Happy in my Frozen fan­tasy life

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OPINION OURS & YOURS - CLAIRE HAR­VEY

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.

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