Happy in my Frozen fantasy life
They say you choose how old you want to be. This week, I’m choosing to be threeand-a-half; sweet and stroppy and singleminded and completely beside myself with excitement about the impending release of Frozen II. One of the many exquisite joys of parenthood is rediscovering the magic of animated, adventuresoaked filmmaking, where all the girls have six-inch waists and all the men are lantern-jawed.
And for all the hundreds of times I’ve watched Frozen in the past six years, I’m always up for an encore. I’ve even come through a mild crush on Kristoff.
But the reason I love this particular slice of Disney magic is way beyond snowflakes and the perfect French braid.
Frozen, for me, is a powerful allegory for the crippling shame associated with mental illness – the deeply rooted self-loathing that can cripple women, and young girls in particular.
I know, it sounds like something that should be in the French Film Festival, screening to an audience of four in a depressing cinema on a rainy winter Sunday.
Instead, thanks to the magic of the movies, it’s the central tenet of the biggest pre-primary movie sensation ever created, and our children are subliminally absorbing the idea that darkness of the soul is nothing to be afraid of.
Elsa, tormented by her mysterious, unwanted ‘powers’ to freeze everything she touches, flees her home because she’s terrified that the rage within her will inadvertently kill her beloved little sister.
We all, from time to time, buy into the myth that childhood is carefree. We project onto our own children the expectation that they should be simple and unconcerned by the big things that worry Mum and Dad.
But childhood isn’t carefree, and never has been – unless you happen to be a particularly obtuse kid. For most children, powerlessness and vulnerability chime deep. Fear is a primary, instinctive driver. Infants and little children are programmed by evolution to grip tight to their safe people while they’re trying to have a shower; to stand sobbing outside the door of the master bedroom at 2am, only able to articulate the dread as “a bad dream” or “the monster in my cupboard”.
Those unnameable monsters are, I think, often the child’s worry about what lurks inside: innate badness or unloveability. That’s what my own childhood fears boiled down to: I must be really, really bad. That’s why kids blame themselves for divorce. It’s why they so hate being in trouble when they’ve snatched a toy or bitten somebody in the playground: I’ve been bad because I am bad, and now everybody knows it.
The plot of Frozen has Elsa sink deep into icy rage and violence to the point where she does, in fact, kill her own sister. Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart _ and in her last moment alive, Anna had stepped in front of the swordsman’s death-blow to save Elsa, in the process thawing her own frozen heart. Anna’s selfless sacrifice proves that love can, in the end, conquer even the greatest self-loathing and Elsa doesn’t have to be afraid of herself any more.
One of the beauties of art is that we all apply our own interpretations, of course: for you, or your toddler, Frozen can just be about great song-and-dance numbers or the transformative power of a her hairdo and a sequined dress. It doesn’t matter.
But next time your hackles rise at the opening bars of ‘Let it Go’, just think: there’s a billion little girls (and boys) singing along to this, unwittingly soaking in a message that they don’t have to be ashamed; that no matter what they fear about themselves, they are worthy of love.