When Frozen first came out, I was absolutely in love with it. As a huge Idina Menzel fan with a lot of Nordic heritage (not to mention a great-grandmother named Elsa), it was inevitable. My hairstyle for prom was a mash-up of Anna’s coronation updo the Katniss braid from The Hunger Games. My graduation cap decoration was a Frozen-inspired. I blasted “Let It Go” on every trek up to my college in the Berkshires from the first tour to Move-In Day.
I was really into it.
With the sequel hitting cinemas this coming week, I figure this is the perfect occasion to look back at the first film and address a rather strong opinion I have that I know is something people will disagree with.
Anyone who knows me knows I have (questionable) feelings towards Prince Hans, but I’ll save that for another post.
Today, we’re talking about a certain sentient snowman by the name of Olaf.
Olaf is arguably the most popular character to come out of Frozen, surpassing even Elsa. Heck, he’s probably more popular than Mickey Mouse himself in some respects.
He’s comparable to the Minions of Dreamworks’s Despicable Me series—and that is exactly the problem with him.
Well, a contributing factor in the problem with him.
If you’ve somehow escaped the phenomenon that is Frozen or are in need of a recap, Frozen was released in 2013 and follows Princesses Anna and Elsa. Elsa, the older sister, possesses magical powers that allow her to create and manipulate snow. However, their parents thought it would be best to conceal her abilities from the kingdom’s subjects and later Anna following an accident. Anna’s memory of Elsa’s powers are wiped by a group of trolls, resulting in a sort of distance between the sisters that is later furthered by the deaths of their parents. Both sisters feel ice-olated, but for different reasons.
Years later, on the day of Elsa’s coronation, Anna meets Prince Hans and falls head-over-heels in love with him. He proposes, she accepts, and the pair go running off to Elsa to tell her of their engagement. Elsa delivers one of the best lines in any Disney film to date, “You can’t marry a man you just met,” and proceeds to walk away.
Anna follows and begins to question her and admits her feelings of being shut out again.
In her frustration, Elsa accidentally shows her powers to the sheer fright of the kingdom, and she flees. Soon follows the iconic number “Let It Go.”
During this sequence, Elsa begins to test her strength and explore what she is capable of. In this, she builds a snowman.
Later, as Anna sets off to find Elsa and bring her home, she encounters a sentient snowman who introduces himself as Olaf. Anna, though surprised he is alive, realizes that Elsa created him and eagerly invites him to join the search party.
The Olaf Effect
Since Frozen was released, it has dominated pop culture. Frozen itself has become something of its own brand in the Disney-sphere, right up there with the Disney Princess line.
And within the Frozen brand, Olaf takes his place as his own subdivision. As expected with any major Disney film, there is a lot of merchandise for Frozen. But among the expected things like toys, clothing and accessories for both children and adults, Christmas ornaments, wrapping paper, bed sets, mugs, picture books, school supplies, and everything you could possibly need to throw a child’s birthday party, and plastering the characters on any number of food items, there is so much more devoted to Olaf.
Here is a list of particular favorites and surprises of Olaf merchandise that popped up in a two-minute Google Search:
- Olaf Slippers
- Olaf Duck Tape
- Olaf-themed variations of several board and card games
- Olaf Snowcone Maker (which is a little disturbing considering it’s basically grinding snow in a snowman’s stomach to be eaten)
- Olaf Waffle Iron that makes Olaf-shaped waffles (though I did see an Anna and Elsa one that produces snowflake-shaped waffles that are pretty cute)
- Olaf Snowglobe (which is one of the few things on this list that makes reasonable sense)
Meanwhile, it is nearly impossible to find anything Hans-related despite there being an entire Villians line harping on big baddies like Maleficent, Ursula, Jafar, Cruella de Vill, and others.
But I digress.
It’s been a few years since I took that Intro to Business class in college, but I do remember the irony of writing a paper on Frozen and merchandising while curled up in an Elsa throw blanket and sitting under an Elsa poster.
However, Olaf is a completely different matter. For a story that seems to be geared more towards exploring the relationships between sisters and subverting a number of the cliches of Disney Princess movies, not to mention how interesting Hans is as a Disney villain, so much of the marketing seems to be based around Olaf.
And that, dear reader, brings me to the point of my grievances with this snowman.
Olaf Is Uncessecary
There. I said it.
I don’t mean this just in an “Oh my GOD this snowman is annoying” sense. This is coming from the perspective of a storyteller.
In short, when a story is being told, regardless of the media, it is wise to consider the importance of each character. How does their presence help move the plot forwards? What role do they play?
This can be easy to determine when looking at protagonists like Anna and Elsa, and antagonists like Hans.
The fodder falls in secondary characters.
For Frozen these include Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf.
Kristoff become’s Anna’s love interest in the film. He’s a good guy and a foil for Hans. He’s not trying to claim a kingdom for himself. He’s a little rough around the edges but he knows his way around the landscape and is a huge help to Anna on her journey to find Elsa (plus he also appreciates her quirks while calling her out on the fact she did get engaged to a man she just met, which I love).
Sven is Kristoff’s reindeer sidekick. At times, he is used as a mode of transportation, but he mostly provides some comic relief when interacting with Kristoff. Their overall relationship is reminiscent of Eugene/Flynn and Maximus in Tangled.
And then, there’s Olaf.
Contrary to the setup of this article, Olaf does serve a purpose: symbolism.
Elsa and Anna are introduced to the audiences as children. While running around the palace and playing in the snow Elsa creates, the pair build a snowman, which Elsa pretends is alive to Anna’s amusement.
After an accident leaves their parents afraid Elsa could seriously hurt Anna or others, Anna’s memory of the incident and Elsa’s powers are magically vanquished by trolls, creating a distance between them. This divide is explored through the song, “Do You Want To Build A Snowman.”
Now young adults, Anna confronts Elsa about her feelings only to be met with a cold shoulder and deflection before frustration gets the better of Elsa and she loses control of herself and reveals her powers.
As she flees the kingdom, she starts to test herself, we see her start off small. A little gust of wind here, a spurt of snow there.
Until she goes ahead and creates a snowman.
The shape, you may notice, resembles the snowman she and Anna built as children. The only difference is, like Frosty, this one comes to life.
For me, letting Elsa build a snowman and just play for the first time in forever is a beautiful moment. She has spent her whole life in the shadows trying to restrain her abilities so to be able to see them unleash and watch the awe in her expression as she realizes what she is capable of had me in tears when I saw Frozen in cinemas. It was so inspiring to a high school senior who was honestly unsure about her future.
But after that moment, I start to take issue with the beloved snowman.
Looking at it from a storyteller’s perspective, Olaf is a completely unnecessary character.
His naivety and extroverted nature can be found in Anna’s character.
Sven fills the need for a sidekick. He and Kristoff provide a fair chunk of the film’s comic relief.
Olaf doesn’t do anything to further the journey. His song and dance number, “In Summer,” doesn’t play into the storyline the way “Do You Want To Build A Snowman,” “Love Is An Open Door,” and “Let It Go” do.
To be honest, other than warm hugs and a blizzard of merchandise, Olaf doesn’t bring anything to the film other than being something for the kiddos in the audience to laugh at. His purpose is to make money and pad the runtime.
Even though I am excited about Frozen II and plan to see it in cinemas soon, I’m not looking forwards to being subjected to Olaf’s antics at length. Perhaps my feelings towards him may change upon seeing the sequel, but as far as the original film goes, my opinion on it remains steadfast and frozen.
I briefly touched on my feelings towards the prospect of Frozen II in this opinion piece on another popular trend in Disney culture.