What's the Frozen madness about?
How is an animation character giving children, both boys and girls, life goals on family values, resilience and gender rights while dancing her way to box office history?
Nine-year-old Yana Arora, a resident of Bhandup, postponed her birthday party by a week so that she could celebrate a special movie date with her friends. It is no ordinary film, but one that has left an impression on her since she watched it the first time. As Elsa and Anna, Kristoff and Olaf and a bunch of magical creatures sprang to life on the 3D screen, Yana squealed. They were right there—her favourite characters "in forever"— Anna would have said. Elsa, the Queen of Arendelle, with her powers to make ice out of thin air, was a superhero she could call her own, unlike an action hero from the comic book universe that seemed to add a Catwoman here and a Wonder Woman there, as after-thought. Yana, like Tiana Dutta in Kolkata or Erisha Yadav in Noida, is a fan of Queen Elsa—flawed, fierce, fabulous and the possessor of some serious swag.
November 22 was a life event for young girls around the world, as Disney's keenly awaited sequel to Frozen hit theatres. Bikram Duggal, Head, Studio Entertainment, Disney India, in a conversation with Sunday mid-day, revealed, that it is by far the most "asked for" sequel in Disney's history. "Wherever we went—forums, events, screenings—parents and children would inquire about a sequel, even before it was announced. That's how much people have connected with the film. Till the live action re-imagination of The Lion King appeared in August this year. Frozen was Disney's highest grossing film with global ticket sales of $1.287 billion.
At the Frozen II promotion in Juhu last week, Sunny Leone's daughter Nisha Kaur Weber ran up on stage to give a bear hug to actors dressed as Elsa and Anna. The video of the moment went viral
But revenues don't always tell you the real story. Ask parents, siblings and educationists and they will tell you how the animation with its ridiculously popular music, has been a useful parenting tool, a baby sitter, a mentor and a glue for families.
Yana's mother, Yogini, is a mind coach and as much a Frozen fan as her daughter. She finds the story about a young queen to be useful while communicating with her daughter, and some of her other younger clients. "Of all the characters to have come out of the Disney Studios, Elsa offers the most positive and inspiring life lessons." Particularly useful is the film's powerful and fresh take on the usual life skills and values—self belief, fearlessness, acceptance, and sibling love.
So enamoured was Yana with the story that for the longest time, all she wanted was a sibling to recreate some of the magic she witnessed on screen between the world's most famous sisters. "Think about it, the film tells you that girls do not need to be rescued. Family matters. There is something special in everybody, even if you do not have visible superpowers, you can be as heroic as Anna. The list just keeps growing with every viewing," Yogini says.
Frozen, with its feminist and contemporary twist to the story of Hans Christian Andersen's classic of Snow Queen marks a clean departure from the problematic narrative about pretty, but powerless princesses and saviour princes. Part of its stupefying success lies in the subliminal messaging and its timing. Even in a far more serious sequel, it connected immediately with young girls and parents, who had a Harry Potter, yes, but perhaps wanted more of Hermione Granger. But it also means different things to different people.
Grace and Mark D'Souza were chosen for a special screening of the film in Mumbai last week
"It is often an ice-breaker, pun intended," says Afsha Khan Jayapal, a Bengaluru-based professional, who creates activity modules for young children and swears by the film's ability to break through cultural and demographic barriers. "I have always been a Frozen fan. Before my son was born, there were nights when I would come home after a long day at work, kick off my heels and dance around the house to Let it Go or First Time in Forever," she says. "Come to think of it, Tangled, which tried to rewrite the Rapunzel story with a strong feminist sub text, could have been as impactful. But at the end of the day, Rapunzel was still tied down by her hair, literally. "In the case of Elsa, there is nothing holding her back."
For many kids, it is the ear-worm of a title song that became the anthem for girls around the world. "Let It Go was the hook that was often the first point of entry into the Frozen universe for kids who were too young to watch the film," explains Bibek Basu, creative director at an animation studio in Mumbai. Ahmedabad-based parents Malav Parekh and Kathika Kandpal agree. Their five-year-old daughter Adrija, discovered the soundtrack before she watched the film. And the songs became her constant companion. "We realised how quickly she had latched on to the music when we watched her hum the songs to herself during playtime or bath time or whenever she was on her own," says Parekh. Adrija has watched the film several times with her parents and her favourite song is, "Do you wanna build a snowman?" The lyrics, say her parents, are easy to remember, and the melody is hummable.
Tiana Dutta from Kolkata gets a Frozen-themed cake for her birthday
For kids as young as Adrija, the gender politics of Frozen may not matter. "It may work for parents, who have experienced it with the other Disney princess stories, but for young kids, it is just a fantastic magical story about a young hero with a super power," says Parekh.
Which is perhaps right, because nowhere in the first film do the characters talk about their gender, neither is it an issue even are the men in their lives as reduced to arm candies. The Frozen brand of feminism is never in your face. But always there for the discovering.
Sayoni Basu, publisher of Duckbill, a young adults imprint, has not watched the series, but is aware of the rage that the character has been. In her analysis, Elsa's popularity could be because "children usually feel powerless in an adult world". And here, you have two young people in control, finding solutions to the small and big problems of their lives. "The resolution may not be perfect, but it is still something they can call their own. And that is important," she says, talking about the importance of giving children the agency to take decisions. "Also the story at a conceptual level, is something new. Fresh and contemporary. And children love that."
But Frozen is not always the serious bits. It is also a glorious celebration of everything that is magical, larger than life and snow. Nikita Mehta, whose company The Drama Queen, has been creating Frozen-themed parties, says how girls in the age group of four to six are smitten by Elsa's luscious hair, the dazzling blue costume and her strong personality. To keep up the unabated demand, she has had to introduce mood boards and innovations, replete with foreign performers dressed as the characters, games such as pin the carrot on the snow-man Olaf, snow games and more. Kids, she says, don't always care for the moral of the story. Frozen is a visually spectacular musical, with a stupendous supporting cast of men who are jerks and creatures who are witty, she points out. Perfect for a party.
Bhandup resident Yogini Arora is a mind coach, and mother to nine-year-old Yana who requested that her November 17 birthday be celebrated on November 22 to coincide with the release of Frozen II. So enamoured was she with the story, all she wanted was a sibling to recreate some of the magic she witnessed on screen between the world’s most famous sisters, says Yogini. Pic/ Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Though Elsa is a huge icon for young girls, the film has its following among young boys too. Grace and Mark D'Souza were thrilled to have been chosen for a special screening of the film in Mumbai last week. While Grace, 12, was happy to have revisited Elsa in a film "that's even better than the first," she says, Mark, was taken in by the other characters and the visual effects. "The fact that everything about Frozen is blue and not pink, makes it easier for boys to identify with the film. Besides characters such as Olaf, the adorable snow-man, also helps," says Yogini.
What may have also helped keep the appeal of the Frozen mythology alive is the staggering range of merchandise that the franchise has lent itself to. Yana owns every possible Frozen merchandise ever made. Though her younger brothers are into Avengers, they share her passion for the pop culture sensation in a sparkly blue dress and shades of grey. Disney India has a list of 67 brand tie-ups on record for Frozen II, but we all know the legend of Frozen lives on in the little things that are way beyond the official ambit. From birthday cakes and stationery to linen and hair accessories, dresses and shoes to jewellery, it is a franchise that keeps giving. Duggal explains, "When you establish a strong emotional connect with a story or a character, you want to make it a part of your everyday life." Which could explain why the biggest consumers driving Disney's latest empire are girls aged five to 16.
If the box office collections worldwide do topple action stars, you could thank two feisty young girls who keep doing "the next right thing" in the more complex, dark and definitely more grown up version of the popular franchise.
$120 m - $140 m
Current estimates for the film's opening weekend
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