When Frozen debuted in 2013, my daughter was two months old. I thought I missed “Frozen Fever.” Nope. A few months back, we caught it on the Disney Channel and my daughter promptly requested to have her own copy, the sing-along edition. We have Frozen sheets, cups, plates and bowls, utensils, dolls (Elsa and Olaf), pajamas, underwear, socks, and a tote bag. My daughter was Elsa for Halloween.
If you don’t have a little person in your life, you maybe thought the fever wouldn’t get you, too. Nope. Because, I’m going to suggest you watch it. After my first watch-through, I could see why the film had been—and still is—so popular. After about the tenth time I watched it (in the same week), I took notice of what made that storytelling so good. In fact, I took notes, and I’d love to share my findings with you, highlighting some of the elements that drew me in as a viewer and made this film so watchable.
It’d be easy to also discuss the larger plot elements, and how well they work with the customary three-arc structure, along with how well the film develops the protagonists, antagonists, and villains, and how the writers seamlessly carry through themes, and on and on, but I’d like to hone in on some of the finer details that made me appreciate the creativity of the film, even the twentieth time I watched it, and also the details that inspired me to infuse similar elements into my own writing, even when it’s adult historical fiction.
What I’ve got for you below is full of spoilers, but I’m guessing the majority of you have already seen the movie…
The Repeating of Elements
I like when stories close threads. There’s an obvious one in the film where Kristoff’s sled goes up in flames and Anna promises to get him a new one. She does, at the end of the story. Circle, closed. But Frozen also has smaller instances of this, where the circle isn’t necessarily closed, but I’m able to make a connection to an earlier portion of the story. I liked that.
Anna is trying to stir Elsa out of bed so they can play. She pleads, “The sky’s awake, so I’m awake” (~00:03:55)
Later, Olaf is lying on his back, riding on Sven’s back. Staring up at the sky, he says “Look, Sven, the sky’s awake.” (~01:03:02)
Anna, not having many people to talk to, named a man in a painting. She refers to him as John. (~00:09:20)
Later, Kristoff asks Anna the name of Hans’ best friend. Her answer: “Probably John.” (~00:41:20)
All stories do it. Some do it better than others. In Frozen, I’d say the writers did it well, including both an obvious moment of foretelling and also a second less obvious instance that sets up the major reveal/twist toward the film’s end.
After Anna is struck in the head with Elsa’s magic, the head troll, Grand Pabbie says, “You were lucky it wasn’t the heart, the heart is not so easily changed.” (~00:07:00)
It’s not a huge surprise when Anna is later hit in the heart by Elsa’s magic (~00:57:43). At that point, Grand Pabbie explains how Anna has ice in her heart and how she’s in danger (~01:08:45).
Not So Obvious:
Upon first meeting Anna, Hans mentions his twelve older brothers. (~00:23:20) Then, he says, “I’ve been searching my whole life to find my own place.” (~00:24:00) The thing is, while he says it he sweeps his arm (and gaze) toward the city of Arendelle.
Later, Hans reveals his devious plan, saying how he was thirteenth in line in his own kingdom and he knew he’d have to marry into the throne to get what he wanted. (~01:15:46)
Subtle Details to Set Up Future Plot Points
“Laying the foundation” is an important part of storytelling. In my own writing, I’m constantly going backward to an earlier scene to squeeze in a detail that’ll help set up the scene I’m currently writing. It doesn’t have to be much, just a quick little detail. I found two great examples from the film:
Subtle Moment One:
The mama troll says, “Cuties, I’m going to keep you” to Kristoff and Sven when she finds them watching the royal family. (~00:06:44)
Future Plot Point One:
Kristoff talks about the trolls taking him in. (~01:03:18) Then, we officially meet his family of trolls. (~01:03:55)
Subtle Moment Two:
Olaf says, “I like to consider myself a love expert.” (~01:02:28)
Future Plot Point Two:
Anna says how she doesn’t even know what love is. Olaf replies, “That’s okay! I do!” He then gives love advice to Anna that changes her entire outlook. (~01:20:53)
Continuation and Building of Threads
Frozen did a lot of “as it happens” story telling, which I like, and which I think allows for threads to not only build, but remain relevant and top of mind as the story progresses. In the film, the idea of a “love expert” was introduced, then continued two additional times before it was paid off.
First Mention (~00:41:44):
“Are you some sort of love expert?” – Anna
“No, but I have friends who are.” – Kristoff
Second Mention (~00:52:03):
“I’m not alone, I have friends remember?” – Kristoff
“You mean the love experts?” – Anna
“Yes, the love experts.” – Kristoff
Third Mention (~01:02:16):
“Where we going?” – Olaf
“To see my friends” – Kristoff
“The love experts?” – Anna
Then, we meet the trolls, the love experts.
Overall, the film has great transitions that propel the storyline forward. Here is one of my (and my daughter’s) favorites.
Anna sings a song about how the upcoming ball will be magical and change her life. She concludes with how “nothing is in my way”, then promptly runs into a horse. My daughter loves it. Cracks up. But that moment is also the bookend of the singing scene and the start of a new scene, where she meets Prince Hans, him coming to her rescue after his horse knocked Anna over. I like when books have a seamless transition between two distinct scenes and I appreciate how the film did it so seamlessly, in a way my three-year-old even picks up on (~00:17:00).
Deepening of Secondary/Tertiary Characters
I adored many of the characters in Frozen, but for this one, I’m going to focus on Sven, the reindeer. The writers and animators did a great job of making him feel real, right down to his demonstrative eyebrows. He’s got great expressions, Kristoff has implied conversations with him, and he has a memorable presence in scenes. Did anyone else’s heart stop when Sven fell into the icy water? (~01:24:25) My daughter pressed her hand over her mouth, then cheered when he emerged (I did, too).
But another element I really enjoyed about Sven’s character was how he always had an eye out for food. It was a fun way to deepen his character and make him unique, at all these moments:
- Eating a carrot (~00:02:12)
- Eating a carrot (~00:12:14)
- Eating another carrot (~00:40:09)
- Trying to eat Olaf’s nose (~00:46:57)
- Licking ice, his tongue stuck (~00:58:26)
- Trying to eat Olaf’s nose, again (~01:01:15)
- Actually eating Olaf’s nose, before giving it back, unharmed (~01:31:19)
- Plucking snowflakes from the air with his tongue (~01:31:28)
Olaf’s character is another one I really enjoyed. He was endearing, clever, and funny. He infuses a hint of fun, even when conflict is at its highest points. While there are many comical moments in the film, involving many of the characters, these are my top three Olaf-related moments.
While escaping from the big snow monster at Elsa’s castle, Olaf’s nose is on the side of his head, his arms are misplaced, and the order of his snowballs are switched. He’s huffing and puffing and says, “Man, am I out of shape.” Then he puts himself back into the correct shape. (~01:00:00)
Anna and Sven are having an important conversation and, at the bottom of the screen, there’s Olaf’s head. Camera zooms out, and we see Olaf is holding up his head, disconnected from the rest of his body, so that he can be part of the conversation. He chimes in with a clever remark. (~01:02:12)
On the back of Sven, Kristoff and Anna are racing toward Arendelle’s castle. Her heart is freezing and time is of the essence. Beside them, Olaf sleds on his belly down the hill. Olaf veers off, sliding toward town. Krisoff tells him to stay out of sight. Olaf agrees and disappears off camera. A few moments later we hear Olaf say, “hello,” then a woman screams and says, “ah! It’s alive!” (~01:13:55)
And, there you have it, the elements of Frozen that I’d love to emulate within my own women’s fiction/historical fiction writing. Of course, there are other stylistic elements I could swoon over. A lot more, actually. The film is packed with examples of great storytelling. I’m curious, as a viewer or writer, is there anything that you latched onto? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.
Also, completely unrelated, but another portion of the film I love: Anna wears gloves, a hat, and a jacket when she’s outdoors. Now, the battle to bundle up my daughter has been slightly easier when we venture outside. Thank you, Disney.
Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. Please learn more about Jenni and her books at jennilwalsh.com.
From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.
The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.
Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.
She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.
Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.
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