Frozen 2 x 2
Two looks at Disney’s new sequel film
Disney’s Frozen 2 sequel to the 2013 blockbuster animated film Frozen was released on Nov. 22 in the United States. Both Victoria Hofmo, New York correspondent for The Norwegian American, and Assistant Editor Andy Meyer were on hand to offer up their views on how the new film measures up from a Norwegian-American perspective.
WARNING: These reviews may contain spoilers. Please do not continue reading if you do not yet wish to know the sequence of events for the film.
My initial observation is that, as in the first film, Frozen 2’s animation is alluring. I was so delighted to see that Frozen 2 is set in autumn, a time of the year most of us have rarely experienced in Norway. The maple leaves of russet and burnt-orange swirl in circles. The textured birch trees, against the stark lichen-covered rocks of Norway are stunning, especially at dusk. Moments of the aurora borealis lighting and dancing in the sky awe, but also hold a clue to its theme: Norway’s beckoning north.
While Frozen was loosely—very loosely—based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Frozen 2 takes a different course. The familiar and much loved characters of Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf remain, but the storyline goes beyond, or should I say, below the first film and Andersen’s tale to tie up loose ends. It deals with what actually happened to Anna and Elsa’s parents, the reason for Elsa’s angst, and what her purpose is. Norwegian history and mythology are at Frozen 2’s core.
The main storyline is that the Frozen crew goes to save the Enchanted Forest that has been covered by an untraversable mist. A siren call from the North that Elsa cannot shake sets them off on their journey.
It is the memory of a tune that Elsa and Anna’s mother sang to them that drives them forth. The top troll, Grand Pabbie, tells them about the northern forest’s enchantment and the Kingdom of Arendelle’s possible impending doom if things are not corrected.
Pabbie encourages Elsa to follow the voice that may give her answers. He ominously intones to Anna, “We have always feared that Elsa’s powers were too much for this world…. Now, we must hope they are enough.”
Four elements dominate in this film: Earth (giants from the craggy landscape); Wind, a swirl of leaves that Olaf names Gale; Fire, an adorable diminutive dragon; and Water, the beautiful water horse, known as Nøkk or Nekk in Norse mythology. This water spirit can be ominous but can also be of help, and once tamed by Elsa, it is the latter. In addition, there is a fifth element, but it must be uncovered.
The ability to make these elements come to life is a testament to the talent of the animators, who created new technology so that their vision could be realized.
While I don’t wish to reveal too much of the film, I would like to make mention of the musical score. Some of the songs or song fragments from the first film are repeated, including its intro, “Vuelie” (which means joik in the southern Sámi language), a haunting piece composed by Norwegian Frode Fjellheim and inspired by “Saami joiking and the Danish Christian hymn “Deilig er jorden”/“Fairest Lord Jesus,” composed by Frode Fjellheim.
In a totally different genre, Kristoff’s song is made in a pop style boy band feel. The reindeer serve as his backup singers, perhaps a bit corny—but kids will love it.
At the center of the film, are the Sámi people. Elsa hears a voice with the sounds of a joik, an essential, mystical aspect of the Sámi culture. When one wishes to joik about a tree or a person, for example, the words and tune are not about that tree or person: it actually is that tree or person, a conjuring up of the tree or person.
With the focus on the Sámi culture, one wonders why the film chooses to call these people “Northuldra.” A huldra is a beautiful female siren troll. One wonders if there is an attempt to create a layer of protection from being embroiled in a debate on identity politics and political correctness.
In a similar vein, one also wonders why Kristoff is never indentified as a Sámi or Northuldra. Already in the first Frozen film, his cultural identity as a Sámi is seen in his clothing, most notably, the shape and material of his shoes, as well as with his sidekick, the reindeer Sven.
To my mind, this mixing of traditions can be problematic. On the one hand, I appreciate Disney’s sharing the Scandinavian culture with the world, their attention to details of Norway’s environment, architecture and clothing.
But on the other hand, I object to how those involved play fast and loose with cultural elements. A huldra is not a Sámi. The film takes true, and in some cases, sacred elements of the culture and sets them in an unrelated context, creating confusion, untruth, and a distortion of that culture.
Nonetheless, one good result in the film is that the Sámi and Norwegians find a resolution through Anna’s great sacrifice. We also find out that some of our main characters stem from both cultures, connectors that could prevent possible misunderstandings and future conflict.
Yet, for all my deliberations on Frozen 2 for its displacement of cultural markers and mythology, I would still recommend it for what Disney does do so well: mesmerizing animation, full of innovation; attention to the architecture, dress, and environmental details of Norway; and most of all, the ability to tell a good story.
And Disney is a master skald, with a unique brand of storytelling that harks back to when folks gathered round the fire, yet also anchored in the present, when we read tales to a cuddled-up children at bedtime. This storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of entertainment, bonding historical retention and human connection, bringing all humankind together.
The Norwegian American
It goes without saying that the target audience for Disney’s blockbuster Frozen films is children—and, of course, adults with childlike spirits and lively imaginations. Like its forerunner, Frozen 2 is a delight to the senses, a thrill for the imagination, and, in at least one reading, a lift for the spirits. The music, even with a couple obligatory gooey pop numbers, is charming, and its musical centerpiece, “Into the Unknown,” is nothing short of a tour de force.
The writing is clever, too—I laughed aloud unexpectedly a number of times as a snappy quip jumped off the screen. And, by many accounts, Disney’s cultural research behind the presentation of the reindeer-herding Northuldra, a nearly overt stand-in for the Sámi (and a somewhat clever portmanteau of North and Huldra, the mystical and secretive wood-nymphs of Norse mythology), was thorough and in good faith.
As a piece of entertainment and an original story (with, whispers the cynic in me, a very high toy sales potential), I must say I enjoyed Frozen 2. In this review, however, I want to offer a critique. And, fair warning, it is based on the ending of the film, so stop here if you don’t want to know what happens!
The conflict in Frozen 2 occurs three years after the events of Frozen, and it becomes clear that Elsa and Anna’s parents took a secret to their graves: that their mother was Northuldra and their father Arendellian. Moreover, their Arendellian grandfather had tricked the Northuldra into allowing Arendelle to build a great dam up-fjord from Arendelle to control the water flow, convincing them it was a gift of good will that would help them manage their natural resources (a familiar story with many parallels in the real world). He also murdered the Northuldra leader.
War broke out, ending in a sort of stalemate. In response to these grave crimes, the four elemental spirits, earth, fire, wind, and water, enveloped the Northuldra’s forested lands, along with the warring parties, in a magical fog that none could penetrate, and none could escape.
Years later, in Arendelle, Elsa is haunted by the sound of a mystical voice, seeming to summon her to the distant north. At the same time, nature begins to behave strangely: the fire in the streetlamps goes out, streams and waterfalls stop running, the earth rumbles and quakes. The people are forced to evacuate the town and head for the hills.
Finally, Elsa pursues the voice north, along with her insistent sister, the ambiguously Northuldra Kristoff, and his trusty reindeer Sven, and, for nearly endless comic relief, Olaf, the goofball snowman.
Inside the magical fog, the events of the past are slowly revealed to the adventurers, largely by way of ice sculptures that Elsa’s magic conjures up. “Water has memory,” after all—a concept that becomes one of the movie’s motifs.
As Elsa sets out alone, delving deeper and deeper into the elements in search of the source of the mystical voice, Anna and party remain above ground, trying to find out what they can.
In the end, Elsa, who has by now learned that she is the fifth element to bridge the four and restore peace and healing (see the 1997 film, The Fifth Element), magically sends a message to Anna about what she learns in the heart of the ice—that their grandfather was the ruthless aggressor—and Anna realizes they must destroy the dam to atone for the colonial wrongs of the past, which she accomplishes by tricking the earth giants, huge trolls of stone, into hurling great boulders at the dam.
What seemed remarkable about this plot development is that the characters, newly aware of their mixed heritage, and of the historical origins of the present troubles, also know that breaching the dam will threaten Arendelle, sending a tidal wave careening through the fjord and leveling the idyllic city (see the 2015 film Bølgen).
Cleverly, the elemental spirits had literally troubled the waters in order to get Arendelle evacuated—thus, there would be no loss of life, though the Western-style town and its castle, long protected by the ill-gotten dam, would surely have to be rebuilt.
Instead, as the great wave careens down the fjord, Elsa, outrunning the rushing water on the back of a nøkk-like water-horse appears at the last second to stop the wave with a flick of the wrist and a magical ice-wall. All is saved, all applaud, and everyone gets to hang out in uncomplicated peace and harmony.
Why is this a problem? In this story, there is no actual confrontation with the past. There is no real sacrifice. And, as such, there is no opportunity for the people to reckon with the unjust forces that have given rise to their luxury. The oppression of the Northuldra, and the hemming in of their resources, in the end, is free of consequence for Arendelle.
In 1997, at the opening of Sametinget, the Sámi Parliament in Karasjok, King Harald V began his speech by stating that “the Norwegian state was founded on the territory of two peoples, Sámi and Norwegians.” He then officially apologized to the Sámi people “for the injustice that the Norwegian state has inflicted” upon them through a “hard politics of Norwegianization,” which, like in the United States, meant boarding schools, punishments and humiliations for those who spoke their native language, sang their cultural songs, practiced their religion, or wore their own kind of clothing.
In many cases, it even meant death. Norway was one of the earliest Western nations to officially apologize to the indigenous peoples whose territory they either shared or stole. While there is a very long way to go, there was a start, and there have been steps along the way.
With Frozen 2, one only regrets that Disney chose to reinforce the message that the colonial powers of the world can have their cake and eat it, too. What an opportunity Disney had to ask the people of Arendelle to rebuild their city, which had been protected by unjust infrastructural “development” of the past, even, perhaps, with the help of the Northuldra, and to say, “This will never happen again,” or, to quote writer Barry Lopez, “We intend to mean something different in the world.”
These articles originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.