Frozen: what is it about this movie?

Let’s talk about FROZEN, the new movie that currently is Disney’s highest-grossing film since “The Lion King” in 1994 (and since it’s still in theaters, it may pass up Lion King). Articles keep popping up in my feed about this movie. Why? What’s so special about it? I wasn’t even planning to go see it.

Well, I went, mainly because my older son badgered me into it (he kept hearing about the movie at school, and by the way this is a high school). Also because the power was out and we had nothing better to do. My younger son had to be dragged along; he really didn’t want to see it. When we left the theater, my older son and I started talking about the movie immediately. Who’s the protagonist, Anna or Elsa? Who’s the antagonist in the first half of the movie? We both really enjoyed it. My younger son said he thought the movie was terrible.

Well, guess what. The very moment my younger son’s iPod came within range of our house’s wi-fi, he had pulled up the video for the song “Let It Go” and was listening to it. He listened to that song about a thousand more times over the next 24 hours, and this evening he asked if we could go see the movie again. And when I said, “Uh, maybe? Sometime?” he kept badgering me about it, wanting me to commit to a day and time.

Clearly this movie works some magic, and one very important part of that magic is Hello, Hollywood, movies with female leads can be just as successful as movies with male leads. (See also: Catching Fire.)

Why does this movie work? You know what, I think it’s kind of a cinematic successor to Wicked, the enormously successful Broadway musical. Both Wicked and Frozen (note the similarity in titles!) feature two female leads, one of whom is “ordinary” (Anna/Galinda) and one of whom is powerful and tortured (Elsa/Elphaba) (note the similarity in names!). The relationship is a little bit different. In Wicked, Galinda is the shallow and popular girl and Elphaba is the rejected but powerful one whom Galinda takes under her wing. In Frozen, Anna is warm and caring and desires connection, while Elsa has a secret power she cannot control and isolates herself to avoid hurting people. So it’s not exactly the same story, but the character types are markedly similar.

The other big giveaway? The part of Elsa in Frozen is sung by Idina Menzel, the same actress who played Elphaba in the original cast of Wicked.

And then there’s this song, the best song in the movie, “Let It Go,” which Disney wisely released on YouTube so that it could go viral and promote the movie:

How can I not love a Disney song that uses the word “fractals?”

If you watch this song, and you’ve seen or listened to Wicked, you will note the great similarity of this song both thematically and structurally to Wicked’s “Defying Gravity.” Both songs are about the tortured/powerful heroine deciding to no longer hide her power and keep it carefully under wraps but to unleash it and reach her full potential.

These are powerful songs, and not the least because Elsa and Elphaba are metaphors for every woman who has ever been told to hide her abilities in order to find social acceptance. Don’t be too smart, don’t be too talented, people won’t like you, boys won’t want to date you. I have felt that pain–haven’t we all?–so it stirs my heart to see these powerful women casting off their shackles and unleash the full extent of their ability.

Anna is the protagonist of Frozen, and she’s very loveable. But Elsa, the sorceress who unleashes her magic to raise an ice palace out of the snow, is the character whom everybody wants to be, and is the reason for this movie’s success.

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