A 'Frozen' agnostic's attempt to understand the film's popularity

Exploring a phenomenon that the culture- and parents of little girls- just can't let go

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'Frozen' fan

Olivia Mento, dressed as Elsa and surrounded by "Frozen" paraphernalia, is a fanatic about the movie and went to a "Frozen" summer camp in Roscoe Village. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / June 25, 2014)

Audrey Mewborn blinked, not understanding.

Look, I said, attempting to clarify my position, it's not that I hate "Frozen," it's just that I don't care about "Frozen," OK? I haven't connected with it on any meaningful level. Perhaps it's because I don't have kids? Perhaps it's because its themes of sisterhood and empowerment don't resonate as strongly for me as they might if I were female? Perhaps it's because, however unusual it may be for a Disney animated film about a marketable princess to be as enlightened and untethered to a dashing prince as "Frozen," the film itself felt kind of routine? I suppose, I told Audrey, I am just that unlikeliest of creatures — I am a "Frozen" agnostic.

The whole thing leaves me, ahem, cold.

"Why are you making a story then?" Audrey blurted.

Stephanie Mewborn, her mother, raised an eyebrow:

The 4-year-old had a point.

And I took that point to be, more or less: There are so few cultural moments that the country shares anymore, so few of those big-tent simultaneous experiences that once defined American pop culture, uniting parents and kids, teens and adults, young and old — and therefore, so few movies, songs, TV shows and performers who remain in our collective consciousness months after the big promotional campaigns are over — isn't it enough to just enjoy one of the rare times when everyone seems to be enjoying the same thing?

I asked Audrey: Is there something wrong with me? You know, because I'm not on board with "Frozen"?

She nodded.

Of course, Audrey is 4 and totally biased. She was attending a "Frozen"-themed summer camp in Roscoe Village when we spoke (more on that in a moment). But the kid was right: By not caring for "Frozen," I was feeling like a real Elsa, self-exiled, different. Except, unlike Elsa, the ice princess of "Frozen" who inadvertently triggered an eternal winter and retreated from the world until she could harness her powers, I built a castle of emotional detachment, but I was not owning my isolation. I couldn't help notice I was not on the bandwagon.

And I cannot let it go.

Because "Frozen" will not go.

Eight months after its Thanksgiving release, the Oscar-winning Disney blockbuster has shown serious cultural resilience. It took in more than $1 billion in ticket sales (becoming the fifth highest-grossing movie ever). The soundtrack spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart (longer than any film soundtrack since 2003). Three of the top 40 books on Amazon at the moment are "Frozen" titles, and "Frozen" home video and toy sales are so feverish that Disney's first quarter profits leapt by 27 percent. So naturally, our "Frozen" winter of 2013-2014 became a mere prelude to our "Frozen" summer of 2014 — if you are reading this in a public place and cannot hear Idina Menzel belting "Let It Go" right now, I suggest you pack your bags and get yourself out of North Korea immediately. (Not even a Pearl Jam show is immune: Last week in Italy, Eddie Vedder transitioned, appropriately, out of the band's "Daughter" and into the Oscar-winning tune.)

Nevertheless, if you are a "Frozen" agnostic like me, a summertime tip: Along with sunburn and mosquitoes, avoid public parks. There will be approximately 87,925 outdoor screenings of "Frozen" in the Chicago area before Labor Day. Chicago's Movies in the Parks series has "Frozen" screenings in Portage Park (July 9) and Jefferson Park (July 11). Bolingbrook has a screening on July 10; Evanston has a "Frozen" sing-along on July 16 at Northwestern University. And that's just in the next two weeks. Come January, the "Frozen" summer of 2014 will become the "Frozen' winter of 2015 and the redundantly named "Disney on Ice: Frozen" will descend on both the Allstate Arena in Rosemont (Jan. 21-25) and the United Center (Jan. 28-Feb.8).

But the most startling addition to our burgeoning "Frozen" ecosystem:

"Frozen" summer camp.

It's the genius of Baby Takes a Bow, a dance studio for young children with the foresight to book, between its Roscoe Village and Winnetka locations, eight "Frozen" summer camps. For $245, your child, for five days, three hours a day, will dance choreographed "Frozen" numbers, play-act "Frozen" characters, create "Frozen" castles. The camps — four of which are in July, two at each location — are so popular that Baby Takes a Bow owner Kristen Ramirez has a wait-list three dozen names long. That said, though not intended as "Frozen" re-education camps, if your kid gets into a "Frozen" camp, five days of nothing but "Frozen" should, "Clockwork Orange"-style, exhaust them completely on "Frozen" — parents who think Idina Menzel is a perfectly nice person but never want to hear her again will relax their shoulders for the first time in months.

Or so I thought.

I arrived on the last day of "Frozen" summer camp to find happy parents on the sidewalk outside the Roscoe Village studio, eager to watch their children's "Frozen" dance recital. They were chatting about wine nights, and their favorite places to take a quick nap and, of course, they were talking "Frozen," though alarmingly, not one seemed utterly disgusted with "Frozen." Stephanie Mewborn said that her 6-year-old son "had developed a resistance to 'Frozen'"; Annie Maynard, whose 4-year-old Ella, was in the camp, said her daughter had gotten into the funny habit of waving her hands about and magically "freezing" passers-by.

"But no one's sick of it yet," Maynard said. "It's about family, not a princess and prince. I'm grateful for that."

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