On Memorial Day, I was lazing down the lazy river at a local pool when Let It Go blared from the speakers.
I fought my immediate instinct to belt it out with Idina Menzel for a few reasons:
1. I was there with my 15-year-old daughter, and going to the pool with Mom was embarrassing enough for her.
2. When it comes to Disney's Frozen, I tend to be a loud and enthusiastic singer of songs from the movie musical and I didn't want anyone to be startled out of their inner tube.
Never miss a local story.
Few others showed such restraint. Kid after kid floated by singing along, one improvising a key line of the song to be: "The pool never bothered me anyway." Their parents sang right along, too.
You really can't get away from this swirling Frozen pop-culture storm.
In the car, in the mall, in the aisle at the grocery store, the songs from Frozen are everywhere.
Little kids adorably talk-sing them. Teens croon them pretending to be ironic but, secretly, thinking they're great. We middle-age moms stay in our cars a little longer than necessary just to make the point that, yes, in fact, I do want to build a snowman.
The movie has even usurped the meaning of common phrases. When I recently sought advice about a grudge I was holding, my friend told me to "let it go." My brain automatically cued the soaring soundtrack.
But what, exactly, makes this movie arguably the movie of the past year, maybe of the decade? What is it about this 102-minute cartoon that has raked in more than $1.2 billion at box offices worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, making it the fifth-biggest movie ever?
What's the attraction that will draw a thrilled throng to Jacobson Park for Free Friday Flicks when it shows Frozen this week? Why is this thing so huge that the event's organizer, Lexington's Division of Parks and Recreation, is preparing for a record crowd of more than 8,000 people?
For the unaware here is the shortest possible recap:
Frozen is the tale of sisters Elsa and Anna, princesses of the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa (voiced by Broadway star Menzel), the elder, was born with the power to freeze stuff; it is a blessing and a curse. In standard Disney protocol, their parents die. When it's time for Elsa to be crowned queen, she gets upset and accidentally causes their Scandinavian-ish country to be plunged into an eternal winter. She flees to the mountains, and Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) goes looking for her with an entourage that includes an ice salesman, a snowman and a moose.
Other than that, Frozen turns a lot of standard fairy-tale fare on its end. The prince isn't exactly what he seems. The girls, in essence, rescue themselves. And, for Disney, there is a bit of a dark turn.
A message that resonates
Pop culture heroes as a whole have gone dark and ambiguous during the past few years. Think Batman, Superman, Tony Soprano, Mad Men's Don Draper, Walter White of Breaking Bad.
Robert Thompson, director at the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said family-oriented Disney "can't go all HBO," but it does have "to respond to the culture that HBO represents, people responding to people who are highly flawed."
"You are not going to have a Disney princess who is a meth addict," he said.
But in Frozen, Disney did produce a G-rated tortured soul. Elsa's anthem, Let It Go, "is really a song of rebellion," Thompson said. Basically she is saying that she is going to do what she wants, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop her.
That message resonates with kids, teens, adults and Thompson's college students, he said.
In another bit of a Disney twist, the visual punctuation on Elsa's emancipation is an animated quick-change that results in the previously prim princess strutting with enough swagger and previously unseen womanly curves to make a teen boy involuntarily utter, "Well, dang,"
She is not Sleeping Beauty in repose waiting for True Love's Kiss. She doesn't have a love interest at all.
Anna is also flawed. She is gawky, clumsy, impulsive and, in one unusual Disney scene, she wakes up with serious bed head. It seems that she falls in love with a prince at first sight, but things don't end with a blessed union. In fact, others think she's crazy when she wants to marry him after one day.
In a way, Thompson said, Frozen is "about the Disney princess who doesn't buy into the ethos of the Disney princess."
In the end, Anna and Elsa save themselves, celebrating sisterly love as pure and kind and something to aspire to rather than having a traditional romantic relationship as the tent pole of their lives.
Cultural and retail phenomenon
That's not to mention that overall, Frozen's story is complex, the supporting characters are well-developed, the visuals are stunning, and the songs, well, are just really good. Let It Go won an Oscar (as did the movie as a whole).
Frozen also has created a pop culture moment that came onto the landscape at its own pace. Released in November, it was kind of a sleeper, by the standards set by other Disney mega-hits, such as Toy Story in 1995.
It wasn't until January that Frozen and its soundtrack album hit big. Then it became only the fourth soundtrack for an animated film to take the No. 1 spot since 1956, according to Billboard.
Later came the Frozen sing-along version in theaters. By April, there were reports across the country about a shortage of Frozen merchandise as parents apparently scrambled unsuccessfully to fill Easter baskets. For about three weeks, Disney announced it essentially would ration Frozen toys.
Frozen is also viral-rific. Viewing the thousands of YouTube videos of homages and parodies could be a full-time job. There's even a thriving meme of parents singing Frozen songs with the lyrics changed to reflect how tired they are of Frozen songs.
Blogs ponder the intertwined relationships between all the Disney movies. Is that the princess from Tangled at Elsa's coronation in Frozen? (Why, yes, that is Rapunzel.). Others parse and study the origin of the kingdom of Arendelle. (It's fictional but probably has roots in Norway.)
Will there be a 'Frozen 2'?
So what happens now?
Thompson said that in a perfect world, Frozen would stand as the perfect art that it is.
But, he said, there undoubtedly will be a Frozen 2. (Disney hasn't announced anything, but it has said there will be a Broadway musical version and a Frozen edition of its touring Disney on Ice shows.)
The company could capture lightning in a bottle twice (or more). For example, its Toy Story trilogy was consistently good, Thompson said.
Or it could go the way of Disney's High School Musical, which erupted on the scene in 2006, shattering records hither and yon and making stars out its cast, including Zac Efron. But then came High School Musical 2 and HSM 3, both of which faltered.
I, for one, hope Frozen 2 is just as intriguing and sing-along-worthy as the original.
But, until then, I'll just let it go and, the next time, I'll be sure to sing along. Loudly.