A father describes how the pleasures of “Frozen” expand with multiple viewings

As someone FAR from childhood, I saw “Frozen” twice, once in the theatre and once for the children at a family gathering. After reading this article, I do believe I’m going to watch it again. Wonderful read if you’re pondering whether you can bear to take your child to “Frozen 2.”

Achieving Transcendence on the Millionth ‘Frozen’ Viewing

Once a father took his aversion to “Frozen” and, yes, let it go, he realized that beyond the branded backpacks and Anna and Elsa matching sock sets, the movie is an ingeniously crafted tale.

Credit…Magnus Voll Mathiassen

By Adam Sternbergh

  • Nov. 27, 2019

“Frozen” was released on Nov. 27, 2013, and our daughter was born nearly two months later, so, even before my wife and I had a child, “Frozen” hovered on the fringes of our parental consciousness as something to be avoided and vaguely despised. If the term “Disney princess” evokes, for a certain kind of parent, a distasteful ethos of sparkly dresses, impossible wasp-waists and fables of princely rescue, then “Frozen,” which centers on not one but two princesses, seemed, sight unseen, to be doubly odious. Yet one day, years later, when preschool was canceled and the rain was unceasing, my wife sent me a text: She’d done it. In case of emergency, she’d broken glass. She’d rented, and they’d watched, “Frozen.”

It’s hard for me to say now exactly how many times I’ve watched “Frozen” from beginning to end — 10, 12, 20? — but I can say with confidence that I’ve watched it more times than any other film in my life. I’ve watched it more than I’ve watched “Citizen Kane.” I’ve watched it more than all the “Godfather” films combined. I’ve definitely listened to the “Frozen” soundtrack well over 100 times, based on a rather conservative estimate of at least once a week for 52 weeks over three years. I could sing the entire soundtrack to you right now from memory. “Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining …”

Watching (and rewatching) “Frozen” with his daughter made a fan of this father. Now he can sing the whole soundtrack from memory and can’t wait to see “Frozen 2.”
Watching (and rewatching) “Frozen” with his daughter made a fan of this father. Now he can sing the whole soundtrack from memory and can’t wait to see “Frozen 2.”Credit…Disney

If those lyrics have no resonance for you, I won’t bother recapping the plot, which honestly feels at this point like stopping to explain what “weather” is. I also understand that, relatively speaking, my total number of “Frozen” viewings is modest — some superfans claim to have watched it over 100 times. But given that there was a moment in my life when I strongly felt I would not watch “Frozen” even once, I’m shocked at how familiar I am with it — and, more than that, by how much affection I feel for it. I live with someone, a tiny someone, who wants to watch and listen to “Frozen” again and again. (And again.) If familiarity breeds contempt, I should hate “Frozen.” A lot. So why am I so excited to take my tiny someone to see “Frozen 2?

Here’s one thing I’ve learned from watching “Frozen” repeatedly: “Frozen” is good. Very good. Once I took my prejudicial aversion to it and, yes, let it go, I realized that beyond the lunchboxes and branded backpacks and Anna and Elsa matching sock sets, the movie itself is an expertly and even ingeniously crafted tale, a nuanced examination of sisterly devotion that features some of the best voice talent in the world, several very catchy songs and a lot of impressively rendered CGI snow. The dialogue is funny. The physical comedy is inspired. The set pieces, like a wolf chase across a mountainside covered in fresh powder or a final mad dash across a frozen harbor, are imaginatively staged and visually inventive. The entire film is especially enjoyable if you have an affinity for classic musical theater, as the lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez and the composer Robert Lopez clearly do. (Fun fact: Lopez, who also composed the music for “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q,” is not only the youngest person ever to win an EGOT — an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — but he’s the only person to have won each award more than once.) It’s not hard, for example, to imagine the number “In Summer,” as sung by Olaf the sentient snowman (voiced by Josh Gad), happily wedged into a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, performed by Donald O’Connor or Danny Kaye.

There’s no denying the tunes are catchy in the tradition of classic musical theater. The composer of “Frozen” was also behind the music for “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.”
There’s no denying the tunes are catchy in the tradition of classic musical theater. The composer of “Frozen” was also behind the music for “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.”Credit…Disney

The other thing I’ve learned from “Frozen” is this: There is value in watching something over and over. One psychological theory contends that repeating a pleasurable experience is more likely to make you feel happy overall than a restless search for constant novelty — which seems counterintuitive, particularly in a capitalist culture in which a ceaseless churn of newness is an economic imperative, whether it’s trading in for a new car every few years or subscribing to a streaming service for a catalog of “content” you’d need several lifetimes to sit through. But as a Harvard psychologist recently told The New York Timesin an article about the value of the familiar, “the process of looking for new insights in any repeat experience is fulfilling in and of itself. It’s the essence of mindfulness.”

And I can report that it’s possible, while listening to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” for the 80th time, to achieve a kind of meditative transcendence, even bliss. Once you’ve watched a film or heard a song 20 (or 100) times, you’re not only noticing all kinds of new and interesting things, but you start to notice everything — every note, every chord, every facial twitch, every nuance. With repeated exposure, you gain a new respect for Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa, and her superhuman ability to belt out a ballad unerringly while also imbuing it with complex emotional texture. Personally, I had this revelation on my 30th or 40th listen to the duet “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)” — and, yes, maybe I was choking up a little at the time. The ability to repeatedly engage with a work of art to the point where you not only experience the initial emotional impact but start to comprehend the framework of craftsmanship beneath it is the essence of cultural appreciation. And, frankly, it’s a thrilling experience, no matter what work of art you’re engaging with.

Repeating a pleasurable experience is more likely to make you happier than a restless search for novelty. Could that psychological theory explain the magic of seeing “Frozen” again and again?
Repeating a pleasurable experience is more likely to make you happier than a restless search for novelty. Could that psychological theory explain the magic of seeing “Frozen” again and again?Credit…Disney

It’s also a new experience. Of all the differences between my childhood and my daughter’s, the one she finds hardest to fathom, the one that confounds her the most, is that when I was a kid, I could not simply flip on the TV and watch my favorite movie whenever I wanted. I’d like to say this led to a childhood of Masterpiece Theater and rereading Dickens, but what it really meant is that I watched whatever terrible cartoon happened to be on at the time my parents allowed me to watch cartoons. My little sister was of a generation that at least got to wear out her VHS tape of “The Little Mermaid,” but I was too early even for that. My parents did sit me down on Saturday afternoons to watch “The Music Man” or “Oklahoma!” when they aired on the classic movies channel, but the exercise had the dusty sensation of homework, and I could still only watch each movie once. (This felt like a blessing at the time). Only later was I able to return to them and see the artistry my parents were hoping I’d discover.

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When I was close to my daughter’s age (she’s nearly 6), the film that I would have wanted to watch over and over (and over) again was “Star Wars.” But I only saw it once during its initial run. It was a magical experience and in the weeks and months that followed it lingered in my mind like a half-remembered dream. I eventually persuaded my parents to take me back to see it again, at a repertory theater, a year or two later, even though watching a movie in the theater twice felt, to my parents, like an inconceivable extravagance. I should also confess that during a particularly boring high school data-entry job, I listened to a condensed version of the “Star Wars” story on cassette maybe 300 times, maybe 500, maybe more.

So I’m happy my daughter can watch her favorite film as often as she wants, whenever she wants to, at least until it’s not her favorite film anymore. We’re both looking forward to “Frozen 2,” which I’m sure we’ll eventually watch at least 20 times. Lately, she’s gotten into the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, including “Spirited Away” and “My Friend Totoro”(both acknowledged influences on “Frozen”) — we’ve watched them together about four times each, and counting.

In fact, I can’t think of a better foundation for a lifetime of loving culture than the ability to steep yourself in the art that you love right now. Maybe “Frozen” will vault my daughter toward the discovery of other musical-theater classics — or not. Maybe musicals won’t be her thing at all. But I’m excited for her to continue to discover what her thing is and immerse herself in it joyfully. Right now, “Frozen” is her thing. And we’re enjoying it together. A lot.

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