Analyzing Disney’s “Frozen” with Paca Alpaca and Cottonbelle!

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Many thanks to Clover Keen for her role as Cottonbelle, and helping to flesh out this analysis!

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DIGI: Hey everypaca! I’m Paca Alpaca, and today I’m going to analyze the 2013 Disney animated feature, Frozen. I’ll be joined periodically by my tiny friend CottonBelle to help flesh out the analysis as well. Say hello!

CLO: Singing Do you wanna do a review? Oh hey you’re already doing it! Can I join?

DIGI: Sure!

CLO: Yay!

DIGI: Frozen is an exciting character-driven adventure movie that serves as a meta-commentary on the Disney princess movies of yore. It marks the apex of a subversive trend running through the last ten years of Disney canon, and features some of the most modern and intricate characters to be portrayed in family entertainment this decade. This video will contain spoilers for the entire film, so I very highly recommend watching it before watching this analysis.

The film centers around the royal sisters, Anna and Elsa. Elsa’s character arc forms the foundation of the movie’s narrative, but is controlled by the actions of Anna, who serves as a vehicle driving the film’s themes and meta-narrative.

Elsa has a troubled upbringing due to being born with the ability to manipulate ice, but not understanding how to control this power. The film cleverly develops reasons for Elsa to misinterpret the nature of her powers, while providing the viewer enough hints to grasp how her powers actually work on your own. Elsa’s powers are reflective of her emotions. When she’s filled with love and having fun, she can create wondrous things, but when she is driven by fear, her power goes out of control.

At the start of the film, Elsa becomes afraid that Anna is going to hurt herself, and accidentally blasts her with a beam of ice. However, neither Elsa nor her parents understands why she lost control, and once Anna’s memories are removed by the trolls to save her life, Elsa and her parents mistakenly conclude that the only way to get a handle on her power is to have her conceal emotion entirely. Over the course of her life, Elsa’s obsessive idea that she is going to create more pain for others causes her to develop deep paranoia and anxiety, which puts her in an emotional state that only makes her powers less and less controllable.

Anna, meanwhile, ends up losing the closest person in her life with no understanding of why, and locked in a castle which no one is allowed to visit, without being given a reason. She never quite doubts the decisions of her sister and parents, but laments them and fantasizes about returning to the life she remembers before things got weird. Both of the sisters are more or less traumatized, but Anna has an optimistic perspective that everything will be normal again one day, whereas Elsa believes that she’s a danger to the world and should never be allowed to interact with anyone again.

CLO: Part of what makes Disney amazing is that while it can transport us to a world with trolls and fantastic magical powers, it is also able to carry some very serious themes. Elsa’s powers may seem irrelevant in our non-magical world, but they actually bear strong resemblance to the tremendous distress faced by people suffering from personality disorders such as panic illness. Much like Elsa, these people have an affliction that they cannot control, which causes them suffering, and which they are told by others and themselves to repress. But of course, the more it is repressed, the more likely it is for a fit to appear and spin out of control, and even if people suffering from this illness are more likely to hurt themselves than others, the feeling of being at the mercy of such a state can cause a person to alienate themselves from others. The solution Elsa finds is also what empirical evidence suggests to be the key in dealing with such disorders. It is not to control or to repress, but to observe and study in a state of safety. Elsa doesn’t get cured and she doesn’t learn to control her abilities through forcing herself to try harder. She learns to live with her state and utilise it, and what helps her in doing so applies exactly to the people living with these disorders: love, support, and acceptance.

DIGI: Both sisters have developed opposite brands of naivety from their long-term enclosure. In Anna’s case, she’s too ready to embrace the world and throws herself into the arms of the first attractive man who will have her, not realizing that he’s a total con man. Elsa, meanwhile, implicitly distrusts and distances herself from everyone, not realizing that the love of her sister and the happiness that they used to bring one-another is what had been keeping her powers on the side of good in the first place.

The film’s endgoal is to have Elsa complete her arc by realizing the key to controlling her magic, via Anna finally getting the chance to rekindle their friendship. However, even though the film gives the viewer all the tools to understand what needs to be done right from act one, it then dedicates the majority of the second act to slowly programming the viewer’s expectations through the use of classic Disney tropes, only to subvert them all in act three.

Anna falling in love with Hans in the beginning plays to classic Disney movies like Cinderella, in which happily ever after comes when the girl who’s been locked up and asocial her entire life finally gets to leave the house and fall in love. Their immediate whirlwind romance is undercut when Elsa flatly refuses to allow the marriage, and Anna is teased throughout the movie for her naivety in her decision.

This subversion has happened in previous Disney films, such as the mostly live-action, even more meta movie Enchanted. In that film, the princess and prince meet, are to be married immediately, and then a witch’s curse sends the princess to the real world, where she eventually reintroduces the concept of true love to an older guy who’s been long jaded to it. It’s a cute movie, and in it the prince himself, while also a naive idiot, isn’t even a bad guy–it’s still ultimately a movie about true love in a romantic sense.

In 2010’s Tangled, there is a not-at-all-subtle nod to the whole marriage thing in the ending monologue, which I won’t spoil here, so just take my word for it. Even 2012’s Brave was deliberately a movie about Merida having no interest in romance, and unlike 2009’s Princess and the Frog, the film lets her get away with it.

Frozen’s major subversion doesn’t come from her romance with Hans, however, but actually comes from her romance with Kristoff. The film deliberately sets itself up to look like a retread of Enchanted, wherein the girl will find out that the man she first tried to marry wasn’t her true love, but that true love is found through a deeper connection with someone.

CLO: While Disney was often criticised for the shallow and helpless female ideals it portrayed, it can often be overlooked how completely lacking in any character their princes were, especially in the early Disney films. The princes in Snow white, Cinderella, or the Little Mermaid are all examples of men who had absolutely no traits apart from being gorgeous and royal. As more Disney princesses were brought to life, their love interests started to gain some depth too, yet this depth was gained and retained only if they were close to their princesses. Aladdin’s or the Beast’s character was entirely dependent on their princess’ proximity. Even in Tangled we witness that Flinn Ryder’s good side had to be brought out by Rapunzel. What is so novel about Frozen is the integrity of the males.

While Hans appears to undergo a transformation, that only exists in our eyes because he played the part of prince charming so well. A little too well for my liking. I would have loved to see Disney resolve the issue of Anna choosing between Hans and Kristoff more delicately, instead of copping out by making one of the boys a deceitful arse-hat. However, this still doesn’t derogate from the fact that Hans had integrity. His character and intentions remained constant throughout the whole film, even if hidden from us. In fact, it is rather novel for Disney to have an antagonist, who is good-looking and has motives which do not stem from being the bad guy for the sake of it. What he spells out to Anna, makes perfect sense from his fearfully ambitious point of view.

Kristoff on the other hand is the – prospective – Disney prince we’ve been waiting for. He’s not a liar, a thief, or an ill-tempered, spoiled brat. He’s a normal healthy kid, who doesn’t even lament over not having been raised by his biological family. He’s also less finely chiselled in his facial features and is heavier built than most other Disney males. He is not dominated, but is also not dominating. It is actually somewhat ironic that this was the film with a whole song dedicated to a person being a “fixer-upper”, even though for the first time, a character was not a caricature in need of some major alterations to be realistically tolerable. Kristoff’s interest in Anna is also the kind most girls yearn for. He doesn’t get attracted to Anna for her beauty; his whole love for Anna is built very subtly, through warming up to her character and her humour. In fact, unlike in most Disney romances, his love doesn’t even get put to the test: maybe his kiss would have saved Anna and maybe it wouldn’t have. Either way, their first actual romantic encounter happens once the storm has literally passed, and we are left with the comforting feeling that he and Anna will take things as slowly as they deserve.

DIGI: The biggest ruse that this film pulls comes in the form of the song Fixer Upper. Until this song, there’s nothing to openly suggest any romantic interest between Anna and Kristoff except for the viewer’s own biased perception that the leading man and woman are going to end up together. In this song, the trolls assume the same thing, and sing about hooking the two up with one-another, in spite of their insistence that there’s nothing between them.

However, nested in the middle of the song, there’s a secret key to decoding the final solution. During one moment, Bulda is speaking directly to Anna, and sings: “We aren’t saying you can change him – ‘Cause people don’t really change – We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange – People make bad choices if they’re mad or scared or stressed – But throw a little love their way, and you’ll bring out their best.”

These lyrics are clearly more relevant to Elsa’s powers than they are to Kristoff, who hasn’t actually made any bad choices in the film so far. Elsa’s actions have been the results of anger, fear, and stress–and love will bring out her best. This line is both sonically and visually different from the rest of the song, as if to subtly suggest to the viewer that it’s the most important part, and attentive viewers may even be able to use this to solve the ending instead of letting the rest of the song misdirect them.

The script is very careful about letting reliable information come from reliable sources. The troll king specifically says that “an act of true love” will cure Anna’s heart, and it’s only the other trolls who assume that it must be a true love’s kiss. All of the main characters are so sure that a kiss is necessary that even after the plan to have Anna kiss Hans falls through, everyone is stuck on the idea that it still needs to be a kiss. Neither Kristoff nor Anna actually assumes that the other is their true love. Kristoff is goaded by Sven to go back, and Anna is instructed that her true love is Kristoff by Olaf. Anna has already proven she doesn’t know a thing about true love anyways, so it’s not surprising that she assumes this next solution will work.

Of course, the twist here is that Anna’s act of true love comes from protecting the one person she’s been working to save throughout the entire film: her sister, Elsa. Suspicious viewers will be less surprised by the fact that this was the act of true love they were waiting for, and more surprised that they ever for a moment thought it could be something else. Only on the rewatch will they realize just how much the film worked to draw them away from the natural conclusion.

This misdirect is more than just a commentary on Disney’s past movies and ideas, though. It’s also a way to help the viewer to understand and more deeply resonate with Elsa’s narrative arc. As I mentioned earlier, Elsa didn’t understand her powers because of the misdirected ideas of herself and her parents. They thought that emotion itself was the problem, when the reality is that the quality of the emotion is what governs the powers. As a viewer, we might be surprised that Elsa never figured it out all this time, but then the film’s own structure reminds us how easily we can give in to the power of suggestion. Even though the entire first act is dedicated to Anna and Elsa’s relationship, our biases and understanding of how movies work, and how Disney movies work, leads us to think that maybe Kristoff is Anna’s true love, only for everyone to be shocked when Kristoff isn’t actually important after all.

CLO: Interestingly enough, the two male leads arguably are not the deepest male characters of the film. This title could easily go to Olaf. In the trailers for Frozen, Olaf seemed like he’d be a somewhat forced side-kick, there only to get some cheap giggles out of the smallest members of the audience. However, the film didn’t disappoint, and Olaf’s parts felt neither forced, nor overtly humorous. Even if he had only served the purpose of a side-kick with no real depth, his character would have worked. What’s more amazing is that he represented a lot more than that.

The first time we get introduced to him, he sings this funny song about what he’ll be doing in summer, entirely oblivious to the inevitable fate that would befall him. It’s all pretty hilarious until you realise that by helping Anna and Kristoff, he is ultimately facilitating his own death. Yet Anna and Kristoff do not tell him about this so as not to spoil his mood, because quite frankly, what good would that achieve? Summer has to be brought back, that’s incontestable, and Olaf should at least be allowed to enjoy the little time he has until then. Even if by guiding them he is virtually passing his own death-sentence.

Yet, what was truly astonishing is how he behaved when he and Anna were next to the fireplace. He didn’t seem fazed by the fact that he was melting at all. He noticed it, but was not in the least surprised. He simply stated that some people are worth melting for, only the timing wasn’t convenient. At the end too, there was no sadness or drama in his voice as he told the group that it may be the last day of his life. It seemed as if he knew what was going to happen all along. As if his cheer and supposed ignorance wasn’t there to keep him going, but Anna. Because that’s what love is, putting someone else’s needs above your own.

DIGI: And while we’re on the subject of characters who could too-easily be overlooked, let’s have a glance back at Hans. In the course of the film, we only get enough information about Hans’ past to know his motivations, and most of his screen-time is dedicated to reinforcing the act that he puts on to look like the perfect prince. It’s understandable that the film couldn’t fit in a detailed backstory without killing the third act pacing, but there’s just enough to go on for us to imagine this character in a little more depth.

Hans has known his whole life that he wouldn’t be able to have a kingdom as easily as his brothers, so he’s probably spent his time working hard to be the best prince imaginable. You can just picture him grinding away at perfecting his image for years so that his ruse would be impeccable, all to marry a queen and then usurp her throne. One has to wonder if Hans would actually be a great leader, even sitting on a throne of blood. It really feels like this guy walked out of Game of Thrones into this movie, and the other characters are still strong enough to make him look like the weak link.

Altogether, Frozen is a phenomenal film. Packed with memorable songs, breathtaking animation that probably deserves an analysis of its own from a professional, and excellent voice performances all around. I’d say this film is pretty much perfect, and much thanks to Cottonbelle for helping me to analyze it.

CLO: I had fun!

DIGI: Seeya later, everypaca!

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