Heartbreak is Not a Joke, or, the Tragedy of Kristoff in Frozen 2: A Guest Post by Athena Scalzi

Hello, everyone, it is I, the junior Scalzi! I have come from the deepest and laziest depths of quarantine to bring you a post that I have been meaning to write since January and just haven’t gotten around to. I figure now is a better time to write it anyways, since it pertains to Frozen 2, a movie that was still in theaters in January, and I figure by now anyone who has the desire to see it has already done so. That being said, I will go ahead and include a spoiler warning right now! Ready?

Spoilers ahead!

There we go. Now that the formal stuff is out of the way, let’s just dive straight into this thing, shall we?

Many people, including me, love Disney songs with an unparalleled passion. The songs in a Disney movie can really make or break the film, and I guarantee at least half of you reading have a Disney song playlist on Spotify (like me).

Anyways, the song “Let It Go” from Frozen made Frozen’s soundtrack one of the most popular and listened to soundtracks in all of Disney history. This put a lot of pressure on the songs in Frozen II to be just as good and well-liked as the first movie’s soundtrack, if not more so.

For the most part, I think Frozen 2’s new batch of songs were great! I do thoroughly enjoy the first soundtrack, but the second one really does hold its own. It’s strong, emotional, inspiring, all those good attributes. And yet, I have major beef with one song, that being “Lost In the Woods”.

Not because it’s a bad song! The lyrics are great, honestly, and it’s really nice to hear Kristoff sing. He never really got much song-time in the first one, so having a whole song for himself is a nice change. And in theory, it’s a great song, about him expressing his worries regarding his and Anna’s relationship. Things have been rough between them; he’s confused and scared and trying to express how lost he feels. When I think of a song where someone is expressing their fears about their relationship, I imagine a very serious, sad sort of song, as the topic itself is both serious and sad!

And yet, what we were given is a comical eighties love song rendition of what I believe should’ve been serious and heartfelt. 

“Lost In the Woods” is undoubtedly designed to make people laugh, and it succeeded. I saw Frozen II in theaters twice. Both times, when the song came on, the entire theater burst out laughing at the ridiculousness that was Kristoff lamenting into a pinecone like a microphone, with reindeers giving him backup in an obvious Queen reference. They gave Kristoff an intentionally over-dramatic spotlight and multiple cross-cuts that were sure to inspire laughter from the audience.

I want to be clear, the issue here is not that people laughed at the song. I’m not upset people laughed at it. It makes total sense they did, because it was intentionally made to be humorous. I’m upset that it was made to be humorous at all. 

When I saw people tweeting about Frozen 2 before I got around to seeing it myself, I saw a lot of people saying how progressive it was that Kristoff had his own song where he expressed his emotions. Which, yeah, that is progressive. In a society where men aren’t allowed to feel sad, and are generally brought up to believe anger is the only emotion they can express in public, it does sound good that there’s a song for Kristoff where he gets to be sad and gets to talk about his feelings.

However, the movie made a mockery of those emotions. The audience laughs at him for having them. It’s impossible to take what he’s saying seriously, because it’s displayed in such a comedic and over-dramatic manner.

Look at these lyrics!

“But is this what it feels like to be growing apart?” 

“Up till now the next step was a question of how, I never thought it was a question of whether.” 

These right here are genuine concerns in a relationship! The feeling of growing apart is a horrible and sad thing to deal with. Kristoff is struggling throughout most of the film with feeling like Anna is pulling away from him. He is unsure if she really cares for him, and he doesn’t know how to process this feeling of being lost and confused. This should not be presented as a comedic thing! 

Imagine if Anna’s super-serious sad song about moving on and how hard it is to take the next step forward was made fun of! No, instead, Anna is allowed to be sad, and gets to have her tearful ballad of loss and grief. It’s made into an emotional piece where she literally climbs out of a deep dark cave towards the light. It was beautiful and moving, and it was the right way to handle that song, given the topic.

So why wasn’t Kristoff shown the same respect? I’m not saying his song had to be on par with Anna’s song, because obviously Anna’s song is about death and grief. But Kristoff’s song was a blatant mockery of his very real, very valid emotions. 

In conclusion, yes, in theory it was progressive to give Kristoff a song where he sings about his romantic problems. But it was all for naught since it was just turned into something comedic. Everybody laughed and dismissed his true feelings, simply because of how it was presented. Again, I’m not mad at people for laughing. I’m just disheartened to see that a super sweet character who was really sad and confused about the love of his life was given a song that closely resembled “Glory of Love” from the Karate Kid II soundtrack.

It’s just disappointing, y’know? Kristoff deserved better. Men deserve better representation of emotions and sadness, and that’s the mothafuckin tea. 

41 Comments on “Heartbreak is Not a Joke, or, the Tragedy of Kristoff in Frozen 2: A Guest Post by Athena Scalzi”

  1. 2 things.

    1) I totally agree with you. I am disappointed but not at all surprised

    2) I sang “Glory of Love” at one of my Aunt’s weddings, I really liked it. At least at the time. Now I’m not sure if I like the song or the memory.

  2. That’s a great point. The song is one of those “wouldn’t it be funny if” ideas that should have been left behind. It’s also a parent-focused joke, as kids certainly don’t care about 80s rock ballads. (Much like Shiny in Moana, which my kids hate.) I also don’t understand why Anna runs off in that scene without leaving a message for him, but that’s another blog post.

  3. Great post. I completely agree. I felt similarly about the way guilty and depressed Thor was played for comedy as fat Thor rather than being allowed to explore what it means to be a hero who feels like he failed.

  4. Nicely written!
    I agree with you, but I’m generally super unsure about how to feel about how his and Anna‘s relationship is portrayed. *Everything* about it in Frozen II seems to be about the comedic parts of that. Sure, it’s hilarious, but I felt like their relationship only exists to laugh at

  5. Also agreed, though it was my first time hearing the song. I’m an old, single person without nearby child-aged relatives, so I’ve not experienced this movie. I didn’t see the video as mocking him, just the usual cartoon shenanigans. As a single person with pets, I saw the reindeer as his animal companions, being supportive. More interesting to me was the words, referencing the beginning of Dante’s Inferno, lost in the woods, which in turn may reference the first century Shepherd of Hermas, that begins the same way. If only, when we were in that emotional place, we actually had supportive companions like the reindeer backup singers, who could kid us along until we felt better. The real problem is that most (or many) of us don’t. The audience reaction may have been the current culture talking, as much as the way the song was presented, insofar as broad-spectrum male emotions are concerned. The movie could have, as you point out, presented the young man’s feelings in a more sympathetic way. After all, the character of feisty Princess Leia was quite an eyeopener when she appeared–girls can be like that? And here, guys can be like that? We need to know.

  6. Well said!

    I’ve not seen either Frozen movie – I’m old! – but it’s one of the most broken aspects of our society that by strong custom, men are not permitted to expose emotion other than humor or anger.

    Though most of my male-identifying college students are much more open about that. I don’t know whether it’s and aspect of their being theatre students, or whether it’s generational, but it gives me hope.

  7. Im currently dealing with a bad breakup because i was brought up to hide my emotions so this song hits real hard

  8. As someone who grew up in the 80s listening to lots of love ballads, I wanted to explain why I laughed when “Lost in the Woods” came on. For me, and I hope for many Gen-Xers, it was a cry of joy and happiness for a modern song done in a style that so many of us loved but is now ridiculed by many.

    Kristoff’s expression of how he feels is something that, sadly, went away with the death of the love ballad. Perhaps if people took the love ballad more seriously, they would continue to be a good way for men (and women) to express how they feel in the midst of a relationship crisis.

  9. A serious breakup is no joking matter. A person gets a lot of their strength from love and the knowledge that having it brings. In a breakup I know I felt the stinging rejection and loss of self worth. If you have something or someone to hang onto for support really helps. Without it a person can stray into dangerous territory.

    John you brought up one of those issues of being a man that our society really needs to move forward on. Men have long been expected to be stoic and bear with loss and rejection, but then we wonder when we see people who snap and act out in self destructive ways. Not all of us have the emotional tools or maturity to deal with a personal crisis. We are only human after all. It may seem funny to see a guy dealing with rejection in a relationship, but to trivialize the issue only feeds a continued social bias that has guys want to hide it when things are not okay. I haven’t seen Frozen 2, maybe someday. Sad though. I’d heard much about Anna’s role in the story but nothing about Kristoff. Too bad being just a white guy makes it okay to make fun of his pain.

  10. Well argued Athena and an important point. People bemoan the crisis in masculinity, say men don’t know how to handle relationships any more and this was an opportunity missed to model a good way to handle such doubts and fears.

  11. Well said – thanks for putting it into words.

    that song just didn’t seem to fit the rest of the movie. All these songs about loss and choice… and a cheesy 80s Power Ballad that fit right in with my childhood memories of watching VideoHits. It just seemed out of place.

    Imagine if they’d had the same lyrics and melody, but different orchestration. I want to hear the heartfelt cover version!

    And I want my little boy to be allowed to feel what he feels.

  12. [Deleted. Connor, there are lots of places for you to be sad childish asshole elsewhere on the Internet. Go there — JS]

  13. Us guys are more likely to shrug off negative emotions with a joke. Call it bravado or machismo or denial, making light of fear and sadness is a very ‘guy’ thing to do. Maybe it didn’t fit the overall ‘tone’ of the movie but maybe the film makers wanted to illustrate the difference in processing modes between the characters.

    Or maybe they just didn’t have the best songwriter on tap for this number.

    (Just curious, is there a commentary track available for this film on a dvd or blu-ray release? Sometimes those ‘explain’ choices made, like ‘why this song?’)

  14. Very interesting, Athena! Thanks for sharing. I saw the film in November and initially interpreted “Lost in the Woods” as playfully over-the-top, but sincere, as sort of an intermediary step to help guard against anyone who might have a knee-jerk reaction amounting to “they have taken Kristoff much too far away from conventional standards of masculinity for my liking.” However, I’m just old enough to have caught a bunch of the references, which might well have disguised the fact that “Lost in the Woods” could stick out like a sore thumb to younger adults – who are exactly the ones I trust to have made more progress toward abolishing gender roles. If we’re going to make it more okay for anyone, regardless of gender, to have and experience and share what they’re thinking and feeling – and I hope so, because we can attest to gender roles being unscientific, unjustifiable, oppressive, culturally arbitrary, and fundamentally useless – then we need to take it seriously and build trust, not do things that risk coming across as mockery. In that sense, I’m grateful for your perspective and thoughtful reflection. Likewise: I’ve learned a huge amount over the past 8-9 years from the people I know who are into feminist scholarship, to the point that I’m sorry I didn’t take more classes on inequality back in college. (I thought I understood inequality already. Not even close.) It’s also made me much better at dealing with interpersonal issues in my adult job, because now I have a sense of how societal power dynamics affect just about everything. I’m grateful for that. Sometimes I have to decide to stop listening to a particular commentator, though, because I think this is the worst possible sort of context to risk satire and other things that could be easily misinterpreted. I certainly don’t want to overstate the number of times I’ve seen the phrase “male tears,” for instance – especially lately – but it has made me cringe every time I have. I can’t support that kind of thing when I’ve committed to helping create a world where people of any gender are allowed to be who they are. Fortunately, I haven’t met very many people from any sort of background/beliefs who are extremely interested in parody that can’t be distinguished from straight-up contempt. Which is good, because surely empathy is a crucial part of it. I understand the arguments against “tone policing” and all that; however, reaching out to offer an alternative to those who have been raised/conditioned to believe that emotions are somehow weakness is something that is helpful only as long as it is what it seems to be. Otherwise, it’s like dangling a hand to help someone up over a wall and then pulling it away at the last possible moment and going, “Haha, you missed!” That’s going to be memorable – and very possibly worse than not offering at all.

  15. What a great post to read, it had me connecting with long buried emotions I try my hardest to stifle.

    I used to try and make this point in conversation but sadly it always just resulted me in being called either a pussy or an incel.

    Hence the stifling of my emotions and focusing on simply making myself a useful productive person. I can only make myself needed. Never wanted nor appreciated.

    If I had to choose a song to express these feelings it would be the Beatles ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.’

  16. Lost in the Woods was upsetting to me for this reason and that Kristoff is an autistic coded character. People with autism may experience hallucinations when they have meltdowns. It was upsetting to me to watch a hallucinogenic meltdown being played for laughs.

  17. I think it worked better for those of us who lived through the 80s. Kristoff’s song is very very 80s, not just Queen. In the day it would have gotten a music video just like that and it would have been in heavy rotation on MTV, back in the days when the M in MTV still stood for music and they played music videos.

    But at the same time you have a point. Kristoff is a romantic lead (to the extent that any male character is a lead in the female-centric Frozen franchise), so giving him a song that will be seen as comic relief here and now was a misstep.

  18. For you people who are saying you haven’t seen the movie because you’re old: age is no excuse. I’m old too and have no children in my everyday life, but I’m also a total Frozen fangirl and I was there at the theater on the Monday after opening weekend (senior discount day!) to see it. It’s on Disney+ now so you have even less excuse not to watch; use your seven day trial to see the Frozen movies and also to wallow in all your favorite Disney nostalgia.

  19. Athena, you’re a great writer with your own unique and valuable voice. Thanks for this article. It made me rethink the film. Tell your dad you should be on here more often!!

  20. THANK YOU. This is exactly what I thought watching it in the theatre, and when I saw Kristen Bell’s comments about how great it was to show a man having big emotions other than anger. Why undercut it with the deliberate mockery?

  21. I couldn’t disagree with you more. If you grew up in the 80s, these were how love ballads were made. They weren’t done as jokes then, it was the style of the music. To see the style come back was fantastic, and in no way made sympathizing with him any more difficult. You still feel sad for what he’s going through. The key being that even though it was performed in the style of the 80s, it’s not mocking. The subject matter is taken seriously which is what makes it work.

    Haven’t you ever watched a romantic comedy? Or any sitcom that has romantic episodes? Levity does not automatically equate to people checking out, or not being able to feel the importance of the message. This just sounds like problematizing something that isn’t an issue as feelings are complex, and not mutually exclusive.

  22. I only sort of agree.
    This part was written for multiple audiences. YOU view it through a filter of bias where these 80’s ballads are a comedy piece. Someone older than you who grew up with 80’s ballads might see this song more seriously (admittedly with the inherent rediculous character traits that have already been established. Because we’ll… He talks to and for reindeer.). But I think most importantly my 5 year old told me she cries when she hears this song, because he is sad. And since it is a Disney realm, where personified reindeer aren’t strange, and she has no Queen /80s ballad experience, nothing about this song is funny to her. Hilarious to me though. 😁

  23. I totally agree with you, I thought exactly the same. It was awkward to see how mistreated was a moment where a guy was expressing his feelings. I was really disappointed :/

  24. Kudos for your insight and posting about it. What strikes me as the real gift here, is the fact that you are not just “consuming” popular media – you are very obviously thinking deeply about what you’ve consumed and how it affects you, your generation and humankind as a whole. You, Athena, give us old folks *hope*. Keep questioning everything!

  25. While there was a Queen reference, surely Queen would never have made such a saccharine product. This made me think more of Air Supply or even Bread. Maybe Journey, but the style is so much NOT my jam that I can’t give more examples.

    FWIW I think the animators and directors just wanted to have a bit of fun with an outdated style from their youth, much like the director of “Do You Want To Date My Avatar” deliberately styled the production in an 80’s dance style.

    I didn’t take it as mocking.

  26. Yay, guest post by Athena! Your posts are always thoughtful and well-written, and I enjoy getting your perspective on things.

    I’ve yet to see the second Frozen film so I don’t know how the song fits with the rest of the movie. I watched the video after reading your thoughts and I did feel that Kristoff’s sadness & confusion come through despite the movie playing it for laughs.

    Undoubtedly the world would be better off if men were allowed to express emotions such as fear, doubt, pain, and grief more openly. On the other hand, women are often (still) discouraged from expressing anger or disagreement. So we all have a ways to go.

    As a teen in the 80s I have to admit that I took all of those over-the-top love ballads pretty much at face value at the time..and I agree with Shirley Dulcey that Kristoff’s song would probably have done quite well on MTV back in the day.

    Also…after the second video, I feel a need to go watch those 80s Karate Kid movies again….!

  27. [Deleted because “it’s a cartoon, stop taking everything so seriously” is dismissive, condescending bullshit – JS]

  28. “It’s just disappointing, y’know? Kristoff deserved better. Men deserve better representation of emotions and sadness, and that’s the mothafuckin tea.”

    I have to agree. I grew up on 80s and 90s cheese and will always love it. The first time I saw the film, I was marking out at how well-done the thing was…it wasn’t a parody, but a straight up homage. Even though it was played for laughs, it was sort of like “it’s hilarious that they’re doing *this*…and doing it well.” But as the movie went on, I started to feel like somehow Kristoff is really just supposed to be okay with feeling terrible because his “love is not fragile.” What does that even mean? It totally erases the validity of his feelings, and at the same time reinforces ‘women weak, men strong!’ IMO. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention, but that’s how it landed for me (as a dude and as a cheesy love song aficionado.)

  29. Loved your article, but I disagree.
    That song is needed at that point of the movie. After that song you have the scene where Anna and Elsa find out about their parents, and then Elsa and Olaf essentially due. Anna is left on her own to “Do the next right thing”. That’s a lot to take in. If Kristoffs song had been a serious lovers lament song the movie would have been way too melancholy. We needed that laugh before the serious stuff came up.

  30. I agree completely. This song is the opposite of progressive, because it reinforces the idea that men who express heartfelt emotions are ridiculous and will be laughed at. This is a REgressive song, drawing viewers to participate in mocking Kristoff for expressing his worries and uncertainties. Whoever okayed this approach to this particular song needs a good thwap in the head with a dead salmon to jar some brain cells loose.

  31. 45 y/o father of 8 & 10 y/o daughters – I love THIS song

    As a few others have expressed previously, this song and its presentation are completely consistent. I was disappointed NOT to see Peter Cetera performing the cover on the album instead of Weezer because this is exactly the type of thing I remember hearing from Chicago on the radio when I was my daughters’ ages. The nostalgia factor for this dad and the fun Disney choreography (think “Kiss the Girl” or “Be Our Guest”) visuals were not inconsistent for me or many of my peers who also adore this power ballad.

    It is okay, I get it. Not everything is going to hit with every audience at that particular moment. I have aged out of many Disney songs along with the films that they come from and my children have grown into certain others. I cannot now go back to the innocence of “Kiss the Girl” as heard when I was a 13 year old boy who had (and would continue to have) trouble expressing his feelings appropriately through words; the same boy who would (and still does) tear up when singing along with Jodi Benson about wanting to fit in with people who don’t even recognize me, to be accepted, to feel connected with that which seems so magical to me. Now I hear it, the same as “Gaston” and “The Mob Song” from “Beauty and the Beast” as the soundtrack of a presidential rally from the toxic fragile male perspective, the unhealthy self-indulgent entitled point-of-view which “Lost in the Woods” is the antithesis of.

    We are all going to have our own opinions of this song, this movie, and even this article based upon our individual collected experiences and expectations. I disagree with yours, but do not fault you for having it or for expressing it. I appreciate this opportunity that you have created for people to engage in a dialogue (well, I suppose the format is more conducive to monologues such as this) about their opinions and interpretation as well. Something which I would not have been exposed to if not for your proud father sharing on social media whom I only started actually “following” over the past few weeks though I have been reading his works for many years. So my thanks to you all.

    Now, excuse me while I go back to Amazon Music to stream this song for the unknown hundredth time, even though I purchased it outright, because it keeps the income stream moving, even if only incredibly incrementally, for the artists.

  32. Heaven knows (as a male feminist of 40 years standing) I see your point, Athena, about the devaluing of male anguish; but I don’t see the song as mocking Kristoff. Perhaps this is because I like the music styles being imitated here well enough; perhaps it’s because a backup chorus of reindeer is no more inherently absurd than a talking snowman and other aspects of the whole Frozen universe. I was watching the song as a video on a laptop, rather than in a theater full of people younger than myself; so I can’t gauge audience reaction at all in this matter.

  33. So well written, it was a pleasure to read.

    Though I’ve not seen the movie and probably never will, I completely understand what you mean. I’ve seen the same thing many times in movies and TV shows. They address something that usually is not addressed, but they blow it. Instead of addressing it in an accurate respectful way they address it in an inaccurate stereotypical way.

    An example that disappointed me is the popular show The Big Bang Theory. It is funny. But I’ve never had the urge to watch it with any regularity. While many people see a show that has scientist-nerds as the heroes, a relatively rare thing, what I see is all the stale, mostly negative, stereotypes of “brainiacs” that never were accurate.

  34. Frozen2 is DARK, yo. Grandpa is a genocidal murderer, we see him decapitate an unarmed man. Mom and dad died trying to find out whats going on with else. And Anna’s song in the cave starts out saying she is ready to succumb (die). Like really fricken dark.

    And if you listen to “lost in the woods” without video, its a legit power ballad. It is dark and sad and Kristoff is really struggling. And as dark as that movie is, i dont think the movie could handle all that darkness. Something needed to be humorous. And Kristoffs song is probably the one to do it with.

  35. While I certainly laughed in delight at the visual formatting of the song, my 4 year old daughter doesn’t laugh at the song at all (ok, that’s a lie, she does laugh at the 20 reindeer chorus, but it’s because she’s so excited about the singing reindeer horde.) She *loves* the song and often bursts into it spontaneously, and definitely not as a joke. I think that this may be one of those moments where it hits different ages differently. As an adult it’s funny for the visual styling nostalgia, which seems out of place in an otherwise non-modern setting. As a kid I think the genuine emotion of the song comes through, and when I was a teen watching love ballad stylings, the emotion and the visual styling seemed to go hand in hand to be an appropriate level of drama.
    I get the concern that we are laughing and this possibly dismissing a legitimate emotional moment, but I think the portion of the audience that is most impressionable got the desired message.

  36. Agree with heartofdarkness… listening to the song by itself (sans video) allows the words and meaning to come through clearly. I am curious if this one will be part of the next generation of karaoke overwrought ballads. PS – I was around to listen to the cheesy romantic ballads in the 80’s, and the song felt pitch perfect.

    (However, the song that felt remarkably on point with my own life right now was “Next Right Thing;” it seemed pretty clearly associated with recovery and coming through our own darker times.)

  37. It wasn’t until I read the comments I realized it was Athena who wrote the original post instead of John. Again well done and thank you.

  38. I watched the movie at home, alone and I’m surprised that anyone found it laughable. I was quite moved at it and worried that Anna really doesn’t love Sven. Especially after she ran off without telling him. And, in HER song, she never references Sven. (After Sven’s song, I was looking for any hint that Anna felt as strongly about Sven as Sven felt about Anna.)

  39. I think we all deserve a better palette for expressing our emotions than that provided by fucking Disney.