One of the things they don’t tell you before you have daughters is how much time you’ll spend discussing the various travails of two fictional sisters named Anna and Elsa.
Their hair (braids), their dresses (something called cap sleeves?), their friends (a reindeer named Sven and a manic Frankenstein snowman named Olaf) — everything about the heroines of Disney’s “Frozen” franchise is endlessly fascinating to a 3-year-old. And if you happen to live with a 3-year-old, you may have discovered that whatever they find fascinating comes hurtling out of their mouths in its own sort of blizzard.
Parenthood has taught me many things — patience, humility, how to pretend to be asleep longer than my wife when the baby wakes up. But here’s another thing they don’t tell you in the classes about how to keep a baby alive and diapered: How exactly are people with young kids supposed to hold down jobs and lead productive lives with so much kid nonsense taking up space in their brains?
I forget to pay the car insurance bill more often than not, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get the lyrics to “Love Is An Open Door” out of my head with a power drill. How does any parent keep their brain from becoming as smooth and cold as new fallen snow?
It’s not even clear to me how much of the movie my 3-year-old understands. She rarely watches beyond the first few scenes, when Anna and Elsa are young girls not much older than she is. She prefers to endlessly discuss Coronation Day and ask whether and why Olaf is “a goofball.” She has been known to shut the door to her room and whisper-sing “Do You Want To Build A Snowman,” as if Elsa was on the other side, listening.
But just when it seemed like the “Frozen” fever might soon break, along comes “Frozen II,” arriving in theaters Nov. 22. She came home from Target the other day and, with visions of a massive store display dancing in her little inscrutable head, asked where in the house we could erect a “Frozen” statue.
Naturally, her Halloween costume is the dress Anna wore on Coronation Day. At a neighborhood party over the weekend, she sat shivering, refusing to put on a coat because nobody would be able to see her cap sleeves.
Look, it could be a lot worse than “Frozen.” There was a Peppa Pig era that was dark indeed in our house. The only thing longer than a Fancy Nancy book is an episode of the “Fancy Nancy” TV show. I’m going to arrive in hell to discover that the whole place was decorated by whoever does set design for the “Mother Goose Club.” The warnings other parents have delivered about something called “Caillou” have been so stern that I’m considering a preemptive restraining order.
“Frozen,” by comparison, is a delight — even if its overwhelming popularity is still a bit of a mystery. I Googled “why is Frozen so popular” and found a Guardian story that sought to answer that question specifically because so many other people Googled it. We’ve achieved Frozenception.
The “Frozen” phenomenon has been dissected every which way, pulled apart and examined in think pieces and academic conferences aimed, at least in part, at discovering why this particular tale is so resonant. Hook up a bunch of preschoolers to brain scanners and show them the movie, and the data would probably look similar to scans of a bunch of Fox News nightmare uncles mainlining Hannity. Kids just can’t … (I’m sorry, I can’t stop myself, it has to be done) … let it go.
Explanations for the movie’s remarkable brain spider staying power include its gentle subversion of prototypical Disney princess stories, and Elsa’s relatability as an outcast worried that she might accidentally hurt the people she loves.
“First, a preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of Frozen heroine Elsa’s internal struggle: Her emotions are strong, passionate — and seem uncontrollable,” wrote psychologists (and sisters) Maryam Kia-Keating and Yalda T. Uhls in a 2015 Time story.
Also, the songs are good and there’s a talking snowman.
But somewhere along the way, during our 10th or 20th trip from Arendelle up North Mountain — maybe it was Stockholm syndrome — “Frozen” became part of our little family. For a girl who sometimes gets pretty jealous of her 1-year-old sister, a story about the enduring power of sisterhood makes for a pretty good reminder. Victory is sealed not by true love’s kiss, but by an act of sisterly self-sacrifice. And even though the charming prince is very good looking, that doesn’t mean he’s good.
Now, although she’s never set foot inside a movie theater and doesn’t really seem to understand the concept, our 3-year-old is studying the “Frozen II” trailers and counting the days until she can go see the movie.
And on Thursday, she’ll put on her little Anna costume and head out into the night. It will be cold, but we’ll make sure everybody can see her cap sleeves.