In Disney Plus’ new short Once Upon a Snowman, we discover just what happens in the time between Olaf manifesting into existence by Elsa’s hand during “Let it Go” and when he’s introduced in the first Frozen.
Olaf continues to do what he does best: interrogating the very nature of his own existence. After he first awakens and speaks, he frightens himself, because he’s never heard a voice before. He wonders if it’s weird to walk on snow if he himself is made of snow. He somehow knows he needs a nose and that it should be a carrot, but doesn’t know why.
The snowman’s existentialism isn’t anything new. It’s been lightly threaded throughout the first Frozen and the other Frozen short films, but Frozen 2 hunkered down and had the snowman reflect on aging and the impermanence of life. Olaf’s big questions lend themself to humorous moments, certainly, but it also packages up these lofty, weighty questions in manageable sizes for younger audiences to digest. Forky, from last summer’s Toy Story 4, serves a similar purpose — and indeed, Disney Plus short series, Forky Asks a Question is all about Forky asking questions, albeit less existential and more practical.
Olaf, meanwhile, dares to inquire what his purpose is, why he’s here, and what it all means. This is, of course, juxtaposed with humorous physical gags — like Elsa’s cloak smashing into him sending him tumbling down the mountain — as well as Josh Gad’s effervescent voice acting, but nevertheless, this is Olaf in his most blank state form. He asks questions that most of us don’t dare to voice out loud, unafraid of the answers he might get.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Once Upon a Snowman follow]
Once Upon a Snowman gives him the answer, and it’s more clarifying than anything most of us will ever get in real life. He is Olaf, he remembers suddenly, and he likes warm hugs. It’s a warm, fuzzy epiphany as the revelation spreads across his goofy face. It’s not a grandiose purpose in life, but this purpose makes him happy nonetheless. He is Olaf and he likes warm hugs. May we all find a simple purpose that fulfills us just the same.
Once Upon a Snowman is streaming on Disney Plus.