Editor’s note: This article contains major spoilers for the movie “Frozen 2,” admittedly from a very different perspective to what you might have seen elsewhere. The article is particularly useful after watching the movie.
Frozen 2 packs a number of complex themes into a relatively short and fast-paced movie, although not always elegantly:
For those willing to hear, Frozen 2 is much more than an animated adventure. It’s an epic story with an interior core and a mythic sensibility that sends a powerful message to young people: that sometimes the leaders you've always looked to for answers are, in fact, the very people who created the reasons for your despair. Sometimes the answers come from within. Sometimes it's not up to leaders; it's up to us.
In light of a global climate emergency and the recent staggering failure of leadership at COP25, is there something to take away from Frozen 2 for future leaders who will be facing climate catastrophe? While Frozen 2 doesn't address any of these issues directly, there is plenty for activists to learn from analogies in the film.
The central theme of Frozen 2 is the mysterious voice calling out to Elsa from the Enchanted Forest. Although she doesn't understand it and tries to reject it in Into the Unknown, Elsa eventually embraces the calling. Towards the end of the movie, the song Show Yourself—as she enters the magnificent, ethereal glacier of Ahtohallan—is her admission that the voice turned out to be the answer she'd been searching for all of her life.
In the movie, Elsa is the only person who hears the voice. You may feel you're the only person hearing "the voice" too, but there are many, many more who are hearing (and responding) to the calling right now. While the voice might not always make sense—particularly to friends and family—answering the calling is what humanity needs right now. People who hear the voice need to come together, just as liminal cells come together to make the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly possible.
This ancient martial arts wisdom is beautifully presented in the scene where Elsa—who has powers that represent ice and snow—tames Bruni the Fire Spirit, after unsuccessfully trying to extinguish the fires he creates. When Elsa eventually recognizes that directly fighting fire with ice isn't working, she aligns herself with Rumi's energy potential. The transformation is profound, with all of the fires being extinguished in seconds.
While the scene may appear unrealistic, Elsa's skill is reminiscent of real-life animal whisperers who are able to tame even the wildest animals. The lesson is for eco-activists to change course from one of finger-pointing and outright resistance towards collaboration and cooperation.
In a beautiful scene, Elsa falls back on her ice powers to attempt to tame the dangerous Dark Sea. She fails three times when she relies on business as usual, with the sea throwing her back every time. In Scandinavian lore, the Nokk is a playful and mischievous spirit that delights in drowning people. In the same way, the Nokk attempts to drown Elsa. Building on her lesson learned in taming Bruni, Elsa successfully tames the Nokk, who then elegantly and effortlessly carries her safely across the tumultuous Dark Sea.
This lesson can (and should) be applied to how we respond to climate emergencies. There are emerging New Paradigm Sciences as well as existing indigenous and traditional wisdom which—if combined with care and understanding—could address our climate issues more effectively than merely setting emission reduction targets.
Watch Kerr Sherwood-O’Regan of the Indigenous People’s Organization vociferously pleading with business as usual leaders at the recent COP25 to allow indigenous wisdom to be included with other proposed climate solutions (35secs):
The enormous dam Arendelle built to irrigate the fjord on which its palace rests had inadvertently begun drying out the Northuldra people’s lands around their forest. During Elsa's visit to the frozen “river of memory,” she discovered the story of their grandfather, who broke the peace by murdering the Northuldra leader while his back was turned. The murder was planned so that the king could avoid discussing this theft of resources from the Northuldra people. (Sound familiar?)
Once this knowledge had been communicated to Anna, she accepts her grandfather's ill-doing and that the dam on which Arendelle’s economy is built had an adverse effect on Northuldra. So she determines to do “the next right thing” by destroying the dam. Naturally, her plan is ridiculed—the subsequent deluge would destroy Arendelle downstream—and an attempt (rather feeble at that) is made to try and stop her. In the end, against all reason, the dam is destroyed.
The takeaway from the movie is to be bold with unconventional ideas and to be strong against resistance to your ideas (assuming of course that your idea is wise). What the world needs right now are dangerously unconventional ideas.
In a heartbreaking scene where the otherwise optimistic Anna descends into hopelessness and experiences intense depression upon what is presumed to be Elsa's death, she promises herself she will do The Next Right Thing. Actress Kristen Bell's voice breaks and she doesn't quite sing the song perfectly, making Anna's despair palpable. The acting and singing in this scene is profoundly touching and there are many comments online from those suffering from depression saying that this song is literally how to overcome depression caused by trauma and loss.
The opening lyrics of the song reflect how many activists are feeling right now: “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?”
When related to climate crisis, the opportunity here is for Next Right Thing leadership. What is the next right thing for ordinary people and citizens to do? No-one is currently providing this kind of leadership and, of course, this is the work that EARTHwise Centre is committed to.
What the Frozen 2 directors and songwriters are attempting is incredibly ambitious. Through the magic of Disney's multi-billion-dollar animation franchise and Broadway melody, they are seeding a new human story about generational responsibility for imperfect, and even horrifying pasts. To this story they are adding an element of personal responsibility. Anna accepts responsibility for her grandfather's horrifying past and does something about it, even in the face of ridicule.
Maybe, just maybe, the movie Frozen 2 will—in time—prove to be the tipping point that changes our current human story: from dread to thrivability, from catastrophe to transformation, from helplessness to action, from fear to hope. Could it be the story that empowers thousands of young leaders to lead us on a third path out of duality? Could it be the story that inspires wise action from millions of we, the people?
As Greta Thunberg recently concluded at COP25: "Every great change throughout history has come from the people. We do not have to wait. We can start the change right now. We, the people."
Join Us in an Epic Adventure of Real Change: The Tipping Point Calling.
Written by Michael Haupt - EARTHwise Centre Core Team