Jikŋon: ‘Frozen 2’ brings Sámi language and culture to Disney audiences

The new blockbuster becomes the first feature-length Hollywood film with a Northern Sámi version.

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Publicity picture for Frozen 2 / Credit: Disney Animation Studios

The long-awaited sequel to Disney’s blockbuster ‘Frozen’ opens in Finnish cinemas over Christmas, and becomes the first feature-length Hollywood film to be dubbed in Northern Sámi.

A unique collaboration between Disney Animation Studios and indigenous communities has helped shape the narrative of the fairy tale, which weaves elements of Sámi culture and mythology with more traditional cartoon storytelling.

“Of course it’s a snow story and a fantasy world, and they have been inspired from our nature and from our culture” explains Tiina Sanila-Aikio, President of the Sámi Parliament, who was one of a group of Sámi from Finland, Sweden and Norway who advised on the film.

Frozen 2 – or Jikŋon 2 in Northern Sámi – follows the adventures of Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Kristoff as they journey further north of the fictional Kingdom of Arendelle. They meet the Northuldra people, whose lives are closely entwined with reindeer – a traditional Sámi activity.

Sanila-Aikio, who attended the Los Angeles premier of the movie in early November with her daughter, explains that part of the Sámi advisory role was to help Disney get the small but important details about reindeer, and Sámi life, exactly right.

“The animations are very realistic, and so we could easily notice anything that was not realistic. For example there is a scene where there are reindeer, and they are running in a circle. Reindeer have a certain direction they go, and in the film the circle goes in the right direction” she tells News Now Finland.

“Such things are very important for us, and they understood when we visited Walt Disney Animation Studios, when they are working with animation, the details are very important” she explains.

“These are the details we know and are very familiar with, if they are wrong we get the feeling that it’s not a complete story concerning our nature, our history, our livelihoods and lifestyle” Sanila-Aikio adds.

Watch: Frozen 2 trailer – Northern Sámi version

Cinema chain builds Frozen 2 anticipation

The first Frozen film, released in 2013, racked up more than $1.2 billion at the box office and spawned a huge industry of toys, clothes, accessories and music.

Six years later and anticipation for the sequel was growing already during December in Finland, where audiences had to wait more than a month longer than cinema-goers in other parts of the world.

In its first weekend of release Frozen 2 made more than $350 million at the global box office.

At Finnkino, Finland’s largest cinema chain, the film is released on 25th December in four different languages: Finnish, Swedish, Northern Sámi and the original English.

“Elsa is probably the modern-day superhero for small children” says Toni Lähteinen, Head of Film Programming at Finnkino.

Lähteinen explains that for 20 years the chain has been showing special advance Sunday  screenings of upcoming family movies and in December they showed Frozen 2 for one day only.

“Our previous admission record was around 4500 seats sold on one day. And for Frozen 2 we sold 14,500 so it was over three times, and it broke the previous record. It seems like a huge movie!” he says.

Reindeer concept art from Frozen 2 / Credit: Disney Animation Studios

Cultural milestone for Sámi audiences

Tiina Sanila-Aikio has already seen Frozen 2 three times before it opens to the general public. Once in Northern Sámi, and twice in English.

“It was a very strong experience for me, and also when I imagine the children and young people who can get in prime time, at the same time when the national majority language versions are in cinemas, they can have it in their own language” she explains.

“This is not a one-off kind of film. It won’t be a drop in the ocean. I think we will be watching it [in Northern Sámi] for 20 more years.”

There’s an educational element as well to having such a high profile film with an indigenous language version. It means Finnish speakers can also watch it, in Northern Sámi, but with Finnish subtitles.

Frozen 2 helps breaks down language barriers and fosters understanding – but beyond that, it’s just a lot of fun says Sanila-Aikio.

“My daughter’s first reaction in Los Angeles is that this was even better than the first film, and she wants to see the third one already!”

Publicity still from Frozen 2 / Credit: Disney Animation Studios