Last weekend, I got to see Disney's latest movie, Frozen, a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen.
It was fantastic. I cried. Twice. The characters were, in my opinion, some of the best and most three-dimensional in Disney history, and the music was wonderful. But what made me love it the most were the themes and messages that went along with the story, which are going to be the subject of this post.
Just a quick warning, I will divulge SPOILERS. So if you haven't seen it yet, read at your own risk.
The three biggest themes were Elsa's fear, Anna's loneliness, and true love. I'll talk about Elsa first.
Elsa's fear is actually the biggest antagonist in the film. If she didn't fear her powers and what might happen if they are discovered, it would be a very different story. Fear is Elsa's prison, and in the first act, she flees to the mountains to try and escape. She thinks isolation and freedom will free her. But by the end of the movie, she realizes she's wrong (more on that in a minute.)
In reaction to her fear, Elsa takes steps that could easily lead her down a path to villainy. At one point during the song "Let it Go" she sings "No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I'm free." Not exactly something you generally hear from one of the main characters in a movie meant for children. However, I think that's Elsa rebelling against the
strictness of her past, and she's caught up in the joy of not being afraid. She's
so grateful to be free from fear that she's taking it a little too far. (Very
human thing to do.)
Fear informs a good portion of Elsa's actions. Fear of hurting someone, fear of being found out, fear of doing
something wrong. By fleeing to the mountains, she's freeing herself of that
fear. (Or thinks she is.) If there is no right or wrong and she's alone,
then she doesn't have to worry anymore. She doesn't need to fear herself anymore. But that's not how it works
out. You can't just run from the things that cause you fear, especially when the person you fear hurting loves you and is willing to climb a mountain to find you. When Anna comes
to find Elsa, Elsa clings to her isolation because it's the first
time she's felt safe and unafraid. The same happens when Hans and his posse come to find her. Then the Duke of Weselton's minions try to kill her, only because they're trying to
kill her, she reacts more violently (completely understandable). It's not until Hans says "Don't be
the monster they think you are" that she realizes she has one foot on
the path to villainy, (much as you hate him by the end, he did do
something right) and she pulls back a little from said path to the dark side. Like I said before, the
characters in Frozen were arguably some of the most human and
three-dimensional in Disney history. Humans have flaws, and they make mistakes. Elsa's flight to the mountains and saying "no right, no wrong, no rules for me" illustrates one of her flaws, or at least a flaw in her thinking.
The lyrics in "Let it Go" highlight her emotional state, and
give a glimpse at what's in her head. She thinks freedom and isolation
will solve her problems. In the end, she's wrong. Love solves her
problems. Like the troll said at the beginning, fear is her enemy, but
it was her own fear that did most of the damage. Fear was her prison, but it
wasn't isolation or freedom from rules that freed her. It was love, conquering her fear, and accepting her power that set her free.
Now that I think about it, you could find a message of acceptance in there too. Trying to be who everyone wants you to be will only make you unhappy and drive you crazy. You will be much happier of you accept yourself for who you are and stop telling yourself that the things that make you awesome aren't good enough because society doesn't think they make you awesome. (Obviously you wouldn't want to tell a psychopathic killer that, but no piece of advice or anecdote works in every situation.)
Side note: Since fear is the antagonist, by extension, her parents could be considered accidental antagonists, because it was they who taught her to squish her powers. As a friend of mine pointed out, the unsuccessful squishing of the powers only made her more afraid of them, which only made them more powerful because they're worse when she's upset, which made her more afraid, which made them more powerful... A never-ending cycle that made things worse and worse as she grew up. But bless her poor parents' hearts, they thought they were helping, even if they were totally blind to the fact that Elsa shutting herself away was not the best option for anyone. Which brings me to Anna...
Because Elsa shut herself away, Anna got terribly lonely, as illustrated in the songs "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" (the first thing that made me cry), "For the First Time in Forever", and "Love Is an Open Door". Loneliness is her prison. She's spent the majority of her childhood alone, wondering why Elsa suddenly abandoned their friendship.
Fast-forward to the night of Elsa's coronation, and Anna meets Hans. Adorable, charming Hans, who talks to her and likes her. For the first time in forever, she doesn't feel alone. Someone is actually paying attention to her and cares about her. (Well, so it appears to her.) She thinks he's the key to unlocking her lonely prison. But, just like Elsa thought isolation and freedom were keys to her prison, by the end of the movie Anna finds out she's wrong.
Anna lets us know just how much loneliness influences her worldview when she and Kristoff get to Elsa's ice palace. Kristoff says "People generally go to the mountains to be alone," to which Anna replies, "No one wants to be alone." No one wants to be alone. She's been alone most of her life and she hates it, so she cannot comprehend why someone would want to be alone. And she's so desperate for love that she's willing to marry a man she just met.
Over the course of the movie, these two themes, fear and loneliness, come into conflict repeatedly -- Anna at Elsa's door during "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?", Anna wanting to marry a man she just met, to which Elsa says no (yay!), Anna chasing Elsa up the mountain -- which makes the story all the more interesting. There's another vicious cycle there, actually. Because Anna is lonely, she tries to get Elsa to play, but Elsa just draws further back because she's scared of hurting Anna.
Anna's life has been one of closed doors -- the castle gates and Elsa's door -- and then she meets Hans and they sing "Love Is an Open Door".
She jumps at the chance to love and to be loved by someone. But in the end, it's the door
that's been closed to her for so long that needs to open before they can
all find resolution. Which brings me to the last theme...
True love. This is a Disney princess movie, so of course true love was a theme. But what was really marvelous about Frozen was that it wasn't a romantic true love that saved the day. It was the love between sisters. The key to both prisons, fear and loneliness, was sisterly love. After however many years of Disney movies where "true love's kiss" saved the day, it was really nice to have a story where that didn't happen.
At the very end, when Anna has to choose between saving herself or her sister, she throws herself in front of a swinging sword. Despite the fact that Elsa has shut her out for most of their lives, Anna still saves her. That would be the second scene that made me cry. This type of love is so much more powerful than "I met you yesterday, and now I'll kiss your seemingly dead body so you'll wake up!" Though I will give Flynn Rider from Tangled some credit. Romantic love based on a short acquaintance that may have been, the scene where he cuts off Rapunzel's hair is so sweet.
Another friend of mine was disappointed that Kristoff's love of ice had nothing to do with helping Elsa deal with her ice powers, and I see his point, but I love that it wasn't romantic love that saved the day in the end. The way Frozen ends breaks two tropes: the "Prince saves the Princess" trope and the "True love's kiss" trope. Anna got to save herself by sacrificing herself, odd as that sounds. In a way, Elsa saved her life by nearly causing her death. If Anna hadn't frozen to ice when Hans brought down his sword, she would have died. That's kinda twisted, but fun.
Those three themes--fear, loneliness, and love--wind around and feed each other in a complex web of emotions and motivations that makes the characters feel real and relatable, and that is what, I think, makes Frozen such a good movie.
Also worth checking out: my friend Sarah from Inklined is doing a wonderful series of posts about the plotting of Frozen, examining the main characters' arcs and the plot points in them. As I write this, she's posted part one and part two, and there's more to come.
While you're here and we're talking about Frozen, go check out the Africanized version of "Let it Go" by Alex Boye (that sounds kinda weird, I know, but trust me it's fabulous), the hilarious Google Translate-slaughtered version of "Let it Go", and the equally hilarious, but decidedly morbid parody "Will You Help Me Hide a Body?"
If you've seen Frozen, what do you think of my analysis? What did you think about these or other themes in Frozen?