I have finally watched Frozen, and as a Norwegian I had a pretty great time finding some of the Norwegian elements in the film. The tourist website, Visit Norway is already using the film to do a bit of promotion. There is no doubt the film has a lot of Scandinavian elements, and I thought I’d catalogue just a few details I caught on my first viewing.
First a short review (spoilers):
I enjoyed it as much as I expected to enjoy a new Disney movie (which is a lot). The film was beautiful, it had a really good main song, and all the characters were either funny or interesting. As for criticisms, I think there were too many songs, even for Disney, and I think the film could have been even bigger in scope. I think the limited time-line (the town is only frozen about a day and a half) made it feel like a smaller story than it was.
Maybe if they had made the town suffer for longer, or had isolated Queen Elsa for a longer time, the film might have had a bit more weight. As a Disney-phile I automatically compare her isolation with the Beast, who was stuck in his castle for years. It’s a shame her beautiful ice-castle couldn’t have ruled over the land for a few years to create a sense of foreboding. I wanted more ice-monsters and actual journeying for our heros.
All that said, I still enjoyed it a lot, and I especially enjoyed the elements below.
Frozen is set in the town of Arendelle, which Norwegians will interpret as Arendal. Arendal is a lovely town in the south of Norway. Pictured below with its fictional counterpart:
Arendal obviously lacks the mountains featured in Frozen, and the landscape of the film much more resembles the fjords and mountains of western Norway. Southern Norway is far from flat (ask any Dane who strays too far north), but like the Marvel universe that likes to butcher the geography of Tønsberg, Frozen seems to have picked the wrong name for their city. I guess it does sound a bit fairy-tale-ish in English, and I bet pronunciation was a factor. I will be interested to see if the Norwegian dub uses the regular pronunciation. I’m sure all the kids from Arendal will love that.
Like the geography, the houses of the town of Arendelle more resemble the architecture of the western town of Bergen, arguably one of Norway’s most beautiful cities architecturally speaking, and certainly the most famous. The docks are on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Look at the details on the houses by the docks in Arendelle below, and compare with Bergen:
The castle of Arendelle has fortifications that aren’t very Norwegian, and is more Disney castle design. The main building, however, is clearly inspired by the traditional Norwegian stave church.
One last bit of architecture I noticed was the hall of Elsa’s coronation:
As akh pointed out on reddit (Hi r/norway btw. You explain why this post suddenly exploded in traffic 🙂 The coronation hall is clearly taken wholesale from stave church interiors. Take a look at the similarities with Borgund stave church (really worth a visit!)
One more architecture-connection:
I actually don’t have Frozen on DVD, so excuse the quality of the picture below. When Kristoff turns back and races through Arendelle he passes a building that looks suspiciously like a traditional Norwegian “stabbur”. We see more of them, but the one below is the only one I managed to get a shot of. The stabbur is a storage building raised on pillar to avoid animals getting in. Several cultures have similar designs, but the wooden details make this one pretty Norwegian. See below for comparison:
Patterns and costumes
A lot of the townspeople’s clothes are inspired by Norwegian bunads. I can’t pinpoint which ones exactly, as there as so many styles and patterns to chose from. Some details I found very typical of the Ofotbunad, but there are many others with similar elements. You see patterns inspired from them on the walls and furniture. One particular detail I found hilarious is that the trolls put them into traditional marriage crowns. They are so expensive families rarely own one themselves, so some cities or counties still rent them out to brides.
One whose costume is very clearly a bunad is Hans. His bunad most resembles one from East-Telemark (Telemark is considered the cradle of skiing and is located in Eastern Norway) Note the pattern on the bottom of his jacket. He has a few added military elements to make him more royal, and sadly does not wear the correct trousers.
A lot of the patterns seen on the sisters’ dresses and on walls and doors are very reminiscent of traditional Norwegian rose painting, an art form very much alive and well. Edit: I found an article on Disney’s style blog about all the rose painting in the movie!
Second Edit: more rosemaling! I went up to our cabin recently and it was filled with rose-painted stuff. So I took some pictures to use as examples.
The last picture is a brand of brown cheese. I included it because all of that brand’s brown cheeses have those rose painted corners, and they definitely reminded me of some of the details I saw in Frozen. Compare with details from the dresses:
A more direct pattern borrowed for the film is the very famous Selbu-pattern, primarily used on mittens. We see the pattern on the girls’ bedroom doors and duvets. I think this pattern is what most Norwegians will recognize immediately, and if you’re ever in a Norwegian souvenir shop, you can be sure they’ll have something with this pattern on it.
Those were a few details I noticed on my first viewing of Frozen, and despite some geographical confusion, the film has a beautiful Scandinavian/Northern European style throughout. I love How to Train Your Dragon as much as the next person, but I don’t think anyone can create a fantastical version of a culture quite like Disney.