Behind the Ice: An Evening With the Storytellers of Frozen

Anna and Elsa Tuesday night I invite you to join my family for a special on ABC….

Something magical happened during the never-ending winter of 2013, as much of the nation was in the grip of record-breaking frigid temperatures and snow fall, we went back to the movie theater for more swirling snow, ice, and eternal winter. Families across the nation and around the world had fallen in love with a pair of sisters who told us a tale of  true love, adventure, selfless acts, and snowmen who like warm hugs. We went back for the goose-bump moment when Elsa stomps her foot, her power comes to life, and the crescendo in the music soars in tandem with the palace we see rising around her as she embraces who she is, flaws and all. We went back to follow quirky Anna on her adventures with Kristoff to save her beloved older sister. We went back to sing along to the songs, loudly. We went back to see Anna and Elsa turn the princess fairy tale upside down and reveal a more modern, more relatable story. We went back because who doesn’t want another 102 minutes with Olaf?

The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic airs on ABC Tuesday 9/02 at 8/7c.

The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic airs on ABC Tuesday 9/02 at 8/7c.

Families like mine went back again and again to take in the story of Frozen – to the theaters, to the dvd, to the soundtrack – because each of us found parts of the story to enjoy, parts that held meaning for us. It takes a special kind of story to become the type of media that a family can connect to and bond over. Girls loved it. Boys loved it. Families around the world loved it so much they spent over $1 billion to see the film. The Academy and film critics loved it. Disney had created a masterpiece.

How is a masterpiece created? Who are the storytellers that are able to bring together this kind of show? From the sneak peak I was graciously allowed by ABC and Disney, I learned that you take 600 people for two years and bring their ideas and inspirations to life. For a fairy tale that almost wasn’t, the telling of how Frozen came to life as the new classic from Disney is as moving as the film itself.

The cast of "Frozen".

I watched my preview this morning with my family and we were touched how each of the creators and animators Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, John Lasseter, Becky Bresee, Wayne Unter, and Hyrum Osmond brought pieces of their families into what we saw on the big screen. The stories behind these storytellers are moving. I was brought to tears when John Lasseter shared about how his special son changed the way he and the team understood Elsa. I also teared up when Kristen Bell talked about the kind of princess she wanted to see on screen. And when Jennifer Lee spoke about retelling the princess tale and wanting to do something new I cheered “YES!”

Actors Kristen Bell, Idina Menzell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad all share how the project was personal to them and what it was like to be a part of the Frozen family. We also hear from Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the crazy-talented couple who wrote the film’s songs.

I knew that Kristen Bell is rather dedicated to providing girls with positive media role models, and that the Lopez’s were inspired by their two young daughters and the theme of sisterhood throughout the film. In so many ways, Frozen answered the call of thousands of parents who have become aware of media’s influence on girls and now search for empowering stories and characters to introduce our daughters to.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

In the ABC special “The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic” we hear director/writer Jennifer Lee state her desire to turn ‘the princess movie’ on its head. After hearing the Lopezs’ “Let it Go” the team had the breakthrough over who Elsa should be, who she had to be. From Tuesday night’s ABC special you will understand how this story could not have materialized any other way without these individual, dedicated storytellers.

Without them, the magic doesn’t get made, the tale remains one-dimensional on the page, the music that makes our hearts flutter never plays. Without these storytellers collaborating and bringing inspiration from their own families, we miss out on the award-winning family favorite that has changed what we now expect out of our Disney Princesses.

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck remake the princess fairy tale into a story modern day girls can relate to and love.

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck remake the princess fairy tale into a story modern day girls can relate to and love.

Frozen was the first billion dollar film to come out of Disney Animation Studios. Yes, the music and animation were incredible. But Frozen offered us something more. There was gender balance, an unexpected plot twist, and a clear understanding of what if felt like to be an awkward, lonely, uncertain, confident, loving, daring, flawed, beautiful young woman and how all of those characteristics can be tied up in one person. We saw the sisters lead their own story alongside stand-up guys like Kristoff. The princesses became heroes – all children love a good hero. Disney got so much right in this film.

For me, personally, it felt like Disney Animation Studios finally understood what I and so many parents my age with young boys and girls want in a princess. We want a hero. We got two.

During Tuesday’s ABC special Jennifer Lee comments about being excited for this generation of children to grow up so they can tell her what it was about this film that made it so successful.

I don’t think Ms. Lee has to wait. If she spoke to boys and girls today they would be able to tell her it was the friendship between the characters, the songs and jokes, the combo of male and female characters with admirable qualities and understandable flaws, and it was the tribute to sisterhood so many children with siblings understand.

Most of all it was Disney finally connecting with how so many families raising girls understand girlhood today. My daughter fell in love with Elsa – she knows what it is like to feel different, to be looked at strangely, to be judged, to be born with something you can’t control or hide. She was drawing at our kitchen table one day when I asked her about her drawing and what drew her to Elsa. “Oh Mama,” she answered, “Elsa is just so powerful.”

Elsa's Hand, by Amelia Wardy

Elsa’s Hand, by Amelia Wardy

The reason so many boys, girls, and adults love Frozen is that the stars Elsa and Anna embody so much of who we are, and who we want to be. The storytellers got this one so right because they took stories already in their hearts and carved them into a tale that much like the intricate Norwegian rosemaling they studied so carefully, curls and replicates itself in all of our lives.

You can be great at jokes. You can sing the roof off the sound studio. You can be an animation wizard. You can be a king at Disney. But until you tell the story from your heart, you don’t have magic. When you get a team together who all give a piece of their heart to the story, you create a masterpiece.

On Tuesday night, tune into ABC and watch how this team of storytellers who are so full of heart got everything so right.

Thank you to ABC and Disney for allowing me a sneak peak into the magic making.

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

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Powerful Female Characters Inspire Powerful Girls

I had to snap a quick photo of this drawing the Original Pigtail Pal made for a friend at school because it sums up perfectly why we need to demand more empowered female characters in children’s media.

This hand belongs to Elsa, the inspiring queen from the movie “Frozen”. We didn’t get into Princess Culture when the OPP was younger but when Merida came along I said “More please!” The film “Frozen” gave us two more daring, smart, kind princesses (one becomes a queen during the film) and if these princesses can continue to fit my expectations for a positive and empowered female character for my kids to enjoy then I’m all for it.

I noticed that the OPP’s drawing wasn’t of a sparkling dress or pretty face or fancy castle. The drawing was of was of Elsa’s hand, and for those that have seen the movie you know why this is significant. Elsa’s hands become the source of her strength and magic, which you can see swirling about in OPP’s picture.

I asked the OPP about her drawing and she replied with this,
“Oh Mama. Elsa is just SO powerful.” She sighed dreamily and went back to coloring.

Powerful indeed. More please!

Elsa Hand

Drawing by Amelia Wardy, 8yo.

“Frozen” Partially Thaws My Cold Heart To Disney Princesses

The cast of "Frozen".

The cast of “Frozen”.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend my mom and I took the kids to see Disney’s new animated film “Frozen”. The kids had been excited to see it for weeks and the previews had me intrigued. This would be Disney’s first princess film made in the aftermath of the national backlash to Princess Culture and I was eager to see if they had taken any of these concepts to heart.

Maybe they did, maybe it was coincidence, but “Frozen” seems to be taking some serious steps towards featuring empowered princesses who are strong, smart, and adventurous.

Seriously, I just typed that sentence about a pair of Disney princesses.

Perhaps my cold heart towards princesses is thawing? We all remember my love fest for Merida. “Frozen” isn’t a perfect film, and I do not dig Princess Culture and the messages girls learn from it, but……

I really like Elsa and Anna, the princess sisters from the film. Following in the footsteps of Merida, these sisters are in command of their own stories, stay awake the entire time (major bonus!), and their main goal is not to find a prince. We see the sisters be funny, daring, stand up for themselves, care about each other, make mistakes, not back down from a fight, climb a mountain, build an ice palace, repel off a cliff and punch out a deceitful prince. Woohoo! While I am still epically tired of the princess narrative used as the vehicle to serve stories to girls, if I look at this movie by itself and let it stand on its own merit then I have to be honest and say that we really loved it and I think Elsa and Anna teach kids some great lessons.

“Frozen” is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”. Very loosely based, so don’t spend too much time getting twisted up about the change in characters and story line.

The film begins as Elsa and her little sister Anna play in a castle ballroom until an accident leaves Anna hurt, the family racing to save her (great shot of the Queen charging out the castle gates on her horse as they speed into the forest to save her daughter), and ultimately the course of Elsa’s girlhood changing in order to reign in this great power growing stronger inside of her.

Elsa and Anna are separated and we see the strain that puts on the girls who dearly love each other. When their parents’ ship is lost at sea Elsa must prepare to become Queen when she comes of age. Anna is desperate for companionship and on the day of the coronation meets a handsome prince who promises a great many things. Anna decides a few hours later that is a great idea to become engaged to him — a move that is heavily questioned by Elsa and later by Anna’s new friend Kristoff.

An argument between the sisters during the ball leads to Elsa exiling herself from the kingdom, the kingdom falling into eternal winter, and Anna embarking on a great journey to bring her sister back. The film does a nice job of showing the love and complexities in a relationship between sisters, which is the note the film finishes on.

 

So, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

~ Elsa and Anna look like Barbie dolls, with giant, giant eyes. Great article about that here. As adventurous and independent as these gals are, the message is still that you must be beautiful while you do it.

~ In one scene we see Anna as a child singing about Elsa coming out to play with her and she flies in front of a great portrait of Joan of Arc and you think “Hey girl power!”  Minutes later in the film we see a teen Anna in the same portrait gallery, this time singing about meeting “the one” and falling in love. Doh! It didn’t bother me so much the idea of a teen girl wanting to find love, more so the idea that once a girl ‘comes of age’ she forsakes adventure and pursing her interests to marry and settle down. The song was an avenue to introduce the story line of the deceitful prince, but he could have shown up regardless after Anna sings a song about her life taking twists and turns and not knowing what her next adventure will be. I mean, Joan of Arc probably didn’t sing about boyfriends before riding off into battle….

~ When Elsa leaves the confines of the palace and can finally be herself on her mountain she gets sexed up quite a bit. My five year old even commented on it, saying she was too sexy. It would make sense for Elsa to let her hair down a bit, but there seemed to be an unnecessary focus on her sexuality. Also I could not stop thinking about Vanna White.

~ Again, for the story to unfold it makes sense, but the scene where the trolls meet Anna and immediately launch into a song and dance number about Kristoff being a fixer-upper but they can still fall in love……it sends the message that boy + girl = love. The song could have been about boy + girl = great pair for finishing their quest.

~ There is one scene where weapons are pointed and Elsa and my kids found that very upsetting.

~ And with films like this, there is always the disconnect between the feisty princesses we meet on screen and the tie-in merchandise that sells beauty and a narrow definition of femininity to girls. We had a big discussion about that here.

 

What I liked:

~ “Frozen” had a female director, and I think it shows in many parts of the film. This princess tale is a departure from the Cinderella/Sleep Beauty we grew up with and the guy-dependent Little Mermaid/Princess Jasmine/Belle and continues to take the modernization of that franchise forward, expanding on the independence we saw in princesses from “Tangled” and “Princess and the Frog”.

~ Elsa is powerful, she knows it, and she owns it. She never backs down to the men trying to control her. She cares about the people in her kingdom and struggles with the responsibility of how to be a good leader.

~ Anna is confident, determined, learns from her mistakes, is quick on her feet, and on the journey to find Elsa we see her rescue Kristoff just as many times as he rescues her. She never backs down from a fight, whether it is snarling wolves or a giant snow monster.

~ There are two love stories in this film, the central one being between Elsa and Anna. But Anna and Kristoff end up falling for each other and while I don’t like a girl’s story ending with the finding of a man, we see their relationship grow over time and Kristoff is a good guy (unlike, say, the princes Merida is introduced to).

~ Olaf the snowman is really funny!

~ Kristoff is shown as a full human being with emotions and complex thoughts, which is the most admirable “prince” we’ve ever seen Disney produce. Kristoff isn’t a prince by birth, but by actions. He is the kind of character I would like Benny looking up to. Benny thought he was really cool and Amelia said she would want to be his friend but definitely NOT do any kissing.

~ The animation is incredible and the songs are fantastic. It felt like watching a gorgeous Broadway play. Disney does this kind of film very well and in that sense, “Frozen” is a masterpiece.

~ Family, above all else, is the moral of the story. The sisters save each other, the guys in the story are the side kicks. Even the romance that blossoms between Anna and Kristoff at the end is a subplot.

~ Elsa and Anna are the authors and heroines of their own story and that is all I ask for in tales about girls. As tired as I am of princesses, these are two princesses I can fall in love with. Merida, Elsa, and Anna are on my A+ list. None are perfect, but I think it is imperfect characters that can sometimes make the best media role models.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.