Sunday, November 24, 2013

Frozen Movie Review (Adoption Movie Guide)

*Some spoilers ahead*

 Elsa and Anna are princesses of Arondale, a peaceful country with at least some of its industry based on the harvesting and sale of ice. Elsa, the older of the two sisters, was born with the magical ability to create winter – frost and snow come forth from her hands at her whim. Anna loves this, and she and Elsa often play together in homemade, magical snow. Elsa’s parents have always been fearful of her power, and one day, Elsa seriously injures Anna. Healers are able to revive Anna, but in order to keep her safe, they make her forget about Elsa’s powers, and warn that Elsa’s powers must always be hidden.

Years later, when Elsa inherits the kingdom, she has become distant from Anna – and from everyone else. Although she dutifully tries to hide her magical abilities, her secret gets out. Misunderstood by her subjects, she exiles herself. Anna sets out to bring her back to the kingdom. Meanwhile, hurt by her sister’s longstanding unavailability, Anna also seeks love, and gains the attention of two different men.

The Adoption Connection

Elsa has been told to keep her secret hidden. Secrecy is called for – and practiced – in order to protect Anna, but it causes Anna and Elsa great pain and nearly ends their sisterly relationship which had once been so close. Secrecy in adoption is often practiced with kind but fear-based motives (protect a child from pain), and can end up causing more pain than it prevents.  Age-appropriate honesty is a much healthier solution than secrecy. Secrecy suggests shame, while age-appropriate honesty allows a person to gradually come to acceptance and integration of difficult truths.

Also, the sibling relationship in Frozen reminds me of how central sibling relationships are to kids in foster care. Our spouses often miss the first twenty or so years of our life. Our parents miss the last twenty years or so. Our siblings can be there for the whole ride. It reminds me of how important it is to keep siblings together and (in foster care) how important it is to have families who are willing to take in sibling sets as a whole.

Strong Points

Well-performed Disney songs (Idina Menzel is one of the leads) and lovable characters (including Olaf, a living snowman and Sven, a personable reindeer) make this an endearing, memorable film. The film is visually smooth, and visually beautiful in the same way that Life of Pi is beautiful.

Love wins out over fear.

So many Disney movies have centered on “love at first sight.” Frozen actively challenges that notion, and suggests other, healthier kinds of love.
Frozen demonstrates the pain and effects caused by secrecy and fear, and shows that honesty brings healing, and (as my wife phrased it), perfect love can drive away fear.

Sometimes, teenagers look to unhealthy sources to have their needs met when they don’t’ feel that those needs are met by their families. Frozen cautions against impulsivity.

Anna eagerly seeks to reconcile her relationship with Elsa, even after years of pain. Even during the pain, Anna sticks up for her sister, saying “she’s not a monster.”


One character observes that Elsa’s power has only gotten into Anna’s head. “The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.” He wipes memories from Anna’s head in order to save her.

With regard to Elsa’s power, a wise character warns her, there is beauty in it, but also danger. Her parents seem to focus on the danger, though. They hide her away from her community and her sister. Anna, not knowing the reason, begs her, “Come out. It’s like you’ve gone away.” Elsa is also pained by the separation, but is unable to share the reason with Anna, believing that the reason will do her harm. Elsa sings her mantra, “Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show.” At another point she sings, “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see. Conceal, don’t feel. Put on a show. One wrong move and everyone will know.” It’s a pretty accurate explanation of the shame involved in secrecy. She sings her wish, that we “don’t have to feel the pain of the past anymore.” So is Anna’s explanation, “One day, Elsa just shut me out. I never knew why.” Anna even tells Elsa, “All you know how to do is to shut people out.”  When Elsa’s secret comes out, she embraces her identity, but still feels like this will separate her from everyone else. In a way, this kind of makes me think of how, for a long time, adoption was kept secret. Now we talk about it, but often, the talks are in our angry voices and reflect a sense of dualism – adoption is either all-good or all-bad. The film ultimately finds a balance, and I think the adoption community will to, where people can respect each other and work together cooperatively. (Like Kid President says… It’s OK to disagree, it’s not OK to be mean.) The film resolves the issue positively, but make sure that your kids don’t latch onto these songs instead of the resolution. In a nutshell: You don’t have to hide your identity to be in community, and you don’t have to be in isolation to embrace your true self.

Some children might be taken aback when, early in the film, Elsa’s and Anna’s parents die. The scene is sad, but not shocking.


Yes! Frozen is very well-made. Kids will love it, and even teenagers can get something out of the film, and it will be positive. I love the fact that “love at first sight” is not portrayed as the highest love, and I love that secrecy and fear are overcome by love. Although the main characters are female, boys and girls will both like this one. I’d recommend it for kids up to 14.

Questions for After the Movie

What secrets are you keeping? Why? What are you afraid of?

Why did Elsa keep her secrets? What might have happened had she told them earlier? How would her life have been different?

Is there anything about yourself that you’re scared of? How can you be less afraid?

When in your life has “the truth” chased away fear?

Family Activity

Get a snow cone maker, and use that to make snow. Make a snowman, and use leftover candy corn for the nose. Hey! Your own edible Olaf!

Wrapping Up

Are you new here? Check out our other Adoption Movie Reviews – You might especially like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,   Meet the Robinsons,  and  Despicable Me 2.

Want to read more about the history secrecy in adoption? You might like this post:  Adoptions in America: Open or Closed;  and this one:   12 Things You Can Do to Make Sure Your Adoption is Ethical.

-           Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist with several years of experience in foster care and adoption. He reviews movies through the lens of adoption at and has also written movie reviews for Adoptive Families, The New Social Worker, and Foster Focus magazines. Follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper 


  1. This movie cause my adopted daughter a bunch of trouble. She identified with Elsa and pretended that everything she touched would freeze. She did not want anyone to touch her so as to protect them from her evil. She removed her self from life. She recovered but WOW. We don't watch much TV and that was my first experience on how much a movie can effect a kid. She recovered but we had a few bad weeks and we only watched it on a home TV.

    1. Hi Kimberly. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm so glad that your daughter has recovered. I didn't anticipate the film impacting a viewer in that way, but like you said - it goes to show how much a film an impact a kid. I'm also struck, in the months since this review, of how many young girls really do identify with Elsa. I spoke with a Disney employee a couple weeks ago who said that even the filmmakers don't really understand why the response to the film has been so powerful. Thanks again for your comment.

  2. Hello! This is my younger daughter's (age 5) favorite movie of late. Since we spent a lot of time on hair styling this weekend, I saw the movie twice in one day. Or rather, listened to it. One of these days I'd like to see it.

    During the scene when Elsa and Anna's parents were leaving for a sea voyage, the parents say something like, "see you in a couple weeks!" Of course, it's a Disney movie, so we can't have parents hanging around. My daughter (having seen the movie several times previously) says in a blase tone, "Nope." It didn't seem to phase her.

    After multiple listenings to this movie (I'm always doing hair while the movie is on) the quote you noted caught my attention: “The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.” I think this is true. I am mother to three kids, including two adopted from foster care. My younger two were placed with me three years ago. Initially, their goal was reunification with their family of origin. After a year, their goal changed to adoption. After two years, we adopted them. People sometimes say to me, “it must have been so amazing/such a relief the day you adopted them!” But that day wasn't a magic switch. For the first year that the kids were with me, I always kept their original goal—reunification--in my mind. I believe in open adoption, but I also believe in foster parents doing their best via open relationships to support reunifications, as well. And, while of course I love my kids, I spent a year thinking: These are not my children. It's my responsibility to care for them the best I can and support them so that they can be successfully reunited with their mother. To do this, I really think one has to reserve a bit of one's self—hold one's self back just a bit—so that you don't completely shatter when children return home. So, when adoption day came—and even before that, when parental rights were terminated/relinquished—I rationally *knew* that the children were “mine”--yet I felt that protective covering on my heart hadn't completely melted. I credit Lisa Dinhofer ( for validating these feelings... I saw her speak on grief and loss, and when I mentioned how I felt, she said something to the effect of, “the mind is rationale, but the heart—not so much.”

    So, I'm a bit embarrassed essentially to admit: My feelings, summed up in a Disney quote. But there you have it. I think it's a good quote and theme... because it's true.

    Oh, and also: Secrets=bad. Ding ding ding ding!

    1. Hi Sharon! Thanks for sharing this. You've got something so valid to say about this particularly challenging aspect of foster parenting. If you'd like, I'd love to post these thoughts of yours as their own post. Let me know, and thanks again :)

  3. I love your blog! As someone who wants to work with foster kids, learning about movies I can see pertaining to them is great.

    Another Frozen sub-plot kids can identify with here would also be how Kristoff and Sven were adopted by the Rock Trolls, couldn't it? As Kristoff states "It was just Sven and I before they took us in. They're our family." or something like that.

    Either way, great movie, and great blog! Just thought I'd also throw that out there! :D

    1. Hi Chris! Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog! I'm glad you found it!
      Good insight about Sven and Kristoff! I didn't catch that when I saw the film, but I think you're right!

    2. You're very welcome! I'm glad I did too!

      And yes, it's only a minor part of the story here so it can be missed. But it's more explicitly stated in Once Upon a Time. Which did a "Frozen" theme this year.

    3. Sounds like that episode of Once Upon a Time would be a worthwhile thing to review :)


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