How many of you cried watching Disney’s Frozen the first time (second time, third time…)? It is no surprise that the animated movie had this effect, as the theme of “being different” resonates with a large audience. We all feel that we are different — even special — and often feel that people don’t understand us. They say horrible things to us, ostracize us, and steal our lunch money. Even our own parents, like Elsa’s and Anna’s parents, can make us feel like our faults define us and, therefore, shelter us from the outside world, afraid our talents — which they see as curses — might draw unwanted attention, maybe even hurt others. And so the advice “let it go” is a way of suggesting that we just forget all of this, as if fixing the mind is as easy as just one catchy Disney aphorism.
“The heart is not so easily changed, But the head can be persuaded.”
Besides the obvious reference to the head injury Anna suffered while playing with her sister, the Grand Pabbie goes on to wave his hands over Anna’s head and repair her injury. This scene, which sets up the two children’s subsequent forced separation throughout childhood, not only gives the message that injury during play should be punished without mercy — that the accidental injuring by one sibling of another should be treated with the utmost disdain (it shouldn’t, by the way) — but also underscores a lack of understanding, i.e. stigma, around mental illness. That a creature can just wave its hands and fix someone’s head is tantamount to supporting witch doctors in treating illnesses such as depression, which often require years of treatment. In reference to this mixed message, we should not just “let it go.”
In fact, the emotional abuse of isolation and recrimination is the psychological equivalent of physical torture; psychological abuse can be even more traumatic than sexual abuse, according to psychologists, which means Disney’s Frozen has tapped into a very powerful emotion that many of us have, i.e. childhood emotional trauma, and lack of qualified support to assure we deal with it at the time and not just “let it go” unacknowledged.
It is not unusual for commercials, TV serials, and movies to use psychology to draw audiences. In fact, one might be surprised to know that Disney’s Frozen contains quite a bit of violence and sexuality, even with undertones of rape in Hans’ ulterior motives in seducing Anna.
“Violent, or aggressive child-based movies and cartoons, or child TV programs or movies spiced with a little sexuality, may hold a child’s attention longer so that is what the market sells. Sexual adults create children’s movies, so if a little sexual innuendo finds itself in a Sponge Bob movies for children, or a Dreamworks kids-flick, it shouldn’t be surprising.”
And the advice for dealing with attempted murder and attempted rape? “Let it go.” The perpetrator Hans is allowed to go free; we see him getting hit with a snowball in the Disney short Frozen Fever, as if this minor harassment is enough to punish his intentions to kill Elsa and rape her sister. In the famous song by Elsa, she is determined to be herself, but not before leaving the entire Kingdom and leaving her sister alone with her potential rapist. At the ball in which Hans and Anna announce their wedding to Elsa, it is clear from Elsa’s response that she knows there is something deeply troubling about the one-night romance (based on the love of sandwiches, really!?), but Elsa leaves anyway, leaving her younger sister, whom she already nearly killed as a child, to again fend for herself. It is not her fault, however, as Elsa has learned emotional abandonment from her parents before they died.
You might be telling me to just “let it go,” as it is “only a movie” and therefore “not a big deal.” This dismissive attitude is common among people who have dismissed mental illness, i.e. “problems of the head,” as not a real disease. Of course, none of us can shoot ice out of our hands, but we do have other talents which correspond to such conditions as autism. Autistic people are often very intelligent but lack social skills and are thus isolated from the outside world, left untreated to stew in their bedrooms which become part laboratory for self-exploring their intellect and part prison, keeping them from learning how to cope with their emotional issues. This can lead to permanent social exclusion or worse if the person goes on to commit physical harm to others not knowing how to cope with their inner demons beyond the Disney advice to just “let it go.”
What we need is better mental health care. As good as the advice “let it go” is, we need more than just a Disney film to treat the widespread condition of mental illness.
“In 2011, only 59.6% of individuals with a mental illness — including such conditions as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder — reported receiving treatment.”
— Mersey Care NHS (@Mersey_Care) August 18, 2015
[Image via Getty and Appropriation]