The howling winter wind, the gentle tap on the window frozen solid, the whiteness of her face coming into focus—all images that for me foreshadow separation, longing, and trials no child should have to endure.
Gerda and Kay, the girl and boy at the center of the original tale, bear the weight of a grown up allegory about sacrifice and redemption, and the painful transition from the innocence of childhood into the confusion of adulthood.
Gerda must forsake everything she has to rescue her beloved playmate Kay from the snare of the magnetic and inscrutable Snow Queen, a symbol of all that is feminine, elusive, and dangerous. The problem is that Kay doesn’t want to be rescued; the spell in the Splinters of Glass that have pierced his eye and his heart left him devoid of memory and feeling, his perception of love and beauty forever distorted.
Gerda’s journey to find Kay is full of mystical and religious imagery, riddles, and magic; it’s a walk along the razor’s edge of friendship and abandonment, promise and despair, control and surrender. Her deeply spiritual longing for Kay stands in contrast to Kay’s spell-bound attachment to the Queen, which carries an undercurrent of mindless carnality. The Queen is cold, a calculating seductress swaddled in a creepy wrap of maternal warmth. He can’t resist her.
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Really this is no story for children.
Imagine if Oh, the Places You’ll Go were written by Freud, spoken in tongues, and carried a loaded message about feminine power.
“I cannot give her greater power than she already has,” observes one of the characters about Gerda. “Don’t you see how great that is? How men and beasts all feel that they must serve her? How far she has come in the wide world on her own bare feet?”
And it is true; Gerda is able to complete the journey and prevail despite the maze of distractions, false hope, and manipulation that threatened her.
If little boys have The Little Prince and young men have Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to interpret their lives’ journey, and The Snow Queen is as good an allegory as a girl can ever hope to find. But it is neither soothing nor subtle.
To be expressed cinematically in its full literary glory, the story of The Snow Queen would have to be adapted by writers/directors like Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) or Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville).
Leave it to Disney to surgically reconfigure Andersen’s allegory and mold it into a flawlessly stitched script that transforms the eerie into the adorable, and the unsettling into heartfelt.
Yet Frozen, the animated feature film released over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, was an unexpectedly satisfying treat if taken for what it is, standing almost completely apart from the story that inspires it.
A surprise twist at the end gives a fresh meaning to the words “only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart,” in which true love is neither romantic nor sought after.
At the center of this screen adaptation are two young women: Queen Elsa—presumably, The Snow Queen herself if this had been a prequel—and her sister, the compassionate and spunky Anna who bears only superficial resemblance to Gerda.
Queen Elsa hardly seems dangerous—she is a kind of Barbie meets Persephone—and Anna is a be-freckled firecracker who is more of a CEO than a princess. She knows how to delegate if not discern deceit in order to rescue her sister from herself. Bold, flawed, and never threatening, Anna is a respectable role model for the post feminist generation.
The movie’s best musical number—“Everyone’s a Fixer-Upper”—says it all. I am a little sad that the character of Kay has been replaced with a girl, and the carefully arranged supporting cast that made the fairy tale so memorable has been discarded to make room for a happy-go-lucky team of friends and rivals who facilitate a new heroine’s journey.
Still, it works, and visually it’s a stunner—the Nordic Lights, the expanse of the fjords, the darkness of creeping freeze couldn’t be more engrossing. In the theater where I watched the movie, even the boys seemed to like it.
Have you seen Frozen? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!