When Frozen 2 was announced, the cast and crew promised a darker, more mature sequel that ran with the crowd. And boy, have you delivered? Author and co-director Jennifer Lee explores colonialism, environmental justice and race reparation, making Frozen 2 one of the most intricate Disney films of the last decade. The most confusing, however, is the treatment of the comic relief by the film. Olaf, the lovable talking snowman buddy, returns … and questions the nature of existence itself.
Oh Olaf, our sweet summer child. How did we come from loving, warm hugs to contemplate the nature of aging and death?
Olaf’s existential crisis has confused many adults. It does not help that he is a polarizing character, for some of the scene dealers of the Frozen franchise, for others a shrill annoyance, little more than a hit or miss. But Olaf has always played a key role in these films, serving the younger audiences as a gateway to the film themes. In Frozen 2 these topics are particularly intense, which makes his role more important than ever.
He still likes warm hugs. Walt Disney Animation Studios
The disguised child: Olaf interrogates the unknown
In children’s stories in any medium, animal and object figures (such as Forky from Toy Story 4 or classic toy figures like Winnie the Pooh and friends) almost always represent a child in disguise. In How Picturebooks Work, child literary scholar Maria Nikolajeva says that the popularity of these characters in children’s literature suggesting that small children have much in common with small animals from an adult’s point of view, and that their behavior is more like that of animals than that of civilized humans. (…) Representing main characters as animals or toys is one possibility To create distance and adapt the plot to what the author knows for children readers. “
The popular joke about Pixar’s film philosophy (“What if toy had feelings, what if fish had feelings, what if feelings had feelings?” And so on) shows this hypothesis in action. Authors believe that children relate more readily to animal and object protagonists than to humans, even as they navigate through human experiences.
In Frozen 2, death is the most centralized experience that is controlled – the death of Elsa and Anna’s parents, the threatening and actual loss of character relationships, and the way things inevitably change and eventually end. Parents are often reluctant to talk about death with their children, but children face death, change and loss all the time. Frozen 2 is brave enough to acknowledge that, and in the best possible way – by distilling these issues down to Olaf’s preoccupation with his own existence.
A particularly touching example: after eluding Olaf’s grief and sorrow in a moment, he confesses to Anna that he feels angry and hurt. Happy-go-lucky Olaf has never experienced these feelings before, but Anna realizes his confusion and confirms his feelings.
Their conversation reflects the kind of conversation that an adult might have with a child who has difficulty understanding how death affects us and other people in our lives. By giving space to his emotions about the changes around him and as he grows older, Lee allows Olaf to serve as a guide for children who might have similar questions and teach them how to ask these questions for themselves ,
Whooooooaaaaaa, dude. Walt Disney Animation Studios
Olaf as a meta-counter
Olaf’s philosophical reflection is not the only way he acts as a bridge between children and the main themes of Frozen 2. The opening number informs the audience about the events in the Kingdom of Arendelle through the occupation of beloved characters. Anna is now well-adjusted and in a pleasant everyday life. Kristoff plans to make a suggestion to Anna. Elsa strokes to the left over the mysterious voice she hears again and again. And then Olaf looks directly into the camera and tells the audience: “You all look a bit older!” Within the first 10 minutes, Olaf broke the fourth wall.
It’s an important moment, because this break in the fourth wall is not a mistake or a unique gag. Thus, Olaf’s new role is set not only as Frozen 2’s children’s avatar, but also as a meta-counter. Most of Olaf’s lines from this point onward refer back to themselves and recognize the fictionality of the narrative.
At first glance, all meta-jokes seem to be aimed exclusively at adults. Olaf’s world-thirsty utterances (“This is fine!”) Mimic popular nihilist memes, while his solo number “When I Am Older” provokes the complaints of “Adulting,” which rages on Twitter, Tumblr, and beyond. Olaf talks about death several times. He can be didactic and headstrong when he blatantly phrases the themes of the film or exposes tropes like the forest as a place of transformation. Most importantly, the film is based on its naive assumptions – which are directed directly at an adult audience – that growing up gives it all the answers and eliminates its fear and confusion.
So it’s interesting how his meta-narrative serves the children’s audience in a very different way.
For children, Olaf’s meta-narrative is like a heartfelt hug. It’s a confirmation that everything will be alright, because this is just a story. From a child’s point of view, the Olaf Recaps Frozen Gag in the middle of the movie is not only funny. Children are reminded that stories are fun and entertaining and that while they may be scary, they can still have a happy ending. This can be the consolation a younger child needs when Elsa freezes and Olaf later off in the movie. The summary of Frozen 2 after the credits summarizes the events of the last one and a half hours in a similar way and familiarizes the children with the common narrative conventions and encourages them to deal with the film even after the end of the film.
Although this may seem so to a younger audience, Olaf’s use of Frozen 2 is impressively refined in both ways. Lee’s scripture is something that many adults struggle with: they trust children to be smart enough to deal with complex issues and ideas, even if those ideas come from the mouth of a talking snowman. Ultimately, this confidence in the childlike audience elevates Olaf from a simple comic relief to something greater than the sum of his reorderable parts. Even for the people who hated his short film.