So, this post is a little late, but I work in a mall where a particular song plays six million times a day, and six year old girls, and high school students of both sexes sing along at the top of their lungs. You know what I’m talking about. I guess I’m slow. But I’m still thinking about it.
After a frenzy of giddy, hyperbolic approval from critics and viewers, articles digging a little deeper into Frozen started appearing in my news feed. They tended to be a bit reactionary in tone; hyperbole still reigned. Many of them had good points, under the exaggeration. The discussion went back and forth: BEST MOVIE EVER! vs. DECEPTIVELY PROGRESSIVE DRIVEL! It has been very interesting to watch our culture digest this latest offering from our family entertainment giant. I’d like to add my own little observation about what Frozen means to our culture, and especially to my generation.
I was born in the late eighties, and I remember going to see The Little Mermaid for the first time (and several times after that, and then getting my parents to buy a VCR just so I could have the VHS and watch it whenever I wanted). My early childhood was studded with Disney movies that make up something of a second golden age for the studio. They are classics; unparalleled until Pixar. Many of them are fairy tales.
Much has been written on what a fairy tale is and its purpose in the development of our imaginations and our moral sense. See Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, and pretty much any of my other favorite authors. These tales are full of archetypes and metaphors that form the way we see the world.
Frozen breaks some of these conventions in very important ways. There is lots of talk about whether or not Frozen is a convention breaker, and whether or not that’s a good thing. But I want to point out one convention that was broken as representative of a pattern that is relevant to people who grew up with the more classic fairy tales of the early nineties.
Arial has Sebastian, the crab composer who is initially a loyal servant of her father, but eventually makes the choice to support and guide Arial, instead of serving her bigoted father.
The Beast has Belle to guide and help him become the person he was meant to be.
Simba has Rafiki. Even Aladdin has the Genie telling him to be himself.
A mentor is a very important archetype. They might walk with the protagonist every step of the way and have their own moral dilemmas and conflicts (like Sebastian). Their visible struggle is a good example to the protagonist and strengthens them for their own battles. Or they might say a few words at a crucial moment that change the course of the story (like Rafiki). They are often older and wiser and we are cued to trust their wisdom. When a character ignores them, we are anxious; when they follow a mentor’s advice, we are at peace.
Frozen has two sets of mentor characters: the parents of Elsa and Anna, and the trolls. It is clear that their parents love the two girls, and we are given all the right cues to trust the mystic wisdom of the trolls. They represent both the Sebastian and the Rafiki types. They both fail utterly. Elsa’s life is set on a path to destruction by the advice of the trolls, and she is psychologically damaged by her parents constant “help” in following the trolls advice.
I am personally ticked off at both of them because if they hadn’t messed Elsa’s life up, she wouldn’t have had to sing that vapid song.
The trolls advice was bad. The parents were completely motivated by fear, and their arrogance blinded them to their perfect incompetence to help their children. They didn’t deal with their own fears, but transferred them to their elder daughter. This video made me feel much better about it. That was the mentor Elsa needed.
A further word about the trolls. They are jerks. The song where they completely ignore the agency of Anna, and all conventional wisdom on which they were supposed to be experts, destroys all the mystery that built up their claim, and cued us in to their status as mystic mentor characters. Kristoff says they taught him that you shouldn’t get engaged to someone you just met. And then they try to marry him to someone he just met without consent from either Anna or Kristoff. Clearly they have issues with the practical vs the theoretical. They are hypocrites and borderline evil. Their one redeeming character is that they weren’t completely lying about the cure to the curse being an act of true love. They merely led Anna to believe that true loves kiss is the only qualified candidate for that act. Good thing she tries something else (which is, in my opinion, the redeeming moment for the whole movie. It would have been terrible if true loves kiss was what broke the spell).
I think us millennials feel a little betrayed by our mentors. A lot of the advice we were given was bad (see this post from last week) and then we were blamed for following it. Our mentors seemed wise and loving, but they ended up being hypocrites, unwilling to solve their own problems so that they could help us properly. Now we have to figure out what to do with our lives in the mess that is left around us and inside us.
It turns out that Elsa and Anna have to figure out their lives for themselves. They end up knowing better then their mentors. So do lots of young protagonists in stories lately. Harry Potter easily has better moral judgement than Sirius Black, or even Dumbledore sometimes. Percy Jackson has to teach the gods how to be decent parents. This is undeniably a travesty in the story. It echos the voices of lots of people my age asking “Why weren’t we prepared to live in this world? Why were so many of the things we were taught about life lies? Why do we have to figure out so many things for ourselves, and teach them to our parents?”
Luckily for Anna, Elsa, and my generation, there is one mentor in this story who is true to his role. He follows the old tradition notable in Shakespeare: He is the fool. I am referring, of course, to Olaf the snowman. He is the comic character. I thought that I would be annoyed by him. He is cute, and kind of dumb, and quite charming, in a silly sort of way. But he saves the story. He has the definition of love that sets Anna and Elsa free. He is no hypocrite like the trolls. He lives that definition of love by melting to keep Anna warm while he gives her this crucial piece of advice that sets her life back on a safe course. The wisdom of the fool saves the story.
My generation needs to find Olaf. And those of us who have found him need to point him out to our friends. He is walking beside us. He is a fool that the world laughs at and hates (they find him annoying at best). He is carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns.
Karen Mannino can’t think of facts about herself that are both true and interesting. She needs to let it go.