Frozen 2, you were so close.
Let’s be honest, this shelter-in-place has given a lot of us the unwanted time (and responsibility?) of watching, and re-watching, a variety of children’s movies over and over and over again.
And after some…lengthy…”research,” it is indeed my estimation that: Frozen 2, you were so close.
While most watchers were dazzled by your exquisite animation (seriously, topnotch…though, can we all agree that everyone’s eyes are about two-sizes, too big?) and your earworm of a musical score (the ode to 1980’s music videos in Kristoff’s ballad had me longing for jams and slap-bracelets again), I was drawn to the story itself.
Because the plot of Frozen 2 is basically a metaphor for racial reconciliation in the United States, both in form and its largely failed outcome.
Yeah, yeah…I know you think it wasn’t meant to be a commentary on contemporary issues, and maybe you even think that I’m reading too much into it all, but I don’t think we should underestimate the subconscious mind’s ability to influence our work and our play.
Quick plot recap, ready?
Something is wrong in Arendelle. The ground is no longer stable, there’s menace in the air, and everything seems to be out of balance. Elsa and her companions go in search for the reason for all this unrest, leading them to an enchanted forest where they meet a people they’d only heard of, but never actually seen.
And in that new territory where these people are seen and known they find out a terrible truth: the people of the enchanted forest have been oppressed for the benefit of Arendelle. They were promised parity and equality. In treaties long ago they had been assured of partnership, ending years of animosity.
And they were lied to. They, and their way of life, was instead attacked.
I mean, do we need a clearer example of our treatment of First Nations people? Do we need a more on-the-nose example of the slave trade, of Jim Crow and “separate but equal?” Do I need to point out how ironic it is that on the streets of America you can drive on Robert E. Lee Lane and pass by Confederate monuments, all while people claim that “we’re past all that…” and act like everything is normal?
Driving on a street named after a General who worked hard to keep you working hard as a slave is a continual attack, in my estimation.
Back to Frozen 2…
This truth is devastating for Elsa and Anna, as they must wrestle with the reality that their beloved grandfather was a liar who participated in, and even instigated, this oppression.
This truth is devastating for Elsa and Anna because they must wrap their heads and their hearts around the fact that their whole world, Arendelle, and their whole way of life, is built on this oppression.
They have overlooked these people, but now that they’ve been seen they can’t unsee them.
The remedy? They must find the blockage in society and destroy it, allowing the creative forces that they had dammed up to flow freely again.
I mean, I took the plot line out of cartoony language, but can we agree that this is pretty much it?
Up until now I was all in on this movie. I was like, “Yes! A Disney film with actual, cultural import! In Frozen they tackled the misogyny of the traditional princess story, and here they’re going to tackle the hard reality of true reconciliation!”
But they didn’t. They chose a fairy tale ending.
See, here’s how it went: the earth elements destroyed that oppressive dam that prevented true life from flowing, and as those waters flooded the valley, the result was clear: Arendelle was going to have to be destroyed by the coming tide.
The people of Arendelle were alive, of course. They would live. But they’d have to find a new way to live and be in this world where the truths of oppression had been exposed.
But…that’s not what happened.
In the end Elsa uses her magical powers to spare Arendelle, saving the structures of the society built and sustained on the oppression of the people from the enchanted forest.
And in that moment, the plot was blown.
Because here’s the truth: once the inherent oppression of a society is exposed, once the way the system works to keep the powerful powerful and the disenfranchised largely unseen, you cannot go back to “the way things were.”
You cannot keep the structures in place in the same way.
Arendelle, as they knew it, had to be destroyed.
Or, if it wasn’t, the salvation of the structures could not come from the oppressors, but only with the cooperation and permission of the oppressed.
Because no magic can right this kind of wrong. It takes hard work.
How cool would it have been to see the aftermath of Arendelle’s destruction where the two people come together in actual unity to create a new society not built on subjugation but on an actual dependency on the skills, creativity, and beauty of each other?
Yeah, it’s a fairy tale…I get it. But, ugh, it could have been so much more. It could have been a teaching tool for a society who has deluded itself into thinking that just acknowledging the dam that keeps whole people and demographics parched is enough (if we want to continue with this analogy).
It’s not enough to say there is a problem. And it’s not enough to point to the dam of inequality and racism and wealth disparity. We can’t just name it!
Acknowledging the dam is step one. Step two is destroying it and letting it do its thing.
Step three is coming together to rebuild a new way of being that actually repairs what the dam, and the people who built it, destroyed.
See, here’s the thing: I was really thinking that through this film they might get a message, subliminal as it would be, that spoke a deep truth.
Actually, they did…but not like I wanted them to.
They were told the reliable, and unfortunately just as deep, truth that if given the choice, humanity will always choose the fairy tale ending instead of tackling the hard realities that change, justice, and righting wrongs actually requires.
Frozen 2, you were so close.