How a collaboration with Disney shaped the way Sámi cultural details were portrayed in Frozen 2

“Frozen 2 isn’t our story, but our story is a part of Frozen 2.”

By Kevin McGwin - February 3, 2020
The cultural details of the Northuldra people in “Frozen 2” “coincide” with real-world details of Sámi culture. (Disney)

If you are the type of person who sits through to the end of film credits, and if you are a quick reader who happened to have a clear view of the screen at the end of Frozen 2, you might have noticed a line in the “Special Thanks” section (it was sandwiched between “Security” and “Production Babies”), recognizing the Sámi people for their collaboration with the producers, and then followed by the word “Verddet” and a list of what appeared to be names.

Verddet, meaning “friends” or “colleagues,” was an advisory group made up of six Sámi representatives who worked with Walt Disney Animation Studios, the film’s producer, to ensure that “the content of the film that is inspired by the Sámi is culturally sensitive, appropriate and respectful of the Sámi, and their culture.”

The group’s remit is defined by an agreement between Disney and the Sámi that emerged out of dissatisfaction that the original Frozen failed to acknowledge that it had drawn some of its inspiration from Sámi culture, including the opening song (which, to Disney’s credit, was composed and performed by Sámi musician Frode Fjellheim).

“After the first film, there was feeling that Disney had crossed the line to cultural appropriation,” said Christina Henriksen, vice president of the Saami Council, which represents Sámi interests in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. “We recognized a sequel was likely, so we opened up a dialogue with Disney to make sure that, if they included details from our story again, that they didn’t get them wrong.”

[Coming soon: a Sámi version of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ sequel]

Working with the Sámi, it turned out, was in line with Disney’s efforts to come up with “fantastical yet relatable and believable worlds” and resulted in more — and more accurate — references to the Sámi.

Disney representatives had travelled to Sápmi while researching the first film, but working with them on second, according to Peter Del Vecho, the film’s producer, helped “fine-tune” details of the film’s Sámi-inspired characters.

“We also incorporated details that nod to Sami culture, including the characters’ deep connection to nature,” Del Vecho told Screen Daily, an industry news outlet, in December.

While the film is clearly fictional, those details, according to Henriksen, “coincide” with reality.

“Frozen 2 isn’t our story, but our story is a part of Frozen 2,” she said.

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According to the terms laid out in the “non-confidential ceremonial” version of the agreement between Disney and the Sámi, the studio also committed itself to producing a Sámi-language version of the film and creating training opportunities for, something Henriksen calls a “tremendous achievement.”

In January, SVT, a Swedish news outlet, reported that Disney has also agreed to pay the Sámi a portion of the film’s earnings (to date it has taken in $1.4 billion in worldwide box-office sales). Sámi representatives who helped negotiate the agreement, as well as those on the Verddet, did not return requests to comment about the collaboration, but Henriksen described the partnership as “win-win”: Disney gets credit for working with the Sámi, and the Sámi get an opportunity to expose their culture, without having to be worried about how it would be portrayed.

“This was the first time we’ve experienced something like this,” she said. “We’re very much used to corporations and nation-states not taking us seriously. Disney didn’t have to reply, but the fact that they did might show that they’ve learned that, if they are going to tell a story about an Indigenous group, they benefit by involving the group from the beginning.”

Does that amount to a happy ending?

“I think more like the beginning of a long story,” Henriksen says.

Below: The Sámi-language trailer for “Jikŋon 2”.