The feel-good idealism that is resting like a glow on the faces of our three daughters has been triggered by the release of Frozen II, the sequel of Frozen, the animation musical fantasy film that was the highest-grossing film of 2013.
Our daughters were 10, 8 and 5 when they first watched Frozen and were gripped by the story of two sisters who are very different and yet bond so strongly with each other. There was music, magic realism and a talking snowman with the best punchlines. Soon we discovered through the internet that we were inadvertent participants in a widespread pop culture phenomenon every time the children sang Let It Go at the top of their voices on long drives in the car.
Six years later, the release of Frozen II on 22 November was a much anticipated event in our family. Our oldest child, Sahar, is overwhelmed by how much the different plot lines speak to her. She saw the film twice in a week, first with her sisters, and the second time with her parents.
“Mamma, the story has grown with its audience," she said to me after she first saw it. “It’s a beautiful tale of accepting parts of yourself that are different, taking risks and following paths that no one you know has been on before."
Sahar just couldn’t stop thinking and talking about the film. When she couldn’t find me immediately, she would write down her insights and send them to me to read.
Broadly, the Frozen films are the story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, who were regular princesses till the discovery that Elsa, the older sister, has a special power that allows her to create ice and snow on command. It is all fun and games till Elsa accidentally injures Anna and is isolated from everyone else till she learns how to control her power. Is it a power or a disability? Can it create, or will it only destroy?
Reading this over my shoulder, my daughter dictates and I type the rest— Frozen is also the story of estranged siblings learning to understand each other again. “I felt so much like Anna, Mamma, who knows that she may never fully understand the extent of her sister’s powers, but is determined to protect her. She understands that there are things Elsa needs to do that may not include her, but never lets Elsa feel as though she has to brave the unknown alone.
“My heart broke a little as I heard Anna say to Elsa, ‘I don’t want to stop you from becoming whoever it is you need to become. I just don’t want you dying trying to be everything for everyone else too.’"
To be honest, it gives me goosebumps to listen to my daughter talk like this, her eyes bright with excitement. I grew up without sisters and have often watched my daughters with an outsider’s fascination for the tangible and yet indescribable bond between sisters.
“Anna is Elsa’s rock," continues Sahar. “She keeps her grounded when the magic becomes too strong. She is the one who keeps her from spiralling when Elsa convinces herself that she is the cause of her parents’ death, telling her, ‘You are not responsible for our parents’ choices, Elsa.’"
In another message to me inspired by the film, Sahar writes: “We are all taught, especially girls, that anything that makes us different is something to not be proud of, something to hide, to cover up and conceal. Elsa’s father tries to teach her the same thing. Yet they do not portray him as a villain, because, truthfully, he isn’t. It’s just that he doesn’t know any better. He’s doing his best to try and protect Elsa, even though he ultimately ends up hurting her.
“In Frozen II, Elsa lets go of her fears and proudly presents herself to the world in the song Show Yourself. ‘Show yourself,’ she sings. ‘Step into your power. Grow yourself, into something new.’
“We have all had our quiet journeys of self-acceptance. Everyone from the LGBTQ+ community, those on the autism spectrum, women, men, we have all had to hide some part of our self at some point. For Elsa to proclaim so loudly and without shame, ‘Here I am, I have come so far,’ feels revolutionary. We see her discover that being powerful is a beautiful thing, instead of something to be ashamed of. It makes me crave for more."
Another character that impressed Sahar is Kristoff, Anna’s boyfriend. “I feel that little boys should watch Frozen II to meet Kristoff," she stated in another gushing moment. “At one moment in the film when Anna and Kristoff are reunited and she apologizes to him for leaving him behind, he says, ‘It’s okay, my love is not fragile.’
“He is not upset at all. He does not feel like he has the right to demand an explanation, he does not need an explanation. He understands her decision, and doesn’t feel wounded about the fact that the sisters did not need him. He does not make Anna feel guilty about supporting her sister. He respects their relationship."
As for me, by the time I saw the film, all I was doing was anticipating the scenes my daughters had already shared with me. The one thing that I found all by myself was a mantra for all those moments when one is overwhelmed by sorrow, loss or has just hit rock bottom from exhaustion. “This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down," sings Anna when she is afraid she has lost her sister, Kristoff and Olaf, her animated snowman. “Just do the next right thing, take a step. Step again," she commands herself.
I mentioned the scene to my daughter and set her off again. “Mamma, did you notice, her grief doesn’t manifest itself as revenge. She doesn’t turn to her boyfriend for a solution, and he doesn’t feel the need to step in and protect her. Anna knows what she needs to do and she does it. She is desperate and angry and heartbroken and she uses that to make sure that nobody else gets hurt, that she keeps doing ‘the next right thing’."
She sure does, my darling, I thought to myself, letting my daughter have the last word on the subject.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.
Twitter - @natashabadhwar