Teaching Character Analysis Through Disney’s “Frozen”

10 Apr

I finally watched Frozen last week.  After having my fourth grade students repeatedly sing and dance to Let it Go at every lunch, I had to see if it lived up to its hype.

It was pretty cute, I enjoyed it.  My husband, who usually hates musicals, won’t stop imitating Olaf (should I be worried that he identifies most with the talking snowman?) and he actually watched the Youtube version of Let it Go where singers from different countries are dubbing the song in their own language.

So it really has a broad appeal.   But enough of the free Disney advertising–how can we capitalize on Frozen‘s popularity to teach kids some complex literary analysis skills?

Frozen is practically shouting for us to do some character analysis.  So many of the character’s outsides (looks and actions) contradict their insides (thoughts and feelings).  Just read the character descriptions from Disney

  • Elsa – From the outside, Elsa looks poised, regal, and reserved, but in reality, she lives in fear as she wrestles with a mighty secret.
  • The Duke of Weselton – What he lacks in stature, he makes up for in arrogance and boasting.

Queen looks confident and mature, but she’s actually lonely and frightened.  The Duke of Weselton acts like he has power and influence, but there’s not much evidence he actually does in the film.  Plus his small physical presence makes his oversized ego all the more ridiculous. Not to mention Prince Hans, whose good looks and Prince Charming manners hide an inner villainy.

Students in upper elementary reading levels need to start recognizing that what a character says doesn’t always match what he or she is really thinking or feeling.  They need to be on the lookout for inconsistencies in what they know about a character, and then evaluate what they think the real truth is.  Frozen is a perfect opportunity to do some of this analysis using exaggerated characters and events, before students move on to more subtle literature.

How can we help them see the contrast? We could do a simple three column chart, with character appearance, actions, and thoughts/feelings in each column.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 8.10.50 PM

If your students need something more visually concrete, you can create “inside/outside” pictures, which contrast what a character looks like on the outside, with what they might look like if it reflected their inside.  Disney actually has the perfect model with Elsa.  Contrast her appearance in the beginning, when she’s feeling isolated and repressed

Elsa’s coronation [Frozen] by DarikaArt from Flickr

to how she’s portrayed when she decides to revel in her abilities.

dauntless-cake.tumblr.com from Flickr

dauntless-cake.tumblr.com from Flickr

I can imagine students coming up with amazing posters, like this (with adjectives at the bottom to help them use more specific, true words in their discussions and writing):


Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 8.29.40 PM

It could be a lot of fun, and it’s an accessible way to introduce students to some of the more complex character work we want them to dive into.

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