Warning: spoilers ahead. No, seriously. I told you so.
You knew this was coming. I mean, my favourite movie is Tangled, for crying out loud. I love Disney movies. Yes, I’m a girl who was born in the early ‘90s; of course I love Disney movies. And I’m not just talking the animated ones, either. I even liked those ridiculous straight-to-DVD movies like Hatching Pete and High School Musical (although really, who are we kidding; that thing’s a gem).
But here’s the weird thing: I’ve never liked the princesses.
Cinderella gets treated like crap by her family and puts up with it until a handsome prince whisks her away from her tragically awful life and into the lap of luxury. Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger and is stuck in a coma for like two days (it’s actually something like a hundred years in the story, FYI) until a handsome prince whisks her away from her tragically comatose life and into… well, I guess she’s still a princess. Anyway. Ariel is sick of her life and ditches her family to marry a prince (because princes everywhere) even though she is literally sixteen years old and that’s barely legal.
With the exception of Belle, who was always my favourite specifically because she was the exception to this rule, these girls are always waiting around for a prince to save them. That’s not a new analysis, and I’m not pretending it is. It’s been a major point of criticism for Disney for a long time. But things have been changing recently, and I think it’s because Disney acquired Pixar and now realizes that character development is actually a thing. So we’ve been getting movies like Tangled and Brave, which focus on strong female characters who don’t need no man (although it can sometimes be a side quest with a nice bonus at the end).
Both those movies are about girls and their relationships with their mothers, (which is a whole ’nother thing). It’s great that, rather than just running through a meadow full of pablum love story, we’re actually seeing these complex relationships and how the characters interact with and learn from each other. We haven’t seen a relationship between two sisters since Lilo & Stitch, and I think Frozen does it best.
Frozen begins in the kingdom of Arendelle with two little princesses playing in the castle ballroom in the middle of the night. (Well, actually, it begins with awesome chanting and then a song about ice, but apart from foreshadowing, that’s not super relevant to my purposes here.) The older sister, Elsa, can create snow and ice with magic. They’re having a wonderful time, skating and making a snowman and jumping around, when the younger sister, Anna, is struck by the magic and injured. As a result, Anna’s memories of the magic are taken away, and Elsa withdraws from the relationship to spend the rest of her childhood trying to control her magic.
Even when their parents die, even when Anna repeatedly knocks on the door, asking to spend time together, Elsa stays locked away. This continues until Elsa comes of age, at which time she is crowned queen. Anna has just met a handsome prince, Hans, and has agreed to marry him after knowing him for literally an hour. (Because he likes sandwiches. Seems reasonable.) Elsa puts her foot down, saying Anna can’t marry a man she just met, and in the ensuing confrontation, Elsa accidentally reveals her powers to the entire court, causing a panic. She flees to the North Mountain, setting off an eternal winter in the process.
Anna goes after her and runs into Kristoff, a mountain man who takes her to see Elsa. Anna expresses her desire for the two of them to be close. But when Elsa finds out about the eternal winter, she gets so upset that her magic hurts Anna again, lodging a piece of ice in her heart. Eventually she’s going to turn to ice, and the only way to cure it is with an act of true love—a true love’s kiss—so Anna goes home again to get her mack on with Hans.
Only thing is, by this time, the big, gruff Kristoff has started to fall for Anna. So he sacrifices his possible future with her to save her life, and Anna and Hans pucker up. Only thing is, he’s a lying douchecanoe who only proposed so he could be king of somewhere. He leaves Anna to die and lies to everyone, saying that she’s dead but that they got married first, making him the heir to the throne if Elsa dies—which he’s only too happy to arrange.
Everybody ends up out on the frozen fjord in a howling blizzard. But when Hans tells Elsa that she’s killed Anna, the snow stops, and everything is made clear. Kristoff has come back for Anna, and Hans has a sword poised to strike at the grief-stricken Elsa. Anna, almost frozen to her core, has to choose between the man who loves her and the sister who was never there for her. And this is where Disney finally gets it right: she gives her life to save Anna, freezing into an ice statue in the process.
But because this was an act of true love, she unfreezes again after everybody has had an appropriate amount of time to be sad about it. Elsa brings back summer, Anna and Kristoff start dating (which is a first, ’cause normally it skips right from meeting to marrying), and Elsa shares her magic with her people, who now see it as a beautiful thing and accept her for who she is.
The overall message of the story, according to most people, is one of three things: one, that the bond between sisters is unbreakable, and is powerful enough to break even the most powerful of spells. Two, that you don’t need a man to be self-empowered. Or three, that it’s important to thaw a frozen heart and let other people in. I want to expand on that third one a little by saying that nobody can accept you until you accept yourself.
Take a look at Elsa. Here’s this young woman who A) hurt her little sister, B) spent something like 15 years in complete isolation to avoid hurting anyone, C) lost her parents, D) was forced to assume the throne when she became old enough, and E) finally looks around and realizes that she can never allow herself to be who she truly is, because no one will ever accept her for it.
After she runs away, Elsa discovers that she’s overjoyed to be free of the burdens she’s carried for so long: her royal responsibility and her fear of being found out. Everyone knows, and now that she’s alone, she can do whatever she wants, including constructing what’s just a really impressive ice palace, given that previously she’s only ever had the power of frostbite. (Incidentally, this whole scene is one of my favourite things of all time.)
As the movie progresses, even though she’s alone and therefore should be happy, Elsa only grows more and more destructive, unable to control her magic or herself—at least until she realizes, however faintly, and perhaps without any overt mention in the movie, that her love for her sister was the force behind every action she made. If she hadn’t hidden herself away, trying to protect Anna, the events following the coronation wouldn’t have happened. The people would have been scared at first, but would have come to accept her for who she was.
The problem only arose when Elsa couldn’t accept herself for what she was. And in my opinion, it’s only when she accepts herself, both as a powerful sorceress and as a grown woman who made a mistake when she was little and needs to stop atoning for it, that she’s able to calm the raging storm inside and end the eternal winter (which was really only about 36 hours long).
Some of the secondary cast could’ve benefited from some extra attention and a few less clichés, but overall, I think Disney did an overall excellent job with the characters. Elsa was at once mature and vulnerable, Anna was vibrant and starved for attention, and Kristoff—sigh. Kristoff. I have a bad habit of developing crushes on animated characters, and Kristoff is one of them. He’s big and cranky and rough around the edges, but he has a soft gooey centre, loves his family (of trolls), and provides a complete stranger with excellent advice about what men are like, just because he thinks she needs to know. (And also I’m a sucker for blonds.)
Now, Hans… he’s a whole ‘nother thing. At the start, he seems like the sweetest guy, and the exact kind of person Anna deserves after such a long time spent alone. I mean, they finish each other’s sandwiches and do the robot. There’s only the barest hint that he’s not on the up-and-up, and that’s when he sings “I’ve been looking for a place of my own” while gesturing out the window at the rest of Arendelle. Right up until the big reveal, he seems like a nice guy who’s legitimately trying to protect his fiancee.
But when you go back and watch again, it all makes sense, of course—with the exception of that one moment where his horse knocks him into the water, and even though he’s soaked, he’s got this cheerful look that says, “I just met someone special,” not, “I just met a gullible bimbo who’s gonna marry me and make me king.” And every time I watch the movie, that just really bothers me. It almost feels like a betrayal on the filmmakers’ part, because while all the other stuff makes sense looking back, that moment doesn’t, and that’s the moment when I became invested in a false character.
There’s also Kristoff’s reindeer, Sven, who’s very cute but not particularly important in context. And then there’s Olaf. What a character. Not only is he completely adorable, even when macabre subjects like impalement are used as laughs, but he’s incredibly significant as far as Anna and Elsa go. He’s the missing link between them, connecting two distant sisters to a shared past.
On the night everything went horribly wrong, Anna and Elsa snuck downstairs to build a snowman. He was the last one they ever built, the last remnant of a happier time. When Elsa is celebrating her freedom, she constructs a snowman exactly like the one from years before and unknowingly gives him life. He runs into Anna, who remembers him in spite of her altered memories, and takes her to Elsa, thus enabling a conversation that should’ve happened years earlier.
And as if that weren’t enough, Olaf turns out to be Anna’s saving grace. He tracks her down after Hans’s betrayal and builds a fire to keep her warm, nearly sacrificing his own life, because “some people are worth melting for.” I honestly thought that was going to be the act of true love right there (although I’m glad it wasn’t). I think when Elsa made him, she poured her own emotions into him, including her love for Anna and her desperate desire to keep her safe. And that manifested as a little snowman who was willing to melt for his friend.
And for some reason, some people hate this guy. Go figure.
My only real criticism of this movie, apart from what I mentioned with Hans, is that I don’t think Idina Menzel was the right choice for Elsa. Don’t get me wrong: I love that lady. I have what Aubrey Posen refers to as “a toner” for that lady. Her voice is like milk chocolate, caramel, and smooth peanut butter, all poured on top of a sheet of P2500-grade sandpaper (just enough grit to make it interesting). But I think that, given Elsa’s age (she’s only 21), Menzel’s voice is too mature for the part. She has a confidence that stems from years on the Broadway stage, and that wars with Elsa’s own insecurity and uncertainty.
Speaking of voices, the movie’s music felt like classic Disney again; it felt like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, you know? That infectious, utterly singable soundtrack that digs into your head and won’t come out (and really, why would you ever want it to?). I listened to “Let It Go” over a hundred times in the first three days after seeing the movie, and I still listen to it approximately twice per day because I just can’t help it. Frozen has been referred to as “Wicked for kids”, and and the music just helps reinforce that image. (With the exception of “Fixer Upper,” which is a bit of a travesty, honestly.)
Overall, this movie was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The scenery was gorgeous, and some of it was even inspired by the Canadian landscape (represent! [Is it still cool to say that?]). It was all blowing snow and biting wind and sheets of unrelenting ice. It felt exactly like it does living in one of the northernmost cities in the world: everything is cold, even in summer, and that’s just sort of a thing that everybody gets used to.
I don’t know if any of this helps explain why I love Frozen so much. It’s something I kind of had a hard time figuring out, which is maybe why I spent a lot of this article staring at my screen and wondering what to say next. I think that the best and most likely reason is probably due to the circumstances in which I first saw it: I took my little sister. And for the first time in forever, we finally agreed on something: this is, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen, and a close contender for my favourite movie of all time.
Final Grade: A+
- Thank you, Disney, for finally addressing the issue of marrying some guy you just met and how that’s just a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea (especially because you were the guys who started it for the modern generation. Smooth move).
- Apparently people are like, “Oh, another blonde princess with blue eyes. How original, Disney.” How else are we supposed to see that she controls ice. She actually looks cold like this. And I like it.
- Part of me was disappointed that Anna didn’t have fire powers to contrast with Elsa’s ice powers. I mean, why else would she be a redhead? (And also that would’ve been amazing.)
- This makes me so incredibly happy. You don’t even know. I ship them so hard.
- This makes me happy, too, except for different reasons that will become immediately apparent, because I’m a bad person. That is all.