SPOILER ALERT! This post assumes you have seen the movie Frozen and are familiar with the characters and story. If you have not yet seen the movie, you shouldn’t be wasting your time reading blogs anyway.
NOTE: I will not do many movie reviews on this blog. Only movies that touch on the themes of this blog (and that I saw and liked) will get mentioned. Frozen falls into that category. Gravity also falls into that category and will likely get a review when it comes out on DVD (as I want to see it again to have it fresh in my mind).
Frozen will probably end up being my favorite movie of 2013 despite stiff competition. While Gravity matches Frozen in heart (and has one of the most amazing movie endings ever) and Despicable Me 2 is probably the funniest movie I’ve seen in quite a while, Frozen is a happy medium of the two. It blends deep emotion with lighthearted humor to make a very captivating (and fun) story. As I alluded in my promo post, Frozen is not a romance. It is also not about “girl power” as one critic put it. It is, however, a love story. It is the story of two sisters coming of age and “testing the ice”. It is a story of two emotional journeys.
And so, without further delay, here is my (heavily abridged) review/critique of Disney’s Frozen.
Frozen opens showing two girls with no emotional problems. They are happy. They are safe. They love each other and feel loved by each other. That and they’re darn cute. Anna wakes Elsa up in the middle of the night, intruding on her space, and Elsa doesn’t get mad. She, in turn, pushes Anna away (off the bed) and Anna isn’t crushed. Why? Because they have bonded. They trust in each other’s love and care for each other. They believe they belong and are valued.
It’s also important to note that Elsa is already showing signs of introversion and Anna is showing strong signs of extroversion. The thought of playing alone, even though it’s the middle of the night, has seemingly not even crossed Anna’s mind. This is important as these personality types are clearly natural bents not a result of the coming events.
Then the inciting moment happens. Elsa strikes Anna with her powers accidentally and the mood changes. The girls’ parents rush in and immediately react. Unfortunately, for everyone other than the audience (cause there’d have been no story), they react out of fear. They blame Elsa. They label part of who Elsa is as bad. As Elsa trusts her parents, she believes them. Part of her is bad. Part of her is unwanted.
They rush off to the troll, Pabbie, who begins with a very key question. At this point in the movie, I was already enjoying it as Tangled 2.0. But with this question, it began to dawn on me just how deep this movie was headed. The question Pabbie asks is “Born with the powers or cursed?” This is actually a pretty important distinction. A curse is something you fight to eliminate. It is foreign and not a part of your original self. Being born with something is a part of your design. You were intended that way…for a reason. If the king had answered “Cursed”, my interest in the story wouldn’t have risen. There are a lot of movies where people get cursed and go on a quest to lift the curse. But the prospect that this movie would be about dealing with the powers, not eliminating them really piqued my curiosity.
Pabbie then warns Elsa that her powers must be controlled. This is good advice. If the powers master Elsa, she will struggle. But if she can take charge of them, then they can be a force for good. This is also true of emotions. People who are controlled by their emotions struggle unceasingly, while people who are in control of their emotions can do amazing things.
Sadly, the king then steps in and redefines “control” as “suppress”. And that was the moment I decided this movie might just kick the pants off of Tangled. Because, now this story wasn’t going to be just “a rather fun story” (as Flynn Rider puts it). This story was going to be my story.
When I was as old as Elsa was in the scene where she visits the trolls, I also had a “power that I was born with”. I was off the charts good at school, learning, games, puzzles, etc. I was testing post high school level on my evaluation tests in virtually every subject, and I was nearly unbeatable at any game that involved strategy/reasoning/problem solving. I was homeschooled and so I was often learning in group situations with my brothers. It became a problem in the eyes of my parents that I was answering all the questions and everything so at one point they asked me to think up the answer silently and then keep it to myself and let the other boys answer.
This had two effects on the course of my life. One, I stopped saying what I was thinking. Instead of blurting out what came to mind, I was building a disconnect between my thoughts and my mouth. A filter is good. A disconnect is not. To this day, I struggle getting my thoughts into words. This is a large reason I write. I can give myself enough time for the words to make the jump. When I communicate orally, I open my mouth to speak and my mind is a dozen thoughts ahead and possibly already off topic. That and nothing in my head starts generating an answer until the question finishes. There is very rarely something that I’m “waiting to say”. I can’t hold more than a sentence or so in my mind at a time.
The other effect this had on my life was that I began to fear my smarts. What if I ended up smarter than my brothers? Especially my older brother, Craig? That would hurt him. Craig was my childhood hero. I wanted him to succeed so bad, I was paranoid about outshining him. Any activity Craig picked up and devoted himself to (ie. ham radios), I steered clear of so he could “be the best” in that area. I prayed many times as a child and even as a teenager that God would “make me dumber”. I also prayed for Craig nightly that he would succeed. I wrote PFC (pray for Craig) on the inside of my retainer case. If any success I had discouraged him, I would have counted it a failure. In short, I had a power I was born with and I had been taught (or taught myself) to fear. So when Elsa is isolated to shield her powers from her sibling, I was sitting up in my seat, glued to the screen. (Craig, by the way, is currently succeeding plenty with his life.)
Emotional suppression is a very hard thing to live with. Just as Elsa did, I believed that suppressing my talents was for the “greater good”. My family will be better off if… People will like me if… I’ll fit in better if… These people become the “glue” of their families. They are the sacrifice to keep the family functioning. They are worried about becoming a source of trouble and so they become very little of anything at all. This is true in Elsa’s case. Never does she protest her parents’ instructions. Each new rule they make (confinement, the gloves), she accepts as necessity. The safety and well-being of those around her becomes her responsibility. She mustn’t hurt anyone ever again. She mustn’t hurt Anna. It is out of love that Elsa closes the door and locks her powers (and her emotions) away.
Then the parents die. This cements their wishes in Elsa’s mind. And the parents’ fear is passed from one generation to the next. I want to note here that the parents are not bad parents. Compare them to Mother Gothel from Tangled. These parents care for their kids. They are doing what they think is best. And same goes for my own life. My parents have loved me since the day I was born and never once intended for me to become isolated. They gave me the absolute best they knew.
Three years pass and it’s the coronation day. Elsa is a reclusive hermit bent on honoring her parents’ wishes and keeping their rules. She fears people finding out. She believes people will reject her if they knew what she really was. Anna on the other hand has a restless, empty heart that she longs for someone to fill. Her love tank is on empty and she knows it. She also knows that young men are rumored to fill said love tanks, and this has become her mission. This is no “fairy tale princess flight of fancy”. This is a hunger at the core of her being to belong to someone. To be loved by someone. Her emotional attachment count is at zero. Prince Hans could have been an ugly, lazy alcoholic who made fun of her and she still would have fallen for him.
And here we have the first of several contrasts. When Hans and Anna show up in the banquet hall to ask Elsa’s permission to marry, we see two girls with serious hurts reacting to them in to very common yet different ways. Elsa’s isolation has shielded her from intimacy. Intimacy, in her book, is too dangerous. If you read my previous posts, she is the righteous rule follower. Anna on the other hand dives head first into intimacy. The faster the better. She is drinking till the well runs dry as fast as she can go. She is the reckless rebel.
We then have a telling repeat of the girls’ opening scene. Anna intrudes on Elsa’s space (by snatching off her glove) and Elsa recoils. Elsa pushes Anna away and she is crushed. Neither action was done in anger or even in frustration. Neither sister has any intent of hurting the other. And yet this time the reactions are way different. No longer do they have the bond of emotional attachment supporting their trust in each other’s love for them. The trust has turned to doubt and now these actions are signs: answers to the question “Does my sister love me?”
Elsa’s powers are then revealed and all her work at being the glue of her family is dashed. Her family is now well and truly broken apart and it’s her fault. She realizes that all the sacrifices she made for Anna have amounted to nothing. She is a failure. And she is no longer safe. She flees to protect herself. This is very common in emotionally suppressed people. When their emotions are laid bare, they flee until they’re safe again. They know no other course. Reason goes out the window. Anna’s pleading with her sister to wait, to stop, to come back, fell on deaf ears.
Anna also immediately assumes it’s her fault. She has had a decade or more to conclude why her sister would reject her. But to her credit she still clings to the hope that her sister still loves her. She rides off in search of Elsa and the arc of the story begins. I want to pause here and just say: Anna is not an airhead. She is driven by what she wants and stops at nothing to get it. WHAT she wants changes as her arc progresses, but she is not just blundering around aimlessly. She is also the only character to learn something by listening to another’s advice. She has a brain and it is processing from beginning to end. I would argue that though she has a lot to learn, she starts and ends the movie more emotionally stable than does Elsa.
Elsa arrives on the mountain and sings her big song “Let It Go” (which I’m pretty sure everyone who has been around me in the last month is sick of). What happens here is that she throws off the rules of her childhood. The righteous rule follower allows herself to rebel, to experience freedom. No more will she suppress who she really is. She’s going to let it go. Good or bad, she’s going to be real. And there is a moment here that I missed the significance of the first time I watched it. She builds a bridge and then crosses it. This is a direct contrast to the moment she freezes Anna. She is trusting her powers again. She is trusting herself. Next, she builds a fortress to protect herself. Within these walls, she is free. Outside, the world doesn’t matter. To her, it may as well not even exist. She is free. And, she is alone.
In my state of isolation, when I was alone, I often felt freedom. It is freeing to be away from the people you fear you will hurt. It allows you to relax. But it is far from a good solution. She is still alone. She has not cured the root of her problem: her lack of emotional attachment. She has only broken out of the mindset she was in that was keeping her from healing. But hey, there’s still popcorn to be eaten.
Anna meets Kristoff (woohoo! big summer blowout! ya?). Another critique I’ve heard against the movie is that Kristoff’s character arc is completely flat. Well, it is. He’s a foil. (That’s why it’s not a romance.) Anna describes Hans to Kristoff and it is clear that Hans has become Anna’s anchor: the well from which her thirst for belonging will be quenched. She has hope. This is something that Elsa does not have yet. Anna also has purpose. She doesn’t necessarily know what she needs, but she’s determined to find it.
Anna and Kristoff meet Olaf, another foil. He is pure comic relief until later, …so I will ignore him until that time.
Anna and Kristoff arrive at Elsa’s palace. I love this scene as it allows Anna to see Elsa without her mask. She gets the answer to her question of “Why did my sister shut me out?” And her response is “Heck yes, I forgive you. Let’s be sisters again.” She says all the right things. She is not condemnatory. She is vulnerable. She is loving. But Elsa triggers (recalling the childhood accident) and pulls back yet again. This is a darn good illustration of an emotional trigger. You can have love and relationship staring you in the face and yet, you can’t see it. Again, when one is emotionally triggered, reason is gone. As Anna pushes in more, Elsa only gets worse. Until she snaps and once again hurts her sister and pushes her away.
They go to visit the trolls. Anna is doubting her ability to bring her sister back. Words didn’t work. The trolls actually have some good advice this time. In the song “Fixer Upper”, there is a line that goes, “People make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed, but throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.” You can tell Anna is processing this and thinking of her sister. This advice tells her two things. One, Elsa’s fresh rejection is not because of her. And Elsa can yet be saved. Anna is learning some rules for love rather than just solely feeling her way along.
But Anna now has a more immediate problem. She is freezing solid. She needs some love of her own. And here we come to the ending which consists of four characters “saving the day” through love. And it’s interesting that it goes in order from most mature to least mature. Kristoff goes first and races Anna to her love (even though by now it’s clear he wishes that were him). He is willing (as Olaf puts it) to love Anna so much to give her what SHE wants most and let her go. Olaf then risks melting to warm Anna up and encourage her. These two acts fill Anna’s love tank. She gets a taste of genuine emotional attachment. When she arrives on the lake, she in turn chooses to give love to her sister even at the cost of the thing she has wanted most the entire movie: romantic love. Kristoff, the proven source of what she has been longing for for so long, is literally running towards her. Instead, she makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes the sword for her sister. This pierces Elsa’s shell. Elsa had previously let her sister see her as she really was with her hurts and her pain and her fear. Yet Anna responds to this reality with love. And this touches Elsa very deeply. She can feel this love. And she in turn loves Anna, thawing her and making her new (her hair doesn’t even have the mark of the original freezing).
And then we have the resolution of the various arcs. Anna and Kristoff get together. WOOHOO! I thought it was fine they didn’t have a guy for Elsa. I briefly hoped that Elsa and Kristoff would get together (since he was stable enough for her and he really likes ice). But to come from where she was to stable enough for a relationship would have been unrealistic. She is healing, but she has a long way to go. I also like that the ending scene is Anna and Elsa, not Anna and Kristoff once again affirming that this story is not about romance. It is a story of children overcoming obstacles and becoming adults. Of people learning to value themselves and to give and receive love. Of one sibling setting out to reach the heart of her sister and bring her home. The movie ends how it began with two sisters skating in the snow which they both love and which neither fears.
So what did I not like? The resolution of Prince Hans’ arc irks me every time. He has the same emotional wound that the sisters do, yet there is no effort made to show him love. He has responded to his hurt and powerlessness by becoming an abuser (not that uncommon). But if we could see beneath the surface, we would see a wound as deep as Elsa’s or Anna’s and we would have much more pity for him. Yes he still needs to be punished. He is still responsible for his actions. But I don’t see him as the villain in this movie.
The true villain is fear itself. Fear drove the parents to isolate Elsa. Fear drove the sisters to question each other’s love. Fear drove Elsa out away from the people that loved her. Fear drove Hans to try to marry into the throne. Fear drove Anna to fall for him. And on and on it goes. Hans should have had at least a scene of glimpsing beneath his shell if not a shot at redeeming himself.
Finally, what did I like best? Two things which in a way are related. First, the accurate portrayal of two big problems kids face today: emotional isolation and emotional rejection. There are a lot of Elsas in this world (I was one of them). There are also a lot of Annas. Most of them grew up in seemingly normal homes (though many regretfully did not). But emotional attachment was obstructed as they matured (perhaps out of fear, misunderstanding, false beliefs, past experiences, etc.). I think a lot of people are going to see themselves and their hurts in either of the sisters.
Secondly, I loved the message of the story’s resolution: people need emotional attachment, and that attachment does not have to be a romantic relationship. It does not have to be cool. It does not have to be with this person or that person. It doesn’t have to be with your parents. (It doesn’t have to be with your siblings either.) It needs to be with someone who sees you as you really are and loves you anyway. The entire story of Frozen is driven by Anna’s seemingly nonsensical notion that Elsa is still worthy of love and that the bond that they once shared can be reforged.