only does she live with them but the kingdom around her accepts her differences and no longer fears her. They have an open mind and understand. It’s truly a story of being happy with who you are and letting ourselves be helped by the people who care most. It’s a refreshing story and a mature one at that. Disney has always had that facet in their films, the mature thread that can speak to anyone of any age. A spoonful of sugar and all that. Watching the film now while writing this is a different experience. At first I saw the world through Elsa’s eyes and felt empowered and free. Now, however, I’m next to Anna looking in. It’s an unenviable position to be in to be sure. To slam your fists against the wall put up by the most important person in your life is painful, heartbreaking, and tiring. I admire so much that Anna never gave up and that’s the difference in anyone’s life who is going through a personal hardship. Someone who is your guide through life when you’re not aware of the pain you’re causing to others and to your own self. Anna never lost hope in Elsa and, to me, that’s as dramatic a battle as the dragon in Sleeping Beauty. The internal battles are very real and only too common. It’s so great that Disney has captured it in such a beautiful, mature and responsible way. Leave it to a company that has touched so many hearts and lives with a talking mouse and duck to tell the most human stories.
Is my experiences subjective? Absolutely. Will everyone relate to it? Not at all and quite honestly, I hope many don’t. The fact of the matter is art itself is subjective and that’s the point. What can be a fun romp for one can be a life-changing experience for another. Great art can and should be both. If every time I watched Frozen I was thrown into an introspective tidal wave, I would be a quivering mess every time I heard “Do You Want To Build A Snowman”. It’s a film that has taught many things to me, even after a year has passed. It’s fun and silly and I can laugh and forget the cares of the day. Olaf is just plain great. The songs are great to dance to while cleaning the house. No story is just one thing; the same way no one person is just one flat personality. People change just as the stories change with us. It’s that thought that brings me comfort. Frozen helped me when I was at my worst. The great part? It’s still there now that I’m at my best. I’m glad I let it into my life.
Frozen, to me, is what defines the Disney Revival. Mature storytelling that transcends gender and age. It feels timeless like (most) of the 52 animated features that preceded it. Is it my favorite Walt Disney movie ever? No, that honor still belongs to Pinocchio. It’s definitely in good company, however. While Pinocchio taught me to be a real boy, Frozen showed me how to be a better one.
What do you think of Frozen? Where would you rank it in our Disney Revival Rundown?
Other articles in the Disney Revival Rundown:
- Meet the Robinsons (2007)
- Bolt (2008)
- Princess and the Frog (2009)
- Tangled (2010)
- Winnie the Pooh (2011)
- Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)
- Frozen (2013)
- Big Hero 6 (2014)
Edited by: Kelly Conley