Nausicaä and Frozen II: Courage and Peace in the Valley and the Fjord
By: Hugh Sloan
“Some were disappointed by the film’s ‘miracle’ ending. […] Perhaps [Miyazaki’s] reason was that he simply needed to ‘tie up the [carryall]’ and deliver a completed movie
to an awaiting audience.”
-Susan Napier, Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art
Moral courage and proactive peacemaking define the characters and the very production of Frozen II. Animators, vocal and musical talents, cultural ambassadors of the Sami people, and many more wove together an ambitious project in the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s pioneering 1984 masterwork Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Spirited echoes from Arendelle to Ahtohallan invite admirers of Elsa and Anna to also seek out Princess Nausicaä and draw personal lessons from all three characters’ service, sacrifice, and true grit.
To all the Disney creators reading this, I see you. Thank you for honoring the creators of Nausicaä. To you, dear actual reader, if you liked Frozen II, and you’re cool with bugs, I commend to you my favorite movie. Buy the Blu-Ray, catch a Studio Ghibli Fest screening, or pick it up on the streaming services GKIDS just announced! I hope you love it as much as I do! As Overly Animated leader Dylan says in podcast episode 22, magnificently titled Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, “This is it, right? This is everything in animation.”
These ambitiously idealistic movies demonstrate courage, truth, doing what is right, and tireless service. I hope many will agree these values apply to most any world and its problems. I do not examine here specific calls to action these works might make, a separate and highly valuable analysis. I do not compare magical, spiritual or other storytelling elements with real groups of people such as the Sami, nor clearly representative groups depicted with such thoughtfulness as the Northuldra. Check out this Medium post by Geri Danton for a review that considers that aspect and more! Frozen II and Nausicaä offer abundant animistic elements that show me these values in action before I even reach those profound real-world discussions.
The deep foundations of Frozen II and the roaring lifeblood of Nausicaä resound with the courage it takes to live by three further peacemaking values: seeking truth, doing what is right, and serving others unceasingly.
Spoilers for Frozen II and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind follow.
Worldbuilding: Big If True
“Did you know that water has memory? True fact! It’s disputed by many, but it’s true!”
-Olaf, Frozen II
Taking animation seriously can take many forms: engaging with such worthwhile art and its meaning in the first place, analyzing its production and artistic choices, and, as here, giving full faith and credit to the story as presented and analyzing its values in that context.
As Dylan expresses in the OVA Frozen II Recap podcast, “They constructed a situation where [destroying Arendelle does not itself make anything better,] but in the real world, that is not true necessarily.” It is the case that countless real institutions are shot through with integral legacies of past and ongoing harms.
In the world of Frozen, spirits of nature exert physical force. Runeard murdered the Northuldra leader. The memory of water Elsa channels is accurate. Those are facts in Frozen II, a situation in a world. So are the technologies and biological marvels of Nausicaä’s apocalypse. Every world has its beauty, its horrors, and its courage.
While the values throughout Frozen II and Nausicaä transcend each movie, they do not neatly map across these unique stories and heroes, let alone ours. Below is a highly questionable chart of mere approximations. Do feel free to skip it.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
|Elsa||Nausicaä; Lord Yupa|
|Kristoff||Edward James Olmos (Mito)|
|The Nokk, steed of the waters||Lady Kushana|
|The Awakened Spirits of the Forest||The Tolmekian Expeditionary Force|
|The roaring river undammed||The great stampede of the Ohm|
|The elements and memories of nature||Nausicaä’s empathy for the insects|
|The dam built by Runeard||The Giant Warrior unearthed by Pejite|
Courage and Initiative
“Nausicaä faces ideological and moral challenges with a matter-of-fact competence, intelligence, curiosity, and genuine love of life.”
-Susan Napier, Miyazakiworld
Singing “Into the Unknown,” Queen Elsa hears and answers a magical call, glimpses the pattern of the fifth spirit from afar, and puts a team together when spirits isolate and rock Arendelle. In her Valley of the Wind, Princess Nausicaä launches into a howling midnight to aid a doomed skyliner, peacefully guides home a wounded insect, beholds a distant, regal Ohm, and subsequently chooses to fly into the unknown on behalf of her people as a hostage of the invading Tolmekian military. Elsa, Anna, Nausicaä and their companions carry on hour after hour with courage, self-care and forward thinking as problems and opportunities beckon, rear their heads, and charge.
Great leaders act and react decisively. Elsa and Nausicaä answer the call, with Nausicaä awakened by the night watch. Elsa reacts quickly time and again, from evacuating Arendelle in moments to containing the spirit of fire, while Nausicaä rescues the baby Ohm on pure initiative. I am thrilled to see Arendelle’s leaders starting an important new quest after the happy ending of Frozen… initiative can take as much courage as facing the fire of fear.
Elsa manages to corner blazing Bruni and holds back from icing him once she sees him as a smoldering smol. Courageous and patient, she does not recoil when the lizard sizzles her hand. Nausicaä adopts Teto after Lord Yupa rescues the tiny fox squirrel. Her stalwart calm and unflinching, instant forgiveness soothe Teto’s vivid fears.
The calls for courage in these worlds and ours include for peacemakers to delve the depths of truth, do the next right thing even in terrible circumstances, and never yield while one draws breath.
The Depths of Truth
“I’m ready to learn.”
-Elsa entering Ahtohallan
Anna and Elsa’s father, and even their mother, had only incomplete understandings of Ahtohallan and the events in the forest on the day of betrayal. Iduna had the courage to give her daughters a hint of the river of memories; especially Elsa, as Anna fell asleep like a hero. She and Agnarr raised Anna and Elsa to be honest people and problem-solving public servants. Defending her friends, Elsa condenses and freezes memories from the moisture in Gale, the wind spirit. She ends up doing the work it takes to listen to what the wind carries, perhaps like her mother before her. The Princess of the Valley also grew up honest and adventurous, riding the wind with her glider and mask to explore the toxic jungle.
Elsa and Nausicaä descend into spectacular natural cathedrals on their journeys. Elsa sees a memory of Runeard and his acquiescent general venture away from the peopled fields of memory. Already devastated by Runeard’s abominable outlook, she chooses to rend a chill veil and follow the memory down. No door or passage invites her to study that history. She makes one. Icy trees of the enchanted forest that surround Elsa in the depths of truth render a stunning salute to Miyazaki’s riparian understory. The lack of love in that coldblooded memory literally freezes Elsa’s heart.
At the base of the toxic jungle, Nausicaä has an easier time of it for once. She and Asbel crash into its depths in a downpour of purified sand after she snatches him from the mandibles of death. Awakening to discover the air is not lethal beneath the Sea of Decay, she soon sublimely comprehends the crystalline tree trunks when she listens to the purified water flowing through them. She attempts to explain the world to Asbel, then goes to sleep like a hero.
A happier truth is that Lieutenant Mattias is not implicated in the betrayal and crime. He was near Runeard as the personal guard of Prince Agnarr, but Elsa sees in Ahtohallan that the shell of a leader with whom Runeard shared his wretched scheme was not Lieutenant Mattias nor any of the Arendelle Guard remnant in the forest. As Lieutenant Mattias exemplifies, “Let the truth be known.”
The Next Right Thing
“It’s not a good versus evil film, ever… it’s a love versus fear [film…]
In Frozen we’re looking at that through difference […] and in Frozen II looking at that through change […] the change that happens in families when you face such things.”
Jennifer Lee, Co-Director of Frozen II, Ep. 2 of the Inside Frozen II Podcast
The heroes of Arendelle face many motivations to break the dam. They are trapped with newly-awakened spirits, two of which still rage as far as Anna knows. Lifting the mist to escape is a complementary but new goal alongside finding the truth and making Arendelle safe once more. That does not lessen the righteousness and courage of Anna’s actions. Standing alone before the dam, the Arendelle Guard remnant, and a world without Elsa, she gives her all to do what is right. Anna is the next leader Arendelle needs and deserves.
I view Anna’s demolition of the dam as a destructive act of true love that restored Elsa. Love for the Northuldra, their parents, the forest, and Elsa flowed through the world concurrently with the freedom of a mighty river. Without Anna’s act of true love, Elsa might have remained frozen in the depths of the glacier even when the curse lifted from the forest.
In Nausicaä, men of Pejite gravely wound a baby Ohm to actively bait a stampede. Its suffering cannot be undone, only discontinued. Nausicaä rescues it, body-blocks it from further harm, shares its bloody misery, and compels the warmongers to return it- and her, on behalf of her people- into the path of the all-consuming stampede of its elders. Nausicaä is all at once breaking the dam and standing in front of her homeland, as Anna and Elsa do in sequence. Blue Ohm blood dies her tunic to sublimely complete the image of a prophesied leader of her own community.
Lord Yupa declares to Kushana that she may go free if she destroys the Giant Warrior and flies her forces home. A necessary remedy, loving or otherwise, for an enduring harm is a valid prerequisite for forgiveness and progress. A fair reply to a demand to forgive an ongoing harm might be “… just forgive this… on an ongoing basis, then? … Stop.”
As toxic spores haunting the valley since the Giant Warrior crashed down finally explode into growth in the inland woods, wise Obaba declares, “This forest is doomed. We must burn it down. If we hesitate, the toxic jungle will engulf the entire valley!” Arendelle’s situation is similar: the taint of an apocalyptic atrocity, a dammed energy now released like a grand stampede of Ohm and all the angry spores that will cover the landscape, now tears through the forest and into the fjord.
Obaba, Nausicaä, and Anna accept the stony cost and do the next right thing.
Nausicaä’s powerful and genuinely loving leadership […] lead her to a final sacrifice that barely saves humanity and the Earth as well. But in the movie’s triumphant final scene, the Ohmu ‘open their hearts’ […] and resurrect her, leading to an unusually unambiguous Miyazaki ending.”
-Susan Napier, Miyazakiworld
Elsa does not quit. Like Nausicaä… like Anna… she powers on, marshaling every force to protect her people. No matter how much has happened, if she is breathing, she gets there. She intuits that the act that restored her was the breaking of the dam, and the Nokk doubtless feels big water on the move. With Elsa’s one breath, two spirits evidently vactrain through the sea and into the fjord with magnificent speed; if water is slowing you down, maybe ask water to move it! In the Steven Universe episode event Change Your Mind, Sunstone encourages viewers to always do their best! Elsa’s best is brilliant, fast and harmonious.
In the enchanted forest, Elsa collapses after giving her all to quell a forest fire engulfing Anna. Sparing Arendelle might take more than the force of her ice powers alone, even assuming her power grows with her fully realized connection to nature. Once her glorious fan of ice begins to contain the flood, Avatar Elsa seems to dispel and release the surging energy of the water into nature itself, elemental ice diamonds glimmering in the gentle sunlight.
In purely an animistic, forces of nature sense, I see this as a certain forgiveness she orchestrates in her new harmonious role. If she stood with brute force, more power to her. To quote the brilliant mind behind Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur, while brute force is not always the best solution, “If brute force isn’t working, you aren’t using enough of it.” Whatever means were necessary, she tells Anna that “The spirits all agree… Arendelle deserves to stand.”
As far as our world goes, this team of animators absolutely could have leveled Arendelle. Elsa’s ability to stop the water in time certainly changes the contours of messages Frozen II sends. I celebrate the positive aspect of this optimistic, even idealistic, story choice to break the dam and also save the city and castle. I see this miraculous ending as a sky-high challenge equal to those of truth-seeking and sacrificing for what is right. I see in the same light Anna saving the very life of Elsa, the avatar of high performance and best outcomes. Stakes matter, but both Nokk and rider excel at these Stakes, and that is amazing.
Nausicaä never stops fighting for her valley. Her empathy for nature and all life ultimately enables her to barely save it, and her own life. Anna and Elsa never stop fighting for their people… all their people. They win an exceptional peace because of their love and the magic it powers. A restored Elsa preserves the home of so many from the damaging forces of the instant- the natural energy of another homeland too long dammed.
The apparent peace- and designation of dancing spaces- between the Northuldra and the Arendelle guard remnant after 34 years suggests that the groups stopped further harm, and possibly exchanged some measure of forgiveness. Lieutenant Mattias openly hopes for the truth and acknowledges that no one there knows what happened. Both stories end under blue skies, yet all will remember moments of greatness… and great loss.
“I’m so sorry! Is there any way you can forgive us? We’ve treated you so badly…”
-Nausicaä, in misery with the tortured Ohm
Courage, Peace, and Love on the Planet Earth
“What we need is a living thing, with strong roots, a solid trunk and branches, so that we can be creative in the way we hang the ornaments.”
Some animated tributes in Frozen II flow in those roots, trunk and branches of courage and peacemaking. Among dozens of lovely moments, a few more ornamental salutes to Miyazakiworld left me… “Charmed, I’m Sure…” as surely as Nausicaä’s insect charm.
Elsa holds back the furious wind spirit with one arm extended to each side, exerting extreme force to separate her loved ones from the danger. Lord Yupa holds at knifepoint a platoon of Tolkemian heavy infantry with one arm, quelling and saving a rampaging Nausicaä with the other. Please forget that both Nausicaä and Lord Yupa are Elsa. [Unraveled by Brian David Gilbert; NSFW Language]
Elsa and Frosty the Nokk glide past Ryder and Honeymaren on their reindeer just as Nausicaä flies past Asbel and Lord Yupa on their ostrich mounts. Does this parallel mean that Elsa developing a relationship with Honeymaren would imply that Nausicaä develops a relationship with Asbel? No.
Last but not least, the very concept of a river full of memory ushers in good vibes from a Studio Ghibli classic, as does a paper bird flying from sister to sister.
Frozen II, and scores of epic art, were not necessary. They were initiatives. In episode 1 of the ABC and Disney Animation podcast Inside Frozen II, songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez recalls agreement at roundtable discussions of a sequel that “there’s no reason to do it unless there’s really something we need to say,” though she and her husband Robert Lopez concede that the discussion was in the context of planning a second movie. Perhaps confidence in a sequel’s box office success set the stage for creators at all levels of the project to strive for a coherent array of ambitious goals. I adore their labor all the more for the love letters they included.
As for Nausicaä, which forged a foundation for Studio Ghibli and decades of breathtaking beauty that continues today:
“… audiences and critics appreciated Nausicaä as a remarkable piece of worldbuilding, evoking an alternative reality that eloquently buttressed the movie’s strong message.”
Susan Napier, Miyazakiworld
Inspiration, motivation, and humility abound when I take animation seriously. Beyond celebrating Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and the works that celebrate it alongside me, most recently Frozen II, I should answer their call and approach every day and every person with the peace-loving courage I see in these stories and which clearly powered their telling.