"We're going to the movies!" My son and niece jumped up and down. "What are we going to see?" my niece asked.
"Frozen," said my wife.
"What's it about?"
The truth is we weren't sure (bad parent alert!). But it's notable that she was old enough to consider and pose the question—a sign of how much she might be influenced. The only preview we'd seen was of a lighthearted reindeer and snowman goofing around in the snow.
Once we settled into our seats, though, we realized this cutesy preview wasn't representative of the movie we were about to watch.
Frozen's setup—and most of its duration—is characterized by great distress. My son—who is old enough to know immediately the emotional hues of a narrative arc—regularly leaned over to my wife to ask, "What's wrong?"
I was even more interested in my niece's reactions to the movie, because, while it's not apparent in much of its advertising campaign, Frozen is in fact another Disney Princess movie. Less characteristically Disney (and Hollywood, too) is that its two primary protagonists are sisters: five-year-old Anna and eight-year-old Elsa. (You should know that my niece loves princesses.)
One of the film's early scenes sets the tragic tone when Elsa, possessing since birth the power to create ice and snow, accidentally freezes her younger sister when playing together in the royal palace. The King and Queen seek healing from a group of trolls; they heal Anna's wound, remove any memory she has of her sister's magic, and advise the family to keep Elsa's power a secret so as to protect her from the potential negative consequences.
Perhaps too hasty to protect Elsa, the royal family isolate themselves in the castle, and the two sisters grow increasingly apart over the years. Elsa, afraid of again hurting her sister or anyone else, stays lodged in her room. Anna, unaware of the past, doesn't understand why her big sister is so distant. Compounding these tragic origins is the sudden death of the King and Queen during a storm at sea.
Three years after the death of their parents, it's summer, and Elsa's coronation has arrived. The kingdom's gates are opened (a rare occasion) to various citizens and dignitaries from near and far. Anna, who has suffered the consequences of the decision to hide her sister from the public eye, is excited at the opportunity to meet people—and particularly eager to encounter a potential Prince Charming.
As it turns out, she meets Prince Hans and after falling all too quickly in love, they show up at the coronation intending to marry. Elsa, who has had a successfully quiet public appearance prior to this news, gets into an argument with her younger sister over the swift engagement, and in the heat of the moment, Elsa angrily reveals her powers in front of everyone.
She flees the kingdom for the mountains and creates an ice palace where she finally feels free to be herself. But because of this, the land is beset by an eternal winter—one that only "true love" can thaw.