Ringed around the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, where I was attending Frozen on Ice with my wife and 3-year-old daughter, is a corridor I came to know as the Gauntlet. Walk along its circular span and witness a succession of stands hawking every manner of Frozen-related bauble. There are Anna and Elsa friendship necklaces, sacks of Olaf cotton candy, fleece blankets, and figurines. Throngs of adult casualties flowed back toward us clinging to tiaras, tees and one item that would soon prove ubiquitous.
“The wands are our biggest sellers,” said the clerk, pointing out the blinking scepter of plastic that would not have seemed out of place at a 99-cent store. Here it sold for $ 30. See, the thing about Frozen on Ice is that it has nothing to do with the ice skating or the music or watching adults trying to pass for cartoon characters while pulling off triple-axels. Instead, it’s all about whether or not you, as a parent, are going to survive the Gauntlet. Could I get through Frozen On Ice without going broke?
“My first customer of the day spent $ 2,600,” the clerk said, restocking the snow globes and braiding Elsa wigs. He speculated it was for a kid’s birthday party. He smiled at the magic and insanity of it all. “I’ve got two more shows to go today.”
“Good luck,” I said, drifting further down the Gauntlet with growing alarm. I did not know how long we could go without buying our 3-year-old something. Weeks before, I had purchased Frozen on Ice tickets at a discount sale. My wife and I had given it to our daughter as her Christmas present. Although money was tight – we had both experienced job losses within the past year – at $ 128.50 for three tickets it had seemed an affordable amusement. But only if we could somehow resist this merchandising blitz.
Like other girls her age, my daughter was already well initiated into the cult of Disney’s Frozen. She could sing “Let It Go” by heart, albeit with bizarrely modified lyrics. She often watched the movie several times a week. I did not know when the obsession started, but I feared it would never end.
It’s not that I hate Frozen. To say that as a parent today is like someone saying they hate capitalism. Understandable, but good luck trying to escape it. Grossing over a $ 1 billion in its 2014 theatrical run, Frozen is a cash cow that continues to be vigorously milked. The cultural impact of the sister saga has led to a bonanza of merchandising and live experiences, including a 2018 Broadway musical adaptation, which was outside our means given the astronomical ticket prices.
But, here, in the Gauntlet, it seemed the pull to buy more was real. When you talk about a movie making a billion dollars, it feels abstract. It’s a very different thing to be adjacent to that vortex in person, and to feel its gravitational pull, threatening to bankrupt you.
Luckily, my daughter hadn’t really noticed the merch. Instead, her eye was drawn to the parade of costumed toddlers swarming around us. Nearly all of them were dressed up as snow princess Elsa, whose emotional maelstrom seizes her land in a polar vortex.
“Not a lot of Annas,” I observed to my wife. What did the absence of Frozen’s more modest sister, and the movie’s true protagonist, say about our society?
“It’s Ah-na,” my wife corrected. “Not An-na.”
I scoffed and kneeled down to my daughter. “Do you like Elsa better or Anna?” An adolescent girl passed in a flowy ankle-length dress, silver tiara and ice-blue cape – no mere repurposed Halloween costume.
“It’s Ah-na,” said my 3-year-old. “I want a treat.”
My first obstacle had presented itself. I followed her eye-line and spotted a child eating a snow cone out of a commemorative Olaf snow mug ($ 15). The plastic mug was in the shape of the jolly snowman’s head. To consume this treat, one lifted the lid of his skullcap. The effect was so undeniable it had to be intentional. It made it seem as though the children were eating his brains.
I ignored my daughter’s request and pressed on through the Gauntlet, part retail hellscape, and toddler masquerade. I eyed a concession stand menu and saw that they were selling beer. A Domestic Tall Boy was $ 13.
“Let’s go inside,” I said. Purchase averted. I took my daughter’s hand and we stepped inside the arena.
A snowflake spotlight hovered over the rectangular ice rink far below us. We were not in nosebleed seats, but we were high. My daughter watched the empty stage. Did it glow with near transcendent significance? If her face was impossible to read, her attention was also impossible to crack.
Pre-recorded dialogue emerged from the speakers around us while the skaters, dressed in bulky suits, pantomimed. The lights dimmed as the old guard of the Disney brand, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, revved up the crowd. Like Big Bird on Sesame Street, Mickey is rapidly being aged out by younger characters, but they remain essential to the brand.
My daughter was not amused by this blast from the past.
“They need to go away,” she said.
But in no time, the clarion call of Frozen‘s ice harvesters began and a hush fell upon the crowd. The air seemed to be sucked out of the room as the young Anna and Elsa emerged on a bed in their girlish forms. There was not ‘Taylor Swift-like pandemonium in the stadium, but rapt attention. The devotion could be read in the field of twinkling wands of the faithful in the Coliseum. Each one of those lights, I thought, cost almost as much as their tickets.
I slumped down in my seat, thirsting for a Domestic Tall Boy.
Are you enjoying this as much as I am not? This is perhaps one of the essential questions of parenthood. One accompanies an enthusiastic child to horrible children’s movies, insufferable birthday parties, and soul-draining school performances. And yet I had chosen this. Frozen on Ice had been my idea. I had spent cold hard cash to supply my daughter, who would have been as easily satisfied with making cookies, with manufactured happiness.
I recalled the YouTube video of a little boy digging into a gag Christmas present. “An avocado!” he said with a joy stunning in its sincerity. “Thanks!” If this was a joke, the joke was on the parents.
I spotted a popcorn vendor walking up the aisle as Sven the reindeer clattered on the ice, a two-person job on skates. “Popcorn! Popcorn! ”
We were on an aisle seat, and I saw other parents flag down the vendor, their children clutching Frozen wands – some with upgraded spinning modules.
“I’m hungry,” my daughter whined, distracted from the action.
I had prepared for this moment. We had packed a lunch. “Do you want your peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
“I want popcorn,” she said.
I hesitated. “No,” I said firmly. But quietly enough for no one else to hear. She slumped in her seat and looked back to the ice rink.
People to our side, and below us, and beyond us, ate their popcorn.
At intermission, my daughter rapidly consumed her packed PB&J sandwich, and we went down to a lower level to look at the ice rink from a different, closer vantage point. A Zamboni machine hummed across the ice, smoothing the scratched surface for the final act.
As we returned to our seats, people passed us with loaded-up hot dogs in cardboard carriers.
In the second half of what I now simply thought of as “Lip-Syncing on Ice,” much of the plot dragged. I again marveled at the simplicity of Frozen’s plot. Elsa uses her ice powers, unleashing an endless winter on Arendelle; her sister retrieves her; they make up. Yet as anyone who has read the Wikipedia page knows, the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Snow Queen” took decades to adapt, in a development process as detailed as designing a stealth bomber.
I glanced at my daughter who had returned to her comatose state. If she did not retain this memory, would she at least retain the subconscious knowledge that we had once done something intended to be an unforgettable experience?
It ended, somehow. I do not know. I must have been thinking of something else. As everyone left, I saw $ 10 worth of popcorn spilled on the floor in the aisle across from us.
By some miracle, we had not succumbed to the day-of commercial onslaught, and my daughter was not crying from deprivation. We had succeeded.
Back in the parking lot, I started the car and joined the exodus. We had a quarter tank of gas. It would be enough to get us home after we stopped at Costco and the mall.
Days later, I thought back to the Frozen merchandise and considered how many magic wands would wind up in landfills in the weeks to come, to allow for more toys to be purchased, which would also be thrown in the garbage. The circle of life. In the next week, my wife and I would purge most of our daughter’s infant clothes and toys. We donated as much of it as we could. Most of it ended up in the trash.