You’d be hard-pressed to find any animated characters since 2013 that more children have identified with than the leading ladies of Disney’s Frozen. Kids didn’t just love the story and the movie; they became Elsa and Anna. “Let It Go” was the rallying cry heard throughout homes and playgrounds around the world, an anthem that children still sing, not only with their little voices straining to match Elsa’s soaring crescendo, but with the entirety of their hearts as well. Even six years later, though she wasn’t yet born when Frozen opened in theaters, my 4-year-old spends at least several hours a week debating with her preschool friends who will get to be Elsa and who will get to be Anna.
But a lot can happen in six years: Many of the children who were recess pals in 2013 are middle- or high-school acquaintances now. It’s not implausible to think that even the older Frozen fans could’ve conceivably met, married, and had little Elsas, Annas, and Kristoffs of their own.
Which is why it makes sense that when Frozen directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee set out to create a sequel to the Disney juggernaut, they wanted to age the franchise in order to incorporate six years’ worth of audience growth while still capitalizing on the magic and nostalgia of the original. And did they ever. There are more than enough nods (and even a sashay) to its predecessor in the sequel that matured fans will love and appreciate — but where does that leave children like mine? Children who, in 2013, weren’t even two little lines on a pregnancy test? Children who still believe that Elsa’s magic is theirs and won’t just wax nostalgic for a hallmark of their childhood?
As the creators of the Frozen franchise have noted, there was no lack of maturity in the original film — but whereas heavy things like death were more of an abstract visual (i.e. a black curtain drawn over a portrait), the idea of loss is much more discernible in Frozen 2, making the fear all the more palpable. Which means parents should definitely be aware of the significant difference in how the two movies approach passing on. If you haven’t yet had to navigate a discussion of loss with your children, you may want to at least have an idea as to how you’ll handle any pointed questions your curious little ones might come up with after (or, worse, during) the sequel.
For example, there’s a scene in Frozen 2 where Olaf serves as something of a “Previously on…” narrator; I audibly gasped when he actually recapped that Anna and Elsa’s parents “died.” Granted, it was done with Olaf’s trademark innocence and naiveté, making the moment more laughable than anything, but since the original had been so subtle in killing off both the king and queen of Arendelle, I was surprised when they so casually tossed the D word out there — and from a snowman’s mouth, no less. (Still, Olaf more than earns his comic relief badge several times over in this installment; “When I Am Older,” his musical number this time around, both helps to break the tension of the ominous Enchanted Forest and manages to be one of the few songs my child continued to sing after we left the theater.)
But that wasn’t the moment that kicked off my child’s trepidation. A short while later, the adventure picks up when the sisters have to separate, and that is when my daughter started taking in quick gulps of air. Yes, the royal sisters go their different ways in Frozen; however, my child never hyperventilated during the first movie, perhaps because when their split happened in that storyline, Elsa was reveling in her newfound independence with a power ballad while Anna kept company with Kristoff and Sven.
Sitting in the dark theater for Frozen 2, watching my little one’s chest rise and fall rapidly as I tried comforting her as quickly and as quietly as I could, I tried to piece together why this specific part of the film made her so nervous, but then I realized that to my child there is no Elsa without Anna — a pairing solidified with the conclusion of the original. Even at home when she drags one doll along with her, the other must come, too, as she clumsily props one up against the other so they can both watch her eat breakfast. When she plays with her friends, they’re never all Elsas or all Annas; at least one must be Elsa and one must be Anna. So, watching the physical separation of the dynamic duo unfold in vivid CGI on a movie theater screen was completely overwhelming for my daughter.
Add to that the fact that in a significant departure from the Disney animated film formula, there is no overt villain in this movie; instead, the big bad comes in the form of the “unknown,” and that’s a recipe for inducing difficult fear in many young ones. Open any children’s book about new developmental stages (i.e. starting kindergarten) and almost always the takeaway is that yes, new things can be scary, but here are some of the things that you’ll face and now that you know that, there’s nothing to be frightened of. So a film that strays from an overt antagonist and instead chooses to rely on “Who knows what we’ll find out there?” as the conflict can definitely be a trigger for some kids.
I won’t spoil it, but the darkest moment in the movie comes about three-quarters of the way into the film. The scene and its accompanying song (“The Next Right Thing,” for those already growing familiar with the soundtrack) managed to reduce my child to an Olaf-sized puddle; other children in the audience wailed loudly as one of the sisters bemoaned, “The life I knew is over. The lights are out. Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb.”
Since ours is a child who tends to do better when she knows what might happen ahead of time, my wife and I thought we had adequately prepared her for the darkness of this movie. My colleague had kindly prepped me so that I could do the same for my daughter, but even with the gentle warnings and the rundown, she could not be talked out of seeing Frozen 2. After all, these are characters she’s loved and believed in wholly for the better part of her life.
To both the film and my daughter’s credit, she stuck it out. Even through a steady rivulet of tears when she was afraid, she stubbornly refused to hide behind my hand or the Anna doll she brought (her friend brought her Elsa doll), and she turned down my many offers to leave. I asked her afterwards why she chose to stay, and she said, “Because I wanted to see what happened.”
Admittedly, I was worried my child’s love of Frozen would thaw after all the tears shed at the screening — which to me would be a parental pain akin to the day she stops believing in Santa — but the next day, she actually told us she wants to see the movie again. She assured us she wouldn’t be afraid a second time around because she already knew what was going to happen.
I have no doubt that older children and fans who grew up alongside Disney’s most famous sisters will love this film. In a time of rampant reboots and revivals, the craving for familiar visual comfort food is as fierce as my 4-year-old’s devotion to Elsa and Anna. But, for kids born after 2013, they may find Frozen 2 a little hard to swallow — at first. But, don’t worry, viewings No. 2-143 should go down a lot smoother.