Frozen II’s Enchanted Forest Transforms Mental & Emotional Health Stigmas
by Mitch Blatt
Media can do a lot to shape how people think of a thing. Kids’ cartoons have relatively ham-fisted morals to try and teach young audiences things like social etiquette. There was a huge uptick in fear of sharks after Jaws came out, despite people being more likely to die in car accidents than shark attacks. The media has a big role in how the public views both physical dangers and mental and emotional struggles. For the longest time, people didn’t even talk about mental issues, and men received messages that the only way to be a man is to hide your emotions. But judging from recent media like Frozen II, that seems to be changing for the better.
Frozen II didn’t just make it big at the box office, it also made a big impact for mental and emotional health. This PG Disney movie tackled death and grief and taught audiences young and old alike that it’s okay to grieve after a loss. It’s okay to not immediately have an answer. It’s okay for men to express vulnerability. In a way, the film has a message of “it’s okay to be human,” a valuable lesson for both present and future generations.
What the film gets right about
mental & emotional health
Throughout their journey through an enchanted forest, Elsa deals with
feelings of not fitting in, and Anna deals with a cold, empty, numb dark-
ness in the third act. Many people incorrectly think of depression as just sadness, but it’s more a hollowness, just how Anna describes it in her song “The Next Right Thing.” Her breaking things down into the “next step” and “next choice” is very similar to a real practice called “chunking;” therapists will often advise people who suffer from depression to break big tasks into manageable chunks.
As sung in “Show Yourself,” Elsa finds the source of her powers and her place in the world during her trip to Ahtohallan, a “river full of memory” she learned about in a lullaby from her mother. She “feels like [she is] home” in the enchanted forest. This is in stark contrast to her life in Arendelle. Pressures and stresses (in this case, of unwanted queenly obligations and responsibilities, the loss of her parents, and unanswered mysteries about her powers) can lead to anxiety. The relief of those pressures—no more queenly obligations, finding answers to where her powers come from—can alleviate it. At several points in the film, Elsa leans
on her sister for support, and these scenes can help viewers realize that it’s okay to seek help and support from those close to them. We don’t have to handle our problems on our own.
We aren’t given much information about Kristoff ’s background, but he’s definitely socially awkward. He overthinks how to confess his feelings and propose to Anna, but has a much easier time speaking his reindeer Sven’s thoughts out loud. He’s sort of a “bumbling male” stereotype flipped either on its head or inside out—his inability to express himself isn’t used for comedy, but as the core of his dramatic character arc. Throughout the film, he does things that inadvertently show Anna how much he cares about her, like telling her, “I’m here. What do you need?” during a tense moment near the end. After spending the whole movie literally and figuratively “lost in the woods,” he “gets out”—finding both Anna and himself. His song “Lost in the Woods” framed Anna as his compass in life, but he’s also found his internal compass, at least when it comes to saying what he feels. It’s kind of like he’s become as “attuned” to her as he’s been to Sven. The movie tells men and boys, “your feelings are valid. Express them, don’t hold them in.”
Just like Olaf described it, the forest has been “a place of transformation” for them all. It’s also, hopefully, been a place of transformation for the viewers, imparting messages that it’s okay to grieve, to not have all the answers, to be vulnerable, and to experience the human condition. The characters in this movie model healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for anxiety and depression. If you’re ever struggling with those conditions, talk to a therapist and practice their strategies (chunking, leaning on a support system, etc.). If these messages are imparted to some yet-unknown “critical mass” of people, society will shift in a better direction.
Overall, I give Frozen II a 4.5/5 for its depictions of anxiety and depression, 4.5/5 for the songs and 4.5/5 for the story.