Thanks to one of those mental rabbit trails in which something I saw reminded me of something else, which reminded me of something else, and so forth, I ended up rewatching Frozen a couple of weekends ago. I saw it at the theater and thought it was good, but I didn’t fall into the utter obsession that this movie inspired. I was teaching kindergarten choir at the time, and the kids couldn’t get enough of it. The girls all wanted to be Elsa and the boys were all in love with Elsa (or, as one kid put it, “She’s bootiful. I want her to be my mommy.”). I think some of the ubiquity of it may have soured my view on the movie. I actually like the sequel better. But it actually is a nicely structured movie that has a lot going for it.

Spoilers ahead in case you managed to avoid the mania.

One interesting thing I found was that although Elsa seemed to be the focus of all the hype and was the favorite character, she’s not the protagonist. She doesn’t really have a story goal and doesn’t do a lot. She’s more of a catalyst who sets off the story. Anna is the protagonist (and I feel like the only person who identifies with and likes Anna more than Elsa. Team Anna here!). She’s the one with the story goal and with the story arc. She’s also the one with the more clearly articulated internal or personal goals.

We see that when she’s the one who gets the “I Want” song. In fact, she gets two. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is about her desire to reconnect with her sister, and then “For the First Time in Forever” is about her desire to make connections with other people after having been locked away for so long. Much of her internal tension in the story is because her desire to reconnect with her sister is often in conflict with her desire to connect with other people, since it’s difficult for her to have both. She gets a lot of criticism from her sister and later Kristoff for getting engaged to a man she just met, but it comes out in her song that she believes the coronation day is the one day the gates will be open and she’ll be allowed to have contact with the outside world. Because of that, she has to get engaged that day. She can’t take it slow if she’s going to be shut away after that day. If he doesn’t stay with her or she doesn’t go with him, something unlikely to happen without an engagement, she’ll never see him again. Not that I think she’s making the right choice, especially given how he turned out, but under those circumstances, she doesn’t have a lot of options if she doesn’t want to be utterly alone.

I do have to question the decision-making by their parents. Even if Elsa needed to be isolated to keep the secret of her powers and Anna couldn’t be around her lest she remember and it set off the freezing thing in her head again, why did Anna have to be isolated, too? Couldn’t she have been allowed to interact with other kids and leave the castle? Or would that have risked the people rallying around Anna rather than Elsa as the future queen? I feel like the treatment of Anna came close to child abuse. Elsa’s treatment was also pretty cruel, but at least she knew what was going on and understood why. Anna got no explanation why suddenly she was shut away and her sister refused to have anything to do with her.

Anna’s the one who gets the story goal, which dovetails with her personal goals, when Elsa’s powers go haywire and she freezes the kingdom. Anna’s story goal becomes to get through to Elsa and get her to thaw things — which, in turn, would reconcile Anna to Elsa and reconnect the kingdom. This is what makes her the protagonist. Elsa doesn’t really want anything other than to be left alone. She’s not trying to do or get anything, and she doesn’t really take any action.

Meanwhile, the story also fits my “fantasy road trip” structure. We get the Bargain between Kristoff and Anna in which she convinces him to help her get to Elsa by paying for his supplies and by reminding him that he won’t be able to sell ice until the kingdom thaws. There’s bickering over his manners and her impulsive engagement. They face attack from the wolves and then later from Elsa and her snowman, which leads to them bonding after they have to work together to survive. After that, there’s the “Fixer Upper” number, which serves as a Dance scene, although they don’t dance together (I’m thinking of renaming that stage “the Moment” because the dancing is usually about the pair having a Moment in which they start to be aware of their feelings toward each other, and it doesn’t always involve dancing). There’s the Departure when she goes to Hans for the True Love’s Kiss that will save her and Kristoff leaves her behind. But then there’s the Return in which Kristoff comes back and Anna, having learned what Hans is really up to, sees that Kristoff has come back and goes to him. This part of my outline is always a bit tricky. You’d think that it would be the protagonist departing because of making the wrong choice, then realizing the error of their ways and returning, but often the roles switch and it’s the other character who has to make the decision. Here, it seems to be mutual, since Anna goes to be with Hans and Kristoff lets her go, then they both realize their feelings and are going back to be with each other—but then the resolution here isn’t romantic because she has to go to Elsa’s rescue before she can reach Kristoff.

I’m still not entirely sure what about this story struck such a strong nerve with kids. I think a lot of it had to do with Elsa’s ice princess outfit and her big power ballad that was all about independence and freedom. I think kids also react to that feeling like everyone’s out to get you and no one understands you, which is what Elsa’s story is all about. She’s simultaneously powerful and a victim, so she represents something you might aspire to while also being someone you can relate to. I seem to react strongly to stories about isolation and abandonment, so I sympathize more with Anna, and I would rather wear her more Norwegian-type outfits than Elsa’s slinky dress. There’s just enough romance in the story to give it a spark, but it’s more about the relationship between the sisters, which is probably more relatable to little kids. That makes it less “yucky” to boys who don’t want romance in their stories.

I may have to rewatch the second one this weekend and see if I can analyze it for structure. It strikes me as being more of an animated fantasy movie than a “Disney Princess” movie.

I will say that I get some cognitive dissonance from hearing “King George” after having seen the Hamilton movie a few times and from having watched The Good Place (I keep waiting for Anna to say something like “holy forking shirtballs.”).

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