It’s good to see Disney Studios has not lost it’s touch in this entertaining story, oh so loosely based on Han’s Christian Anderson’s The Ice Queen. Some of the characters and plot are taken from the famous Anderson fable.
Let’s dive into the story and psychological underpinnings of the characters. Elsa and Anna are two princesses in a happy kingdom in the fjords of Norway. Elsa, the older sister, has powers to make objects and surfaces freeze. There is no back story as to how she came upon her prowess.
Let’s just that for children, as for adults, emotion feels very powerful. Growing up involves not just coming to understand how to feel, but what to do with the instant feedback our emotions give us in many life situations.
Elsa’s parents are told Elsa’s ability to freeze objects will only more powerful as she grows up. Also there is a moral component to Elsa’s situation as her abilities will need to be mastered since they will not be automatically good or evil. She will need to confront her fears because it has been foretold that her fears will have the power to distort her gifts. Will her special powers be a blessing or a curse?
As a young girl Elsa accidentally hurts Anna. Elsa seeks out the help of a troll so that Anna may recover. Her parents, the King and Queen, admonish Elsa to hide her power so she doesn’t hurt her sister (or anyone) anymore. In the tradition of Bambi, Elsa’s parents die soon after they are introduced. It’s not a good idea for parental figures to take poorly explained and seemingly random sea cruise at the beginning of a Disney movie. Elsa is left as a young teenager to fend for herself as she inherits the throne.
Here’s what we have so far:
Young Elsa manages to accidentally hurt her sister. Her parents are around long enough to suggest that she is too dangerous to be in anyone’s company. Without further guidance she takes to literally to heart what her parent’s message that her powers and the feelings that motivate them are inherently dangerous. Elsa cuts off physically and emotionally from Anna.
Elsa grows up stuffing her feelings. She renounces her closeness to her formerly beloved sister not only to protect Anna but as the price she must pay for having dangerous feelings such as anger. Unable to master her anger, her destructive ability to deadly freeze others grows unchecked. Being emotionally cut off from her own feelings and the presence of others, Elsa is dying.
Anna is a different story. Anna has no idea why her sister Elsa has cut off from her emotionally. She is not privy to the messages her parents imparted to Anna. Anna has a slight inferiority complex but it doesn’t hold her back as she is game to throw off the emotional shackles of living a protected life. Anna is looking for love in the worst way which, of course, she finds in the person of a scheming young prince from a distant land.
More of the movie focuses on Anna, but it is of less importance from a psychological perspective as she most find pluck and moxie. Elsa has the more substantive role but not perhaps not the as much of the audiences’ sympathy as she is the more royal of the two.
In Disney animation, parents can’t be depicted as having direct responsibility for creating their children’s emotional problems. Or at least most of the time, it can’t be too blatant. An evil step-mother, now that’s a different story. One reason this works is that in real, as well as reel, life children endow their parents with supreme authority.
Children are not able to readily identify ways in which their mother and father aren’t parenting well. In fact I’d say just about 100% of the time children blame themselves for the traumas that befall their parents as well as themselves. So in stories such as Frozen, children are left to their own devices securing help wherever they may find it as parental figures aren’t around or are the cause of their suffering.
Youngsters in the audience relate readily because it feels like the story is a recounting of the very issues they are struggling with. As if some inexplicable source knows exactly what they are going through.
With Frozen, Disneyfied as it is, the message is that the effects of trauma can be overcome. The takeaway is that Elsa can tame the power of her emotions and be stronger for it. In so doing, she can embrace her sister without fear or guilt. She is free to connect with everybody.
In this story, like so many, love conquers fear. Internal growth, healing, and deliverance from a tragic fate is the happy outcome. Elsa unabashedly feels and integrates her power with grace. Anna gets her guy. Olaf keeps his nose. Sven gets a new sleigh. Broadway’s Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel keep the patter spritely and the songs soaring.
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Here are the characters: