Scattered thoughts on Frozen 2.
I’m a big fan of Disney animated movies and have written about them multiple times. Despite that, I was initially skeptical of Frozen 2. Frozen seemed like a complete story, and Disney (not including Pixar) has only produced two theatrically released sequels to its animated movies, and none to its princess movies. The direct-to-video sequels they have released have mostly been at best mediocre. But once the movie started, I found myself loving nearly every minute of Frozen 2. I put some of my thoughts after seeing the movie below.
****Spoilers for Frozen and Frozen 2 follow****
The Environment and Indigenous Rights
What struck me most about the movie was its message about the environment and indigenous rights. The Northuldrans are clearly based on the Sami people, traditional reindeer herders of the Nordic lands and parts of Russia. The song at the beginning of Frozen and that the Northuldrans sing in this sequel when they realize Elsa’s mother was one of their people is based on the Sami’s traditional singing style called “joik” or “yoik” or in some languages “vuelie”, the name of the song on the movie’s soundtrack.
The traditional Sami way of life is being increasingly affected by climate change. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate as the world because of the loss of ice’s reflective surface as it melts.
The dam in the movie represents environmental degradation, especially climate change, and is interfering with the ability of Northuldrans to live off the land so that Arendelle can expand beyond what is sustainable, and when the Northuldrans protest they are met with murder under the guise of peace.
Right now, some of the most important and vibrant, environmental activism is being done by indigenous activists at great personal risk, for example, the forest protectors in Brazil being murdered by people logging illegally, or native communities in the US protesting pipelines being built through their lands. Having said that, I don’t want to treat all indigenous people as a monolith or dehumanize them as if they’re a race of loraxes. I also don’t want to forget the sacrifices of non-indigenous environmental activists. But more and more I think crimes against indigenous people are going and have always gone hand in hand with environmental destruction, as is the case in Frozen 2.
Elsa and Anna finally learn about the crime their people have done to the Northuldran people, a crime that was hidden by their history (just as our history in the US teaches that the American Revolution was fought for freedom and never mentions the colonists’ desire to expand their territory and anger at the British constraining them to honor treaties with the indigenous tribes that fought with them in the French and Indian War). When Elsa freezes in Ahtohallan, it represents how when you’re from a nation built on colonialism, like the US, delving into our history can be damaging because of how different our true history is from the founding myths we’ve learned and that make up the basis of our national identity and society, like when Anna tells Olaf her grandfather betrayed the Northuldrans and he responds that that goes against everything Arendelle stands for. Does it? Or does it just go against everything it claims to stand for but rarely actually has when you examine its actions, especially towards the indigenous inhabitants.
When the truth finally comes to light, they realize the only course of action is to destroy the dam, and Arendelle with it, and they don’t hesitate to do so, representing the need to change our lifestyle in the developed world to stave off environmental catastrophe and make reparations to indigenous people as well as victims of imperialism. In addition, this unfreezes Elsa because making restitution is the only way to heal the injury described above.
Of course Arendelle ends up being saved by magic, but there’s only so much you can expect from a product of The Walt Disney Company, emphasis on “Company”. I used to hope a technological solution like carbon capture or stratospheric aerosol injection could solve climate change with no need to change our habits, but as I’ve read more about the situation, especially the works of Jason Hickel and Vaclav Smil, I fear there is no magical technological solution that will solve climate change while requiring no change in our behavior, though I’d love to be proven wrong.
Although it has a great anti-colonial message, the movie still stars people from the colonial society rather than actually centering people from the indigenous society. But even though Elsa and Anna grew up in Arendelle, their mother is Northuldran and taught them at least some Northuldran traditions such as Ahtohallan, and her legacy is more central to the movie than their father’s. It might also be naive to think Elsa and Anna would break the dam. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” But Elsa and Anna didn’t just break the dam out of pure altruism; they were forced to do so by magic. So it’s not entirely unrealistic. And Elsa does join Northuldran society in the end.
In addition to its environmental message, I also thought the way it handled Elsa’s character was not only satisfying but showed that Frozen 2 was in fact a necessary sequel to Frozen.
The breakout song from Frozen was “Let It Go”, which is seen as a powerful anthem of self-expression after being restricted for so long. But in the story it represents a moment of temporary happiness in a still deeply unhealthy situation in which Elsa is isolated and separated from her sister. By the end of Frozen she returns to society and Anna after gaining control of her powers. But the reason that song resonated with so many people is because it represented Elsa not only casting off the restrictions imposed by herself and her parents in order to control her powers but also the restrictions imposed on her by society at large, which is what made her casting off those restrictions so satisfying to the audience that everyone forgot what the song really meant, and why her returning to the same society after gaining control of her powers is not completely satisfying.
This conflict is brought into Frozen 2, when Elsa still feels dissatisfied despite having what the ending of the first movie would mistakenly have you believe is the perfect life and is unable to ignore her yearning for something else, as shown by “Into the Unknown”.
She initially thinks that the answer to her self-actualization is external, and she obsessively journeys to Ahtohallan (which as far as I can tell is not based on any Sami tradition) to meet the source of the mysterious voice. In “Show Yourself” she realizes the answer was internal, changing the meaning of “show yourself” mid-song from an imperative statement towards an external figure to a directive to show her complete self.
Admittedly this theme doesn’t really mesh with the other purpose of Ahtohallan in the plot, which is to reveal the treachery of their grandfather, causing Elsa to freeze. I suppose Elsa being drawn to Ahtohallan also represents her search for the truth, no matter how painful that truth might be.
When Elsa finally reaches Ahtohallan, she’s met with a vision and the voice of her deceased mother, who tells her that the resolution to her dissatisfaction and the thing she’s been looking for her entire life lies not with the someone else, the mysterious person she thought was calling her to Ahtohallan, but with herself. By this point, we’ve learned that Elsa’s and Anna’s mother was Northuldran and told them about Northuldran ideas like Ahtohallan, and presumably others. At the end, when the external conflicts have been resolved, Elsa’s dissatisfaction with Arendelle’s society causes her to decide to leave it to live a less restricted life closer to nature in the Northuldran society, but she can still come to Arendelle and see her sister. It’s a more satisfying resolution to her conflict than that of the original Frozen.
Many people in our society feel isolated and alienated, and perhaps if we lived closer with nature we’d be happier. The !Kung people of the Kalahari still live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and though it would be inaccurate to say their society doesn’t have major downsides compared to ours, such as high infant mortality, they have many of the hallmarks of the so-called original affluent society. Once when asked why they didn’t farm, one of the !Kung reportedly said “Why should we plant, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?” I’m not saying we need to adapt hunter-gatherer lifestyles, but perhaps there is something to be learned from these societies.
Connection to the Tangled Series
If you weren’t aware, there’s a sequel series to Disney princess movie that immediately preceded Frozen, Tangled, called Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, and it’s great. I prefer it to the original Tangled movie because it has more time to develop its characters, has some songs I like more than the original songs, and is hand-drawn, which I personally prefer.
It also has a few similarities to the approach Frozen 2 took in making a sequel. In both Frozen and Tangled, the characters have magical powers that aren’t explored in terms of their origin or the lore behind them. Instead they serve. The plot instead focuses on the characters and how they and their relationships are affected by these powers. When Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure brought back Rapunzel’s magical hair and made the mystery behind it a central part of the plot of the series, I was skeptical about the approach because I never cared about the origin of the flower that gave her those powers, but they crafted an excellent series anyway. Frozen 2 also explores the origins of Elsa’s powers, which could’ve been boring but worked because it was grounded in the characters and themes of the story.
Early in Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, Rapunzel has the choice to stay with her loved ones and forego exploring the mystery in front of her but decides not to, just like Elsa in “Into the Unknown”.
Frozen 2 and Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure also have the male love interests’, Kristoff’s and Eugene’s respectively, efforts to propose to Anna and Rapunzel respectively as a major point of the plot.
One thing that I thought Frozen 2 could have used at the end was a big, triumphant song, especially given some of the dark places the movie had taken us. This is also true of the original Frozen which is why the Broadway version sought fit to add a recontextualized reprise of “Let It Go” at the finale, with mixed effect in my opinion.
At the end of one of the pivotal episodes of Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, Rapunzel and her friends sing a triumphant song the likes of which could’ve been used in the Frozen movies.
It’s not one of the series’s best songs, but in the context of the series, in which the characters had undergone some harrowing experiences, it was very satisfying.
- This movie gets pretty dark at times. I don’t know whether young children will like it.
- I think one of the subplots that didn’t get enough development was Anna and Kristoff’s relationship. Every time Kristoff tries to propose but is inartful with his words, Anna takes it as a sign he might leave her. I thought this showed that she has trust issues after her experience with Hans, who’s referenced a few times in the movie, but this never really gets addressed by the time Kristoff proposes at the end.
- We also never get a good resolution to the conflict of Elsa pushing Anna away when she puts herself in dangerous situations and Anna trying to be with her.
- I like that the movie eschews the tired 4-element paradigm of the Greeks and Romans for the 5-element paradigm of the Hindus.
- I did not appreciate Olaf looking at the audience (me) and saying we all looked a little bit older.
- I wish they’d come up with a better title than Frozen 2. Maybe Frozen 2: Absolute Zero?
Overall, I loved watching Frozen 2 and am glad it was made. It’s a more than fitting sequel to the original Frozen.