I’d never heard of the animated musical “Frozen” until this past Christmas, when my 3-year-old son got off a plane after an 11-hour flight. He’d watched the movie — twice — and was smitten with the princess Elsa, who sings about leaving her old life behind to embrace her heart-freezing nature and transform into the cursed ice queen she believes herself to be.
“Let it go,” he sang. “Let it go, turn away and slam the door!”
I could see he was excited, so I joined in. “Let it go,” I sang, “Let it go —— ”
“No, Daddy, not like that.”
“Let it go!” he belted, opening and lifting the palm of his left hand. “Let it go,” he sang, doing the same with his right. “Can’t hold it back anymore!”
“Oh, I see,” I said.
But actually I didn’t see. I didn’t know he was mimicking the choreography as Elsa shoots magical snowflakes from her hands to create an ice castle where she hides from her sister, Anna. I didn’t know Anna falls in love with Hans, a prince who ends up trying to kill them both.
And I certainly didn’t know a morning would soon come when my son, wrapped up in a bath towel — his “princess dress,” he told me — would ask if I wanted lipstick to be beautiful like Elsa … and like him.
It turns out my wife (an editor at The New York Times) has no problem coating his lips with a neutral pink, or letting him stumble around her in heels, or buying him a proper Elsa dress, with lace flecked in snowy glitter.
I’m no villain. I don’t want to kill who this child is. I don’t care what he likes, or doesn’t like. He’s an enthralled boy.
I confess, though, my reaction has shocked me. Each time I see him slip into his dress — it has Elsa’s face on the bodice — I pray that she uses her magic to zap my tongue with frostbite.
I don’t want to tell him, “Dresses are for girls,” but I’ve had the impulse to do so. I suspect other straight dads besides me feel this way.
For my part, I went to an all-boys high school and worked at a men’s magazine. I’ve known tons of guys who acted like they were commanding big dogs if they spoke the most — or loudest — and would therefore be the de facto most interesting person in the room. A colleague once even went so far as to insist a meeting be held in his office, not to cede power to others.
I never liked this world. I figured out a way to sidestep it. I’m now a 41-year-old fact-checker for a public-radio program, and I am not above wearing sweaters with holes in the sleeves.
Yet I’m not immune. When I saw these men barking, I wanted to scream — but at the same time, I wondered: If I were more strident, would I have had those meetings in my cubicle? Maybe I would have been the one with an office?
So what does this have to do with my son?
My wife actually bought the Elsa dress so he could wear it to the Broadway production of “Frozen,” but it arrived a day too late. I felt relieved and told her. She reacted as she always does: He’s not expressing anything but excitement, or maybe he is expressing something else, but either way it’s not a big deal.
When we showed up in the lobby for a recent matinee, pink and blue dresses everywhere, he was so giddy he wouldn’t stop giggling and saying, “I’m seeing ‘Frozen’!”
His enthusiasm let up only once. It was after that scoundrel Hans leaves Anna to freeze to death, and she sings the moving song “True Love,” in which she blames herself for being duped into believing in a fairy tale romance.
He was just more interested in the Elsa doll I’d bought him at intermission than in Anna’s soul-searching. But he was engaged and laughing during the rest of the play.
Sure, as Elsa sang “Monster,” he completely missed that she was briefly contemplating suicide, but he turned to me and said: “Daddy, Elsa’s not a monster. She’s amazing.” Later, as if talking to the stage, he blurted “Oh, no, that’s not good,” when Hans raised his sword to strike Elsa down. It cracked me up to hear him, and I got the sense other parents were getting a kick from their kids’ outspoken reactions, too.
That said, the production is clearly meant for adults as well. There’s suicide and betrayal, but there’s also dark humor that I found refreshing.
I love the snowman, Olaf, longing to “live” in order to experience his favorite season, summer. And it’s very funny that Kristoff, the out-of-work ice salesman in this wintry kingdom, attempts a heroic rescue in the name of “true love” by riding his stinky, sleigh-pulling reindeer across the icy fjords.
My son almost jumped from his seat to join in, though he doesn’t understand how subversive it is to poke fun at male saviors.
He also doesn’t understand how subversive it is to have an act of true love not be the kiss from a commanding prince who had, say, recently graduated from an all-boys military school, but rather, a hug from a “cursed” sister who is, in fact, quite loving and warm.
We had the chance to meet the actresses who play the sisters after the musical. While Caissie Levy, who stars as Elsa, was wearing subway clothes, she asked him to sit next to her and one of her princess dresses.
He just threw his head into my lap and hid at my side. The next day when I asked why, he said, “I was afraid she’d use her magic and accidentally freeze my heart.”
I now see the power of Elsa, too. To my son the imaginary world of “Frozen” is as real and normal as, well, him wearing a dress. I envy him for that.