In Kids Riding Bicycles’ regular series, Scene and Heard, I take a look at great moments in movie music. This feature isn’t just about the particular scene or the music underscoring it, but how the two come together to form a complete whole. In this edition, I run through one of the truly great moments in modern Disney history: Frozen and one of its signature songs.
If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I like musicals. That’s because musicals are great and if you’re uncool enough to think they’re not cool, I don’t care. As a hopeless romantic, I totally and shamelessly buy into their vision of love as something so wondrous you’ve simply got to break into song and do a little jig about it. Because honestly, why would you not want to do that if you’ve finally found the joy of romance?
The moment I want to focus on here is a very specific moment of Frozen‘s masterful song ‘For the First Time in Forever’. As I’ve explained before (erm, twice in fact), Frozen is a beautifully unique film that makes some important points about the nature of true love, refusing to dismiss the possibility that true love can exist, but at the same time warning against giving your heart away too easily because true love comes in different forms.
‘For the First Time in Forever’ is at the centre of that. Here we have two characters sharing a duet and communicating the same idea: that they’re both on the brink of experiencing human interaction for the first time in a long time. But the dramatic tension of the song comes from the fact that they have different readings of that experience: Elsa is utterly terrified, while Anna is utterly delighted. In many ways, if ‘Let It Go’ is Elsa’s song, ‘For the First Time in Forever’ is Anna’s.
We hear Anna’s jubilation first of all as she sings about how she could find her true love and how that will make her life perfect. Then we hear from Elsa, who sings of her terror at letting her guard down, being found out, and hurting people. It’s an incredible piece of music for the way it blends those two competing emotions, allowing the audience to understand the characters emotions while also showing how utterly wrong-headed they are in their approach to them.
Part of that is due to the direction. When the sequence is focusing on Anna, there’s a balletic quality to the camera movement. Like with all the truly great musical numbers, we aren’t just watching Anna dance; we’re dancing with her, swinging and sashaying our way through Arendelle like gravity’s something only other people need to worry about. By comparison, Elsa’s scenes are shot with a slow, deliberate pace and steady camera movements, our viewpoint remaining rooted and still, just as Elsa is.
The style creates a sense of desire within the audience. We want these characters to feel happy: we want Anna to find her true love and we want Elsa to be as free as her sister is. And towards the end of the sequence we get a taste of that, as Anna bounds out of the castle, jumping on walls and swinging around poles, before finally, the moment that always delights me happens: Anna dances a jig.
It’s a small moment, no more than a few seconds long, but it’s important because it captures Anna’s character perfectly. We’re so used to musical numbers being carefully choreographed with little to no room for improvisation, certainly no room for someone to do a little, daft jig. But that’s exactly what Anna does here. She’s walking along, hikes up her skirt a little, and starts jigging along.
It’s the moment in the film where I knew two things: that I was going to love Anna and that I was going to love the film. Because here, we have someone so utterly in love with the idea of being in love, so utterly transcedentally happy at the opportunities she now has in front of her, that she simply can’t contain it. She’s dancing. And when I say that, I don’t mean Dancing Dancing. I mean actually, really dancing. Big, embarrassing, I can’t contain it dancing.
I think about this scene when I feel down. I think about how it made me smile when I first saw Frozen while struggling with anxiety in 2013. I think about how it still makes me smile, even when I linger on the fact that I’m 32 and still, thanks to shyness, haven’t ever had a girlfriend. I think about it because I, to some degree, am Anna: searching for that one wonderful thing that will make me dance a jig. Maybe we all are. And maybe that’s why this moment is so beautifully powerful.