6 valuable life (and parenting) lessons that I learned from Disney's Frozen

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Jennifer Lill
By: irulan_amy – CC BY 2.0
By: irulan_amyCC BY 2.0

Our house, like so many others, has been inundated with the Disney phenomenon that is the movie Frozen. My son learned how to make a tick-tock sound with his tongue before he learned how to talk. However, after many viewings and even more sing-a-longs, rather than tire of it, I feel like I'm finally seeing it for the deep and powerful parable that it is.

The multitude of valuable lessons this story offers up makes me more than happy to pop it in whenever it's requested these days. Because, like any truly powerful storytelling, the magic comes in hearing these messages again and again…

WE have options no matter what life throws at us

We start with two young girls, the epitome of innocence, who are thrust in to the path of unexpected and unavoidable circumstances, better known as the hero's journey. They both represent two options for dealing with the fickle hand of fate: find what joy you can and roll with the punches, or shut-down and put walls up.

Up until now Cinderella had always been my favorite Disney Princess for her "take life with a grain of salt and don't lose faith" attitude, but Anna has been moving rapidly up the list. I love that my children are seeing first-hand where not dealing with your problems can lead: pain, fear, and isolation.

We are all in this together, so let's act like a team

I have a new-found fondness for trolls, not least because of their selfless act of raising an apparently orphaned Kristoff and not making a big deal about the adoption. In fact, the only characters in the whole movie who are not treated with respect are those who have proven that they don't deserve it through their own actions. Apart from Olaf (who isn't known for his smarts) referring to Sven as a big dumb animal, there are no derogatory remarks or outcasts in the film. I love Disney, but they have a long history of pegging one group against another (Lions vs. Hyenas, Mermen vs. Humans, Beast vs. Villagers, etc.). It's so refreshing to see a film where a King goes to a troll for help. It really is!

No, You don't have to put a ring on it

The more children's programming geared toward young girls that I watch, the more I notice the prevailing theme that getting married is somehow still your main prerogative in life. Historically, Disney has been no different. I have actually felt moved to say, after my daughter squeals with delight at a movie wedding kiss, "There is a lot more living that happens after that kiss! Remember that!"

Nobody gets married in Frozen! Nobody! And the only kiss that happens is after Kristoff asks Anna if he may kiss her. The only way I could like this relationship more is if he insisted she follow her dream of law school before they start talking about having a family.

You are going to play the fool

Anna gets duped. It happens. You are not always going to be the clever person who avoids the grift. It sucks, it really does. But, when it happens, you feel sad and then you shake it off and get on with the important work of focusing on the people who are truly important in our lives. Then, when the work is done, everyone is safe and the opportunity presents itself. Punch your failure in the face (metaphorically speaking, you've wised up). That punch got a huge cheer in the movie theater when we went to see Frozen the first time and my daughter and I actually high-fived each other… storytelling at its best!

Love is the answer

Love, respect, support, caring — however you package it, we need more of it. When we have love and we give love we are happier, less stressed, healthier and more productive. Yet, most of all, we need to love ourselves! We need to not only be kinder to ourselves, but we need to step up and LOVE ourselves. When we live in fear we are crippled by it. It's unhealthy to hold in who you are simply because you are afraid of what others will think. When it came down to it, the people of Arendelle were all really accepting of Elsa's powers. Sure, they were freaked out at first but they got over it and then they all got back to the business of living!

Let it go!

This one is especially good for the parents. Let it go. Yes, there are a million things to do, and no you probably haven't had a decent night's sleep in the last decade or so. But that doesn't mean you can't relax for a second and enjoy a belly laugh with your kids. Your child may not have a Pinterest-perfect birthday party, and they may go to school dressed in outfits that would have been more appropriate for the Punky Brewster era, but who cares? Your Frozen-crazed kids are going to be angsty coffee-drinking college kids before you know it, so drop your hang-ups and belt it out right along with 'em…" THE COLD NEVER BOTHERED ME ANYWAY!"

Okay, we know you have some… so what were YOUR Frozen life lessons?

  1. As an adult struggling with depression and anxiety disorders, it was incredibly empowering to see Elsa as a figure who has similar disorders being portrayed, and by the end of the film, loved. IIRC the screenwriter confirmed on twitter that depression played a role in Elsa's character along with anxiety. You can definitely see GAD and panic attacks with her. And, as my friend put it when the movie came out – "It ultimately won't work out for Elsa to keep that mentality [the Let It Go song and what's happening are essentially self-deception being driven by bitterness, anger and depression. ] (and maybe there needed to be a super song to drive that home), but in the world of children's movies that appeal to adults, this hits a home run to me because of its subtlety. Anybody who has struggled with depression can grab hold of parts of that and see where the story arc takes you (that ultimately, isolation, while it may temporarily make you feel free and liberated, leads you to create monsters that further isolate you from those that love you, and your own fear will inevitably destroy your lovely ice-olation castle anyway)."

    Also, the ACTIVE CONSENT part of Anna and Kristoff! Such a wonderful model that goes against the old Disney-standard that you "surprise" a girl with a kiss, and then she will fall for you! Some of us like to be asked before we are touched, and it's nice to see that (subtle) message for young girls that your body belongs to yourself.

  2. I do not have anything of importance to add, but this article reminded me of Halloween this year. My friends and I decided we had to a shot for every little Elsa and sip of beer for every little Ana that came to the door. We had to stop after an hour!

  3. We are big fans of frozen over here too, I love the article and I can add :

    – not all loves have to be romantic loves : often in movies targeted to young girls / teens the only love that prevails is the romantic kind (twilight anyone? ) and especially the love of a boy that is supposed to be the only way out/goal for the girl (cinderella for example) It is good to see family love, sisterly love, save the day

    – women can be powerful, sexy AND loveable : unlike in a lot of other movies (rapunzel, the little mermaid. ..) that oppose systematically the powerful witch to the doe – eyed frail princess

    – do not fall in 5 seconds for the first sweet-talking prince charming you ll meet (hear that Cinderella??)

    Oh and also :

    Do not lock your kid in a room for all of his / her childhood. Seriously, just don't do it.

    Wow I have given it a lot of thought, maybe I should watch something else now ^^

  4. This was great to read, because my viewings of the movie have been really different. But that's because of my own bias. I tend to dislike Disney movies, especially kids ones, and I don't have children. But I did go see Frozen in the cinema and see it many times afterwards at my workplace.

    The messages I got from the movie:
    * if you show your parents you are different, they will be scared of you, isolate you and show you less love. Everyone else should also be afraid of you because your difference can hurt them.
    * if you want to interact with other you'll have to stifle your differences. There is nobody else like you.

    I was fully expecting older sister to end up with ice sales dude. Hello he sells ice, of course he would love the lady who can make it with her fingertips. They could live up in the mountains and reign over the wintry realms and elsa could live down in the valley and be summer princess. They could have celebrated and embraced older sister for bein different and found a good side to it once they overcame their initial worries. Or older sister could have found a distant relative who also had this magical power and taught her how to control it and use it to help people.
    It also bugged me that once their parents died there was no family. I know that can happen but surely in a royal family there would be uncles and aunts and cousins abound? It irks me when movies assume that the nuclear two parents two kids are the only members of a family and others just don't exist. (Though I'm sure Disney has included aunts uncles and grandparents before, so that's not a Disney specific irk)

    Hopefully that made some sense? I really disliked this movie, but I'm glad other people found good in it.

    Side note – Sandra bullock in Gravity – that was all about depression to me. Brilliant.

    • This is a very interesting way to look at this movie that never would have occurred to me! I have a few responses to your views because I have thought way too much about Frozen:

      Regarding the parents – They're royalty. They clearly love their children, but they live in a world where you must be viewed by the public in a certain way in order to keep the peace (of an entire kingdom, no less). They probably had never encountered magic in real life, and it's likely that not many townsfolk had, either. Maybe they had heard stories of magic gone wrong or something, and it scared them (and it wasn't helped by the DOOM portion of their conversation with the trolls). I'm sure they feared for their daughter's safety and her future. They dealt with it in the worst possible way, mind you, but I really don't think they had any idea what else to do in such a unique situation.

      Regarding Older Sister Elsa and Ice Dude Kristoff – I'm soooo glad they didn't try to pair Elsa up with anybody. She had enough problems loving herself; she really didn't need to deal with the complication of trying to love someone else.

      Regarding Extended Family – Yeah, that is a little weird. I'm going with the assumption that they all died of plague or something. It's medieval times, it could happen (side note: my mother grew up without any extended family in a place where people had large families. Shit happens).

    • Huh, I thought the parents were being genuinely abusive and it was incredible that they showed that. Did they mean to? No, but their behavior was still wrong and Elsa suffered for it. Once she stopped living by their rules, she gained a lot of self-confidence and freedom, but then had to learn how to control her powers in an active and loving way instead of a repressive and fearful way. It's a pretty strong message about coming from an abusive household; once you're free you wanna just completely go nuts, but you have to teach yourself how to be a caring and responsible adult because you never learned it growing up.

      • This is actually part of the message that I found the most interesting and powerful.

        Elsa came from a home where she was forced to hide who she was and then ultimately was orphaned. Which only reinforced to her that she needed to hide who she was. She finally grew as a person when she figured out for herself who she was and what she wanted. I found that to be a pretty powerful message for a Disney movie that usually centers around the female lead only wanting marriage and to impress a boy.

      • Something I found very interesting – in the Spanish translation of the movie, the famous 'let it go' lyrics did not translate the same meeting (it would mean something similar to 'drop it' or 'put it down' in Spanish), so the exact translation in the Spanish version of the movie actually means 'I am Free'. That really resonated with me and puts an interesting spin on the 'true' meaning of the song and message of the movie.

  5. That's interesting. For me the main message was that trying to ignore a problem is not the same as trying to deal with it and will end badly.

    Elsa's parents were told she needed to learn to control her powers and immediately responded with a plan to tell her to never use them in any way and shut her away from anyone who might see her use them until she had stopped completely.

    I was furious. And also wondering what ever happened to Disney princesses having fairy godmothers who could teach them this stuff. (Or you know, all those trolls who clearly have magical powers of their own and seem pretty keen to help?)

    She was what? 6? I bet she wasn't much good at reading either but they wouldn't solve that by banning all books from the castle and trying to make sure she never saw a written word would they? No, they'd encourage her to practice in a controlled environment so she could improve. Same for dancing, riding a horse, whatever else ye olde princesses were supposed to do (speak French and Italian and sew mostly I think).

    To me that's what the movie was mainly about – she tried to ignore or hide the problem and it just made everything worse. Then she accepted it, practiced it and learned to use it and not only did she learn to do things she didn't even know where possible before (like removing the snow and ice) but all the other issues got better too.

  6. I second the point about depression and anxiety. My parents always dealt with my low moods etc by reminding me that I'm very lucky and I should just be happy. And as an eldest child who did well at school, I've always been held to a very high standard of grades, behaviour and success. The line 'be the good girl you always have to be' really struck a chord. I had my 'Let It Go' moment of rebellion and rejecting that mindset after going through a really dark patch at university: I stopped playing the part of good, quiet daughter and instead yelled at my parents about stuff and got a tattoo. But like Elsa, I soon realised that expressing your feelings is great, but what I really needed was to get some help, manage them, and be loving towards myself rather than acting out of fear or spite. My parents are now awesome about mental health and we can talk about it with love and compassion (like the villagers accepting Elsa's powers!). To me, it's an okay film with some great messages about relationships for little ones, but to me Elsa will always be the star, who feels like a kindred spirit.

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