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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.