Analysis, Reflection

I watched “Frozen” 4 Times: Being Olaf

Olaf-via-disneywikia

This aesthetic pursuit started when #ProtestPrincess invited me to join her at the “Families Belong Together” march. She would dress as Queen Elsa, make the signage, and provide ‘economy’ costume materials to transform me into Olaf the snowman. Before this spring, I did not know @FunnyLadyMars — nor if Olaf was anything more than comic-relief packaged in a winter-themed critter. I hadn’t seen “Frozen” until the weekend I watched it four times. Now, I’ve written “Elsa Un-Gloved” and “Anna Through the Gates”, exploring my lingering thoughts. Now, it’s time to revisit the back-story.

Strawberry Festival is a fundraiser that my contemplative community holds annually on the first Saturday in June. Faithfully, I came to help move heavy things and run “choo-choo” rides for children using a faux-train-body mounted on a lawn-mower. I watched the clock pensively, readying to flee for a blues jam session elsewhere. I was in a depleted emotional state and Strawberry Festival felt like a minefield; my lost-love was on the grounds. I avoided her eyes, her visage, even her silhouette, and especially the possibility someone else joined her in what was “our community” for more than a year– until February. That seems like a long time ago, finally, but in June the chill was still upon me.

Some readers will know how it feels to be in the gap between medicines. The first pill worsened my confusion and there was no way to predict the next could salvage me. The compound strain of an underlying condition and the wrong drug are to blame for my agony, lost possibilities, the unshakable inertia of April and May, and my paranoia at the festival. [Enter @FunnyLadyMars: actress and comedienne] A budding friendship was enough to draw my attention away from the imagined attention or in-attention (worse?) of my former love — Mars belongs to my circle. She casts a peculiar, non-judgemental, effervescent halo around herself.  Before I retreated to blues jam, I divulged my left-leaning politics to her. She invited me to the Poor People’s Campaign rally and march on the mall three-ish weeks later. A bleaching of correcting-chemicals and June sunshine had partly removed my Strawberry Festival feeling by then. Mars arrived in #ProtestPrincess regalia — bright pink dress — in the persona of Princess Aurora (aka Briar-Rose or Sleeping-Beauty). Her catchphrase was “stay woke”.

Despite not resembling a Disney character, people sensed I was in costume. I arrived as a reboot of myself as a social justice advocate: wearing my grandfather’s brown jacket, an anchor necklace, my black beret — a kefia, too. I re-inhabited a #FreePalestine persona, circa 2013; by the time “Frozen” was released the following November, my ‘desert version self’ was blurring in the Washington swamp. I felt my outlines sharpen as we marched toward the Capital Building… even if I warped a little on the way back to the subway (tired), distorted is better than dissolved. It was a step in the right direction.

Six days later I fished YouTube for a free-version of “Frozen”. I gleaned just enough of Olaf to cosplay him. The bootleg footage was small, grainy, and (worst of all) had poor audio quality. The next evening I rented “Frozen” (on YouTube), reassuring myself that my ears’ discerning palette deserved “Let it Go” at a higher-quality. $3 and 3 days later, I saw it 3 additional times in its entirety. Let the record show that I was house-sitting alone that weekend — my friends’ children were not there.

* *[Spoilers]* *

Olaf-flower-inquisitr

“Frozen” has three beginnings: a ‘theme’ beginning, a ‘world’ beginning, and a ‘plot’ beginning. Rewinding them, Anna’s wake-up call on coronation day begins the featured plot. The girls’ early childhood scenes and the “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” montage build the story’s world, setting plot antecedents. The singing ice-harvesters who begin the film establish ice as a mysterious and powerful theme element. The sun sinks below the horizon as they work revealing the otherworldly tints of the auroras and the mingled tones imbue the lyrics “Beware the frozen heart” with an ominous glow.

But return to the second beginning, readers: “do you want to build a snowman?” A layer of meaning comes to life when a character is created by another character’s intent. When their sisterhood is intact, Elsa and Anna build a static Olaf together — a snowman they imagine loves warm hugs. As their rift widens, Anna asks “do you want to build a snowman?” but Elsa denies her. When Elsa flees to the North Mountain and finally allows her powers to fully express, a new Olaf is among her creations — she’s so busy singing and building, she doesn’t realize Olaf is sentient.

Frozen-beautiful winterOlaf is ‘fully character’ and ‘fully symbol’ from the moment that Anna, Christoph, and Sven hear his voice. Elsa’s dormant playfulness is awake — and much more. The preceding animation features panoramic, crystalline winter beauty — frozen waterfalls, glitter encrusted willows — causing Anna to declare “I never knew that winter could be so beautiful.” Olaf enters with vivid color suggestions; his antics are rife with comic relief, gags only a snowman could complete, and his song about summer seems to be part of the fun. “I don’t know why,” says Olaf, “but I’ve always loved the idea of SUMMER and SUN and all things HOT–” Theatrical improvisers relish ‘games’ like this one: his character- deal is to obtain something fatal to only him! We’re treated to some quality comedy as Olaf’s solo absorbs us into a jump-cut-montage of warm environs where snowmen would perish; hilarious! Though it would be an excellent throwaway sequence, Olaf’s role in the rest of the movie leads me to believe that his summer-time aspirations are thematically key.

Olaf-with-sandmen-in-Frozen_oh-my-disney

Anna faithfully believes her icy sister can make a life in society. She wholly wants Elsa in Arendelle. For Elsa that must seem as impossible as Olaf tanning himself on the beach or enjoying a hot-tub. (“Winter’s a good time to stay-in and cuddle/ but put me in summer and I’ll be… …a happy snowman!”). In creative ecstasy, Elsa made Olaf not knowing he could literally act-out her repressed desire to be in relationships. It’s also easier to believe that Olaf can relate to other characters when we know he’s born from Elsa’s unconscious hope, not just another piece of decor made from ice.

Just as Anna is trying to reconnect with Elsa again, Olaf gleefully interrupts to declare “I’m Olaf and I love warm hugs!” Though a funny (cute) way to puncture a serious moment, Olaf’s entrance echoes Elsa’s words from the ‘world’ beginning, before Anna nearly dies and the sisters’ rift begins. Elsa encounters the animated symbol of her most cherished memories and the suggestion of the desired ‘impossibility’. He’s made of snow, he came from her, but he loves warm hugs and everyone he meets. The rift and her pessimism are incarnate in the giant, bristling snowman she makes at the end of that scene.

Olaf-comforts-Anna-fireOlaf’s role in the plot is too pivotal and emblematic to dismiss him as merely comic-relief — he knows what love is. Anna rushes to find Hans, believing he is the true love who will thaw her ‘frozen heart’ and make things right. After revealing his true nature, Hans douses the fire and locks Anna in the room to freeze to death. It isn’t Christoph who picks the lock (with a carrot) and saves Anna’s life: it’s Olaf. Thinking quickly, he piles wood into the fireplace and starts a fire. This critter born from her sister’s heart is THE one to both explain and demonstrate what true love is: he would melt to save her.

He is more central to the prevailing theme of kinship (even though I enjoy Christoph’s character arc and the input of the troll ‘love experts’). Take note that Christoph stops at the gate but an enchanted snowman who is constantly greeting people (sometimes singing) infiltrates the castle and finds the precise room where he is needed. Olaf is a ‘key’ to gates and doors. Soon, Anna is willing to freeze to death to save Elsa (and let’s not forget, Elsa’s near-last-words are “just take care of my sister, please!”). Olaf completes the central triad of characters in the film: Elsa the subject, Anna the heroine, and their animated connection — “do you want to build a snowman?”

Olaf-flurry_peaceloveandsmoothiesDisney couldn’t give him the Frosty-the-Snowman treatment (let him melt and bring him back next winter) because the sisters’ connection is intact year-round. That brings us to a conclusive, magical moment when Elsa gives Olaf his own personal flurry so that he can be united with the summers of his dreams. The seemingly impossible has become reality.

***

The organizers of the demonstration asked us all to wear white; serendipity was in force. The subway cars between Metro Center and McPherson Square (in Washington, DC) were “snowed-over” with late-arrivals like myself. Evening news reports said there were at least 35,000 at the rally and march. My ‘coal lumps’ were stashed in a cargo pocket, crafted from campaign buttons and black duct-tape.

IMG_1023In costume together, we couldn’t walk ten feet without being asked for photos. People brought their children to us; often, they let their inner-child sparkle in the freedom and fun of seeing Disney characters. Mars explained to several reporters that she “didn’t like how ICE was being used” and that “Anna and I also lost our parents, so we know how the children detained at the border feel.” The sign she made for me quotes Olaf from the fireplace scene, “Some people are worth melting for”, and trailed a wisp of ‘personal flurry’ — a gauzy stream of sheer fabric in a frosty color.

I surprised myself. I thought I would get fatigued playing an upbeat soul like Olaf but I tapped into the energy passing between Mars and the crowd. The other demonstrators filled me with a sense of connection and exuberance. I fully inhabited Olaf’s character. He was not a skin that I pulled over myself; he became a pocket inside me that opened. I do love warm hugs. I know a great deal more about love than one might expect. There are people worth melting for. Summer is in full-force and I am in a season of dramatic renewal.

Weeks later, Mars and I sat together at some picnic tables on the same grounds where Strawberry Festival happened. We reminisced about our two-in-a-row demonstrations and spoke of many personal things. There is a wide bandwidth of feelings and experiences between us (and plenty that is unique to one of us or the other). We listened to each other. The sensation of being “discarded” emerged in our discussions; we both have felt it in several ways. Somewhere in the gospels, the text says that there is no greater love than when someone lays-down their life for a friend. More often, we are laying down a piece of our time. Our lives can get paradoxically busy and safe, in the United States, unlike first century Palestine (or current Palestine– I know). Sometimes we slough people too easily. Opportunities to connect deeply are missed. We cling to the certainty of shallow territories. We fear…

Another week has passed since I started writing this. Every week, I’m doing better and learning more about myself. Mars and I have had some funny, almost-stupid, still pretty deep, and unabashedly weird text conversations, too.  One Sunday morning , I almost called her to pressure her to come and cast a ‘personal-flurry’ over me. I hadn’t quite digested the situation from Strawberry festival. Yet I felt selfish for wanting Mars there. I didn’t call her; then she slept through her alarms; then she felt bad for sleeping-in; then I told her “no sweat”; then we agreed I would just call next time — it would be okay.

I saw something on Facebook (it would have to be Facebook, right?) and “the end” is normalized: my ex-girlfriend is behind me. There was always one more thing my ex was hiding, things I should have known sooner that I heard later, and her new boyfriend is just the last shoe to drop. Khalas*: I’ve edited away even my critiques of her. I choose to transcend my patterns… and can, with help. My therapist should get most of the credit but… I don’t mind getting a happily-sleep-deprived phone call from Mars. Let me rephrase: I really enjoyed a couple late-night calls. I’m not left alone on the North Mountain nor locked in a room freezing to death. Likewise, I won’t simply walk away when a blizzard starts; I know the feeling. I’m just being deliberate about sensing, and living-into, what comes next. Insh’allah — al-mishmish al-j’deed*.

And I am still ‘the cactus-pear’. Slash me to the ground and I will grow back.

*”Khalas” means “finished” in Arabic. “Insh’allah” means “God-willing” and “al-mishmish al-j’deed” refers to “a new apricot season”. In Palestine, “apricot season” symbolizes a precious point in the future because it is so short, sweet, and slightly hard to predict. However, I ought to assure you that apricot season does keep happening– Hope lives.

CREDITS:

[cover] Olaf running through a field via “Oh My Disney”
[1] Headless Olaf via https://bit.ly/2v4aipj
[2] Olaf admires a flower & an article from LifeHack.com: https://bit.ly/2v6MxwJ
[3] Anna & Christoph walking in winter splendor via https://bit.ly/2AuB5QA
[4] Olaf at the beach via https://bit.ly/2LEF8zd
[5] Olaf comforts Anna by the fire via http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Olaf/Relationships
[6] Olaf’s personal flurry via https://truehealthyme.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/how-disneys-frozen-is-really-an-eating-disorder-recovery-story/ <read this with me.

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