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.
18 thoughts on “Norwegian Connections in Frozen”
Very nice article:-). Best regards to author
Thank you! 🙂
I started learning Norwegian after watching Frozen. I have never been to Norway, but hope to go there once.
Nice article! I learnt a lot about Norway.
Thank you. can’t imagine learning Norwegian is easy – especially with our dialects. I wish you luck (lykke til!) and hope you get to visit here some day 🙂
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This is a great take on the Norway inspiration…thanks for the great pictures! my Girl scout troop is representing Norway at our World Thinking Day event and we are displaying some comparison/contrasts of Frozen and Norway! I cant wait to share some of this with the Brownie troop! they will me sporting Neckercheifs/scarves at the event to portray Girl Guide uniforms!
Glad to provide some inspiration 🙂 I’ve long meant to revisit this article and maybe add more stuff I’ve since found (from my many re-watches of the film) but those listed here and those aspects that stand out.
I don’t know what Girl Guide uniforms are, but I’m sure they’re look cute. Good luck!
I like to show your article in my music classroom. I thought you’d like to see this mention of the name “Olaf” from Wikipedia’s article on Norwegian Composer, Edvard Grieg: “Grieg wrote an opera in 1870 called Olaf Tryggvasson.”
Feel free to use the article 🙂 Olaf (or Olav as we generally write it) is a fairly common came. I know a few Olavs myself, not to mention Ola/Ole and other variations. Olav Tryggvason is probably our most famous king, except perhaps for Saint Olav, but I’m sure wikipedia can fill you in on that. I’ve never heard Grieg’s opera, though. It’s not mentioned on the Norwegian wikipedia article on Olav.
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I just came across this article this evening. I would like to discuss some of the connections between the movie and the real life city of Arendal. You may or may not be aware that EPCOT at Walt Disney World is removing the Malestrom attraction in favor of a Frozen attraction. This has a lot of people upset because they do not believe that the fictional city of Arendelle, from Frozen, has no connections to Norway and the Norwegian pavilion in EPCOT. I’d like your thoughts since you have spent some time researching Arendal and the fictional Arendelle. I can be found on twitter @DadForDisney. Thanks.
Hi. Just saw your comment. I’ve been off the internet for a while.
Arendelle and Arendal are similar, but I couldn’t find any evidence that Arendelle was based directly on the city. Arendelle looks like a mix between Arendal, Bergen and other coastal cities in Norway. The landscape around the city is also much more akin to western Norway and not where Arendal is located. Arendelle has a lot of wooden houses (I’ve not managed to get a good shot of them since Kristoff sleds through the town very quickly) that are typical of old farms. Down by the docks they look a lot like the houses of Bergen and/or Trondheim, but I think there is a bit of Dutch/German inspiration too in some of the construction. That’s what I think anyway. Like I said I’ve not found any official quote to back that up.
If you come across any quote or information from the developers about the connections, be sure to pass them on. 🙂
If I come across anything, I will pass them along. One question I have for you is a Disney parks related question. Walt Disney World recently shut down the Maelstrom (more a history of mythological Norway – trolls, Odin, Dokkalfar and Ljosalfar) attraction at the Norway pavilion of EPCOT and will be replacing it with an attraction based of the movie FroEn. This has upset a lot of people in the US would like the Maelstrom attraction but more importantly don’t view Frozen as truly Norwegian. Disney has released no information about the new Frozen attraction other than it will be a Frozen attraction. I believe I read on your blog that you are Norwegian. As a Norwegian and based on your article, is there enough representation of Norway in Frozen to make a new Frozen attraction a suitable replacement for the Norway pavilion in EPCOT? I’m interested in your thoughts since the US Disney Parks internet/podcast/blog community is very split on this issue. No one has reached out to a Norwegian and asked for their thoughts, I believe, until now.
I am Norwegian, but I’m not sure if my opinion is very useful in this case as I’ve not been to the EPCOT attraction. What I can say is that Frozen does have a lot of elements that we Norwegians like to point out while we watch it (Norwegians get SO excited whenever we’re mentioned by anything mainstream), but I’m not sure it can be a good substitute for what you described. Frozen is based on The Snow Queen (loosely), by Danish writer HC Anderson. It has, story wise, few elements of traditional Norwegian culture except the design patterns, houses and landscape (and arguably the trolls, though their song made them a bit WTF for our family). There is one scene where two townspeople briefly argue over which way wood should be dried, which is a reference to an old and ongoing heated debate throughout Norway. Other than that I can’t say I “identified” with any of the people as Norwegian. We do not have a native aristocracy in Norway, and to me the castle and guests feel like Danes or Swedes. So, if the point of the EPCOT exhibition is to showcase Norwegian myths and stories, I’m not convinced a Frozen-themed attraction can stand in for it. But if the Frozen one showcased where ALL their inspiration came from, it would certainly be an attraction worth seeing! I suppose I wish we could have both. Hope that long winded answer made sense 🙂
I don’t know if Arendelle is really meant to be Arendal, just that they have borrowed the name itself. Other than that, wonderful article 🙂 .
So interesting. Great starting point toward learning more about Norway’s culture. Saw this film a few weeks ago and fell in love with it, and yup: spouse and I planning a trip to Norway sometime soon. Agreed about the plot not being thick enough, and I think there’s an over-abundance of comic relief, but otherwise love the movie.
So interesting. Fell in love with this film after seeing it just a few weeks ago, and yup: now setting my eyes on a vacation to Norway with some family. Thanks for this post, great starting point to learn more about Norwegian culture.
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