My first thought was — what ISN’T Frozen 2 about? The sequel to the female-empowerment juggernaut, Frozen, offers up the kitchen sink of progressive messages, each of which deserves its own t-shirt care of the Disney merchandising machine.
- Sisterhood trumps all else.
- We don’t need the prince to save us, we can save ourselves.
- The mythology of the patriarchy must finally be toppled.
- We must overcome our fears to find our truth.
I’m not complaining. It’s amazing to see how far Disney movies have come in my lifetime. After years of bemoaning the impossibly tiny feet of Cinderella, the literal silencing of The Little Mermaid and the non-consensual kiss bestowed on a passed-out Snow White, the blanketing of empowerment throughout Frozen 2 is a giant leap forward (even if those leaps are still performed by underweight, white women in high-heeled boots.) While the credits rolled, I knew I had to write something about the movie — how could I not? But when contemplating which theme in Frozen 2 I wanted to address, I was met by an embarrassment of riches. While I was truly buoyed by the sheer athleticism of Elsa and Anna throughout Frozen 2, I felt that it might be too on-the-nose a choice for the founder of a girls’ sports company to cover that one. Instead, I opted to explore Elsa’s challenging journey across the Dark Sea and “into the unknown” (subtlety is not the strong suit here) because that spoke to the deeper work we do at Dynamo Girl, addressing the biggest emotional challenges girls face on their ways forward.
From the earliest moments of the movie, Elsa hears a siren song — is it imagined? Is it within her? Is it divine? The siren song speaks to a place within Elsa that she has struggled to tamp down, but ultimately her own reservations and her sister’s desire to protect her from danger, both prove too weak to counter such a powerful pull. (Someone else should write the piece that explores this as a metaphor for Elsa’s true and repressed sexual identity.) Elsa feels called to discover the source of the siren song, not only for her own fulfillment, but also in her role as the leader of her people and ultimately, she ventures out to wherever the song will take her. The course of the movie follows Elsa’s travels through the Enchanted Forest and as she sheds the burden of her loved ones along the way, finally finding herself alone on a stormy beach at the end of her known world.
The final leg of her journey requires Elsa to follow the siren song across the Dark Sea to find the the mythical Ahtohallan, a river containing all explanations of the past and the mysterious answer that will save the people of Arrendelle. For me, the heart of the movie hinges on the moments where Elsa stands facing the crashing waves of the Dark Sea, working up the courage to embark on this last part of her odyssey. Her repeated attempts to run from the shore and dive through the crashing, wintry waves to make her way across to Ahtollan spoke to me on such a visceral level. Elsa’s sheer determination to find a way into the dangerous waters and ultimately, through them, shook me to my core for two reasons, one dispiriting and one thrilling. First, I knew that if I were Elsa, I would have given up and headed home, regardless of the high stakes. Second, on a more upbeat note, I reveled in the knowledge that millions of girls around the world had seen this small woman dive into the terrifying swells of water, time and time again, eventually harnessing her magical horse and riding across the Dark Sea. And I thought, Thank God.
All around us academics, psychologists and journalists cite the same findings in the research about the challenging issues girls face in our culture — avoidance of taking healthy risks, fear of making mistakes and paralyzing perfectionism. At Dynamo Girl, we create opportunities for our Dynamos try new things and fail, to take risks in a safe and supportive community, to make mistakes in an environment where they will be applauded simply for trying something new. So when I see a Disney princess (regardless of her impossibly attainable looks) leaping into icy waves and being spit back out onto the beach; leaping again and struggling under the water; starting over with a new strategy and eventually finding a way to succeed; my heart fills with hope. A female character singing about venturing “into the unknown,” who embraces trial and error, who is not deterred by initial failure, who bravely experiments with new ideas, that is a female character I can get behind.
Without ruining the ending of the movie for those few human beings left on earth who haven’t yet seen Frozen 2, I will close with this final thought. The haunting lullaby, All Is Found, sung throughout the film, acts as a coded message from Elsa’s mother (an indigenous woman who passes as a white woman her entire adult life – again, a piece someone more qualified than I should write) provides the fitting coda to Elsa’s courageous journey.
Until the river’s finally crossed
You’ll never feel the solid ground
You have to get a little lost
On your way to being found
For the cynical among us, this may feel like clichéd drivel, but to be honest, it moved me deeply. I live in fear of getting lost. I live in literal fear of diving into crashing waves. I live in existential fear of crossing turbulent waters. (I don’t even want to go downtown for dinner.) Were it me standing on the shores of a rocky beach, the future of a people dependent on me to make my way across the Dark Sea, I likely would have quit. I would have been too afraid, too unsure, too mentally weak to keep at it. For decades, if I wasn’t immediately good at something, I would give up, because not failing was more important to me than pursuing a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Behind all of its shimmering Disney-ness, Frozen 2 uncovered something murkier by making me painfully aware of my own shortcomings in the face of frightening obstacles. But the crazy thing was, sitting next to my daughter in the movie theater, a human being more persistent, more determined, more resourceful than I, I knew that she wouldn’t quit. I knew she would keep diving into the waves over and over again until she found a way across. Putting my own limitations aside, I was able to see that while I might not have the strength or the courage to wade into the unknown, I am empowering girls to do it. I am arming them with the muscles, the skills, the bravery to move past the scary challenges that lie in their way on their journeys to finding their own paths. I am helping inspire my daughter and hundreds of girls like her to “get a little lost on their way to being found.”