Falling for Disney’s “Frozen on Ice”

Like the film, Frozen on Ice keeps its Nordic heart—and melts those of the audience

Photo: Disney The official poster for Frozen on Ice.

Photo: Disney
The official poster for Frozen on Ice.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Disney’s Frozen is the world’s highest-grossing animated film ever and rates the fifth highest-grossing film overall. Young girls join each other in singing its well-rehearsed songs. Its popularity dominated Halloween costumes in my neighborhood, with the stores sold out of Elsa costumes.

It’s an amazing and wonderful phenomenon. Finally, popular culture offers young females role models of redeeming value, for in this story: two sisters risk all for each other, a young woman accepts who she is instead of hiding her talents, an anti-hero who is true and kind trumps the bad boy, and females are the heroines of this story.

The film is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and is set in the northern country of Norway. So transforming this movie to an ice show seems a perfect fit. But adapting, adjusting, and transforming the magic, color, and drama from the no-holds-barred medium of animation to a physical stage of ice is not so easy.

The ice show will be touring across the country over the next two years. I had the good fortune to see it twice in the relatively new Barclay Center in Brooklyn. (Side note: Brooklyn is also the home of the couple, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who composed many of the show’s songs, including its phenomenal hit, “Let it Go.”)

The Barclay Center had a Frozen prelude for pedestrians—vendors selling all manner of accouterments: ice crowns, scepters that light up and sing, and wands that spin and glow. The security line was fierce. But the assortment of girls of all ages and ethnicities arrayed in icy hues was a delight, and quickly took away the sting of waiting. When the show was about to begin, the house lights receded and the colored lights emitted by anxious girls, perched on their seats, added to the fun. They had created a mini aurora borealis.

The storyline, dialogue, and voices are taken directly from the movie. These are recorded, allowing the actors to focus on skating, which is really the point. It is a challenge, as the Barclay’s ice stage is not very large. They do make the most of it.

The lights are most effective, as we are thrust into a purple-blue world in the princess’s room. Elsa uses her power to transform ice images for her sister. Unfortunately, Elsa’s gift becomes her curse when by chance she hits Anna’s heart, almost freezing her to death. Anna is saved, thanks to the healing power of a shaman troll, but Elsa is so fearful of making this mistake again that she isolates herself from her sister and insists on wearing gloves, so the magic that emanates from her hands is stifled.

Above the stage are snowflake-shaped panels that show projections of Arendelle, the Norwegian town where Elsa and Anna live. Projections change for each sequence, but your eye tends to focus on the action on the ice. The sets are spare, as they must be in order to make the scene changes that move the story along.

There is a beautiful town scene in Arendelle when Elsa is to be crowned. Some of the town folk circle each other with colorful ribbons, simulating a maypole dance and evoking the warm season of late spring. The Waltz that follows shortly after is stunning as couples suffuse the ice; women dressed in voluminous colorful skirts, turning like gentle petals in a breeze.

Anna meets a prince and decides that day that she wishes to marry him. When she tells Elsa of her plans, it escalates into an argument. As Elsa becomes angrier, she causes an unintentional explosion. Spring is quickly cut short. Elsa has unexpectedly frozen the town into a permanent winter. The natives grow restless and Elsa goes into self-exile.

Anna quickly follows, and runs into an unusual couple: Kristoff the Sami boy and kind hero, accompanied by his sidekick Sven the reindeer. They are a big hit with the audience and Kristoff is a wonderful skater. He did a back bend close to the ground and got big applause for his back flip as he firmly landed on the ice. The reindeer must carry a sled and has four legs, meaning that underneath a very large and hairy costume are two people skating in tandem. It gets really hairy when they try to escape the menacing red-eyed wolves who attack from all sides.

This transitions into a playful scene in which Olaf, the snowman that Elsa had built for Anna when she was a young child, appears. Kristoff playfully tosses Olaf’s head and Anna puts him back together. Olaf belts out his popular song “In Summer” and is joined by bees, flowers, and butterflies skating around in lovely swirls. Chickens with canes join and high kicks ensue. It is Broadway on ice all filled with golden light.

In the meantime Elsa has found herself. The woman who portrays Elsa skates with expressive arms—showing elegance and poise. She is flawless, as Elsa should be. When she gets ready to sing “Let it Go,” a song of empowerment and self-approval, the crowd burst in. It became a spontaneous sing-a-long; no written words needed.

Anna tries to get Elsa to return to Arendelle, but she refuses. Most ingenuous was how the Abominable Marshmallow Snowman rose from a pile of snow into a huge spiky iced creature that chases Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf away from the Queen’s ice palace. His breath spews billows of smoke. After his final words, “Don’t come back,” Kristoff sees that Anna’s hair has a streak of white. Elsa has once again frozen her heart. He seeks the trolls’ assistance.

The troll scene looks like a geyser field in Iceland. Stones roll out to greet the trio. These rolling stones are replaced with trolls, in wonderful costume, as each looks like two trolls playing piggy-back. The trolls are not only Kristoff’s adopted family, but the Troll King is a shaman and healer. He is the one who healed Anna as a child and prescribes an antidote for her again: true love.

The end is somewhat rushed, and on the off-chance that you haven’t seen the movie, we’ll leave it out.

Of course an ice show cannot compete with the animated version’s attention to Norwegian details, But, they do their best in things like costumes, rosemaling designs, architecture, and troll depiction. Arendelle is believed to be based on the Norwegian towns of Arendal in Aust-Agder and Nærøyfjord in Aurland. Perhaps the most meaningful and dare I say just depiction is of the Sami, the indigenous group that had been so sorrowfully treated, so much so that even the colloquial name they were given, Lapps, is derogatory. It is derived from the word lapp, a scrap of fabric to patch clothing. Here, the Sami Kristoff is the true male hero.

If you have not seen the movie, the story line may seem lacking in the ice version. However, the show seems to be geared toward those who have not only seen the movie, but can also regurgitate every song and line verbatim. This included a father and his daughter who were sitting next to me.

I was sorry that the film’s introductory song “Eatnamen Vuelie,” written by Frode Fjellheim and Christophe Beck, was eliminated. I also missed the opening song and scene “A Frozen Heart,” with the ice cutters. In the movie, this song and scene foreshadows the frozen heart that Anna suffers twice and the one Elsa forms to protect those she loves. It also introduces us perfectly to Kristoff and Sven. However, transforming that scene to an ice stage of medium size would be impossible.

The musical score is stellar. I went on my second trip with my friend Ellie Jensen, who had never seen the movie, and she kept raving about the music. The songs were composed by two different sets of partners, so some are pop and show tune in style, while others are classical and haunting—something for everyone. Frozen’s soundtrack has broken records for commercial success.

Ester Tonnesssen, another friend who attended, reminisced, “It reminded me of when Sonja Henie would skate in New York. I saw so many shows of hers. I would see her a lot. She was so beautiful.”

Sonja Henie, then, brings us full circle back to Norway. Perhaps the most startling residual benefit of Frozen, whether on film or ice, is that it presents the best of Scandinavian culture and values to the world. And most notably the world has fallen in love with it all, like Olaf “with a warm hug.”

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 28, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.