Frozen II and climate change should be hot topics at the dinner table

Frozen II and climate change should be hot topics at the dinner table
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Children’s magical movies are often deeply rooted in reality. Frozen II is an example of an animation that allows us to engage our children in discussions of climate change and other important, often complex events that define our time.

It’s worth a lot more than the approximately 1 billion dollars already generated for Disney. We can use this film to explain to them why global warming is such a “hot topic” at the dinner table.

The increasingly frequent wildfires and hurricanes are not “natural” rumbles from the planet’s peanut gallery. Instead, they represent a big problem that we can fix if we all work together to find a big solution. 

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Spoilers ahead for the few readers who haven’t yet seen the movie. "Frozen II’s" Queen Elsa has an increasingly potent power of unknown origins allowing her to command ice and snow.

She reigns over the utopian land of Arendelle. Her cabinet seems to consist of a juvenile snowman named Olaf, her plucky but powerless sister Anna, and Kristoff, the charming, albeit romantically awkward lumberjack who is never without his trusty reindeer Sven. Not surprisingly, this isolated political Eden develops troubles.

The spirits of the world — earth, fire, water, and wind — start sending increasingly dire warnings that nature is out of balance. Initially, these come as a series of increasingly familiar siren songs that only Queen Elsa can hear.

Determined to ignore them, Elsa is finally forced to act when Arendelle’s fires go out, its fountains dry up, and winds violently tear through the kingdom. Elsa evacuates the kingdom as the spirit of the earth causes the ground to shake beneath the city.

Teaching moment one

When nature warns you, pay attention. It doesn’t matter if the warming is a series of melodies only you can hear or a set of climate scientists telling you that our over-reliance on fossil fuels will heat the planet to uninhabitable levels.

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Either way, you should heed them, no matter how inconvenient taking action will be. Failure to do so will only further disturb the spirits of nature until our already crippling problems with wildfires (fire), hurricanes (winds), rising sea levels (water), and global warming (earth) become terminal.

Elsa and her companions head into the enchanted forest where the spirits reside. There they discover a perpetual battle between the aging Arendellian soldiers fighting on behalf of Elsa and Anna’s deceased grandfather, King Ruenard, and the native Northuldrans.

Both parties are trapped in the forest and too preoccupied with who started the war to find a way out. Fortunately, Elsa and her team unite them and help them address the real issue of why nature is imprisoning and threatening them all.

As it turns out, King Ruenard caused the problem by building a dam to satisfy his thirst for power at the expense of damaging the natural resources on which the Northuldrans depended. The only solution is to open the dam.

Teaching moment two

Seemingly insurmountable problems are solvable if we work together. The Arendellians and Northuldrans are paralyzed by partisanship and anger.

When the leaders, the Arendellian lieutenant Matthias and the wise Northuldran leader Yelena, come together open-mindedly, it catalyzes the necessary cooperation to save the world.

Elsa and others understand the risk. Opening the dam will also unleash a river that could wipe Arendelle off the map. Still, they accept the responsibility and destroy the dam. The destruction of their already-evacuated town is a small price to pay to save their world.

Fortunately, Elsa can stop the river before it reaches the city and, nature satisfied, they all live happily ever after, or at least until Frozen III is released.

Teaching moment three

Solving big problems is hard. It often means reevaluating preconceived notions, acknowledging past mistakes and being willing to make significant sacrifices. Elsa and the Arendellians were able to admit they were wrong about “noble” King Ruenard and were ready to risk their city to put nature into balance.

We need to acknowledge our contribution to global warming and our obligation to address it. Reducing carbon pollution hardly seems too high a price to save our planet for the next generation. We might even have a happy ending with healthier children in a better environment because of what we do today.

To be sure, most young people today don’t need Frozen II to know that there is a problem. Some, like Greta Thunberg, are trying to be the agents of change, the Lieutenant Matthias’ of generation Z.

We have no magic, only science, and hard work, but this film can be a bridge between fantasy and reality for our children.

Early discussion of this topic may have other benefits. Unlike the Arendellians and Northuldrans, we, in particular, Republicans, have been extraordinarily unable to overcome our partisanship to save our world.

Republican leaders have called it a hoax and we have just withdrawn from global efforts to reduce global warming. Maybe if also we make this dinner table conversation, we can enable our children to do a better job than we did before it’s too late.

Every single character has a role to play. Those of us with power, the Elsas, the parents the politicians, must use that power to confront crises head-on. Those without it, the Annas and the voters, must be a constant and vocal pressure to do the right thing, even when it may be inconvenient.

People isolated from science, the Kristoff' and Svens, must step forward with a simple offer of “how can I help?” Most important, however, are the Olafs, our children.

These supernatural creatures provide us with hope, joy and a reason to fight for the future. They give us something worth sacrificing for. Because a world cut off from the magic of nature is a world without Olafs and a world without Olaf’s may not be worth having at all.

Michael Rosenbaum is a practicing pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics and medicine at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. Matt Rosenbaum is producer and director of social media at The YEARS Project, a multimedia storytelling and education effort designed to inform, empower and unite the world in the face of climate change.