Let’s Overanalyze Disney’s ‘Frozen’

Frozen runs in the same vein as Doctor Who in that I only got around to seeing it after I saw it referenced in about a dozen different discussions. Already widely acclaimed, I feel painfully late to the party. Doesn’t matter though, I’m still discussing it. In the spirit of this project, I want to touch on why it struck such a chord with me. From its quirky story, to its portrayal of sisterhood, to why I wept during ‘Let It Go’. Complete with momentary tangents I feel like indulging as I write.

I’m so glad I saw this movie last night. Not only because it was a fantastic film. Not only because it made an absurdly difficult day end with something joyful. Not only because the moment it ended, I knew it was getting a feature on this site. But also because it gives me something different to talk about before the FFXIII floodgates open again with the launch of Lightning Returns.

Goes without saying, but spoilers below. However I have a feeling that I was the last person on the planet to see this film.

 >>> A Quirky Subversion

Alright, we all had a feeling this might happen at the end, but the film still pulled it off with grace. At the film’s climax, when Anna’s heart is freezing over, and knowing it can only be restored with “An act of true love”, things resolve beautifully. Not only was ‘love at true sight’ (which I do believe can happen) averted in a Disney film (in which it happens too often), but the real love interest isn’t even the solution. The expression of ‘true love’ came from Anna’s last act before fulfilling her Focus and turning to crystal sacrificing herself and turning to ice to save her sister from Hans.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen love explored this way in a Disney film before, or a lot of media actually. The film knows this, purposefully giving you the “Yeah, it’s totally not Hans, but here’s Kristoff to save the day!” before its last second shift away from defining true love in a romantic light, and instead of exploring it as love between sisters.  We all know that love exists in many forms, including platonic relationships, so this is an entirely valid resolution. One that we don’t see enough of, which made it feel wonderfully fresh.

To be honest, for the first half of the film I genuinely thought that Kristoff would end up with Elsa. Or that he would have more influence on her story. Or that Elsa would marry Hans as she’s more concerned about running a kingdom (of which marriage is a part), while Anna went to live with Kristoff. My assumption was that they’d have both female protagonists wind up with a man, because that certainly has happened before (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes being one example). I like it when media proves me wrong, at least when it does so while making sense in context of the story. I also thought that Kristoff and Anna would reunite, break the curse, before they ran off to prevent Elsa from ending Hans’ life (emphasizing that Elsa isn’t the monster people think she is, like they did before). None of my assumptions and expectations happened, and that’s awesome.

So, while I am pleasantly surprised, I’ve also realized that the way I would have ended this story would have been cliche. Something to keep in mind when writing and experiencing other love stories.

>>> Who Would Win in a Fight?

On the subject of Hans vs Elsa showdown, I have no idea what Hans was thinking. Well, I do. He says clearly that he’s the hero who will save Arendelle. But dude, that doesn’t make you more than some guy with a sword. Elsa’s a goddamn frost mage in an environment with no shortage of her element. Elsa could have broken the ice under Hans’ feet and drowned him in the ocean the moment she saw him approach. Nevermind what would have happened in a straight-up fight. I’m 100% confident that Hans knows no chi-blocking techniques. That said, Hans does get the upper-hand by convincing Elsa that she killed Anna, and to his credit Hans really did believe that Anna was dead. Regardless, you’re still betting heavily on “she’ll fall into despair” rather than “she’ll become a vengeful ice witch, one that doesn’t like me much to begin with”. Elsa also might not have given up hope to the point of allowing Hans to strike her down. That was either a calculated risk, or blind luck on his part. However, ice and cold are associated more with depression. Violent vengeance may be more of a pyromancer thing… So Hans is either a brave manipulator, or a dumbass with a sword. Writing that now, I’m not sure which.

>>> Whatever the Female Equivalent of “Bros before Hoes” is…

Anna’s sacrifice also did the job of focusing on what this story was all about. Yes, Anna does get together with Kristoff in the end, but even during the final scene it’s not the film’s emphasis. It also tied together Anna and Elsa’s storylines nicely. Hans v Elsa and Anna/ Kristoff were separate events before Elsa dispelled the storm that kept them apart. This is storytelling 101, but the climactic act really needs to come from the heart of the story. The split second decision to be with Kristoff (and breaking her curse) or save Elsa (and face death) spoke volumes about Anna’s character, as well as emphasizing that this is a story of love between sisters.

Maybe I was reminded a little bit about my little sister while watching. Or at least, got a glimpse as to what that kind of sisterly bond might look like. Truth be told, we’re friendly towards each other, but I’d never say we were close. A lot of this came from my own isolation when I was small (sadly not because I could cast blizzards at will). By the time I essentially became a big sister to her, she had already matured to the point where she had her own life. Thusly, that kind of bond isn’t something I can say that I have. Seeing it portrayed on screen, in a small way, was genuinely nice, and I know that we’re working on at least staying in touch these days.

Even without any personal connection, Elsa and Anna are great together… Enough that it explains a lot of the fan art I’ve seen scattered about online.

>>> ‘Let It Go’ as a Metaphor

According to iTunes, I listened to that song 31 times on a loop last night. It feels a little unoriginal to call this song a masterwork, and the highlight of the film, but it really is.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

The greatest moment in this film comes when Elsa is trudging up that mountainside, having run from the only home she’s known, her secret cryokinetic abilities now public, as the realization dawns that she doesn’t need to hide it anymore. What follows is the above musical number, where Elsa casts off the remnants of her past and is metaphorically born anew. All of this done while she sings about letting go of who she was, as well as letting go of the restraints she put on herself and embracing her abilities. The first moments of the song reflect this, from tossing off her remaining glove (her past, later emphasized with a change of clothes) before tossing around frost from her fingertips (her abilities).

The surface reading of this song is just that. Elsa is letting go of the past, and having to ‘conceal not feel’ her natural connection to the world. It’s a cathartic moment for the audience as we’ve watched Elsa struggle with doing so ever since she accidentally hurt Anna as a child. It’s a moment where we see a very vulnerable character literally plant her feet down (“Here I stand/ And here I stay”) before bending the world to her will; exactly as she had been forced to bend to it her whole life. You could argue that Elsa building the ice castle (built on the solid foundation of where she strikes her foot down) is a metaphor of her new-found resolve. The palace is a gigantic immovable object that perches defiantly above Arendelle (“It’s funny how some distance/ makes everything seem small”). Even if she’s wanting to live in isolation, that ice palace is not a subtle dwelling. What I like is that Elsa happily isolates herself in that castle, despite having been isolated in Arendelle Castle her whole life. The difference being that this one is of her design, made of her element. It’s filled with light, while Arendelle Castle was always depicted as being cloaked in shadows (seriously, even during the ball it was not a comfortable place to be). I know that Elsa’s persisting fears about Anna part of why she isolates herself, but the joy she takes in constructing the ice palace says that Elsa accepts walls so long as they’re of her design. Or to put it another way, before the only time she was shown having fun was when the transformed Arendelle Castle’s ballroom into a winter wonderland, effectively transforming a threatening environment into a pleasant one.

(Am I the only one now imagining Superman having a musical number like this while building the Fortress of Solitude?)

Note how the ice palace loses its shine, becomes darker, and more dangerous the more Elsa’s fears grow. When Anna intrudes. the palace begins to darken. When other people barge in, spikes appear on the walls. A deliberate way of showing how Elsa is losing command of her world, and falling back into the prison which was the Arendelle Castle. It might also symbolize how Elsa’s inner world is threatened, as the ice palace sprang forth from her imagination and was then twisted as she experienced fear and stress caused by the outside world.

This is where the ‘Let It Go’ and the ice palace become a metaphor for so much else. As I just said, the ice palace could represent Elsa’s inner-world. People who are introverts often have a richly constructed inner-world that’s a safe place where they can go to process, relieve stress, or play with various ideas. I know first hand what it’s like to have that sanctuary threatened. Once when I was asked to describe my inner-world during therapy I got a minute in before becoming violently angry and demanding my therapist shred her notes on what my world looked like. It may not be this extreme for everyone, but the fact is that it can be immensely stressful when that inner sanctuary is affected by outside forces. Your defense against the world is marred, even if temporarily.

You could also interpret Elsa losing control of the castle, as one losing their mind. Many mental illnesses/ conditions are essentially experienced as losing control over one’s thoughts. Your mind becomes a frightening place, and threatening elements begin to pervade no matter how much you try to shut them out. Post-Traumatic Stress, for example, takes your sense of place away with constant flashbacks, and forces you to be weary of triggers which take control away at any moment of any day.

This leads me to why the song made me cry like a bitch, and why it resonated so strongly. Right now, it has become clear that I’m suffering from a mental illness that has been misdiagnosed as Depression (but is really a wholly different beast). We don’t know what it is to an absolute degree yet, even if we’re 99% sure. It has left me with long stretches where I feel my mind has turned on me, and put me in an antagonistic relationship with my brain. It has affected my work life, and recently has threatened my romantic life. I speak openly and comfortably about being a Trans woman (not a mental illness, just to make that clear) or how I survived and beat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This one though, I’m keeping inside. It certainly has isolated me. It’s often misunderstood, and finding anyone who has any experience in treating it has been (and still is) an ongoing nightmare. While it’s going untreated, it’s making me feel the whole gambit of emotions between fury and depression, all of them intense often full of energy. It’s difficult to deal with, especially since I can function well at times, my brain does decide to work with me and when it does I accomplish great things… Before it turns back against me and takes it away.

The point is that it’s a part of me, an aspect that is untreated and almost completely outside of my control. Even if, at times, it can be a positive force. As I said, when it’s working with me, and gets my brain in alignment with my body and soul, I feel like I can move mountains. I feel myself ascend in a burst of flame, much like a phoenix (of which you might recall I have a tattoo of for this reason). However, I often feel like I’m a burden on others. I can’t treat this alone, I can’t understand it alone, but as much as I need people I hate that I bring this to them. Bringing additional baggage to whatever people are already dealing with wherever I go. I wish this weren’t the case. A part of me wants to leave. A part of me just wants to… well, let it go.

Elsa’s song is important in two ways. The first is that she discovers how free she is, the second is that she learns to embrace what she’s been given. Some might call it a gift, most others a curse, but it’s been something she’s dealt with forever and finally, finally she can bring it forth and experience (feel instead of conceal) it. I would kill for that feeling. Especially yesterday when I smashed into the ground and spent the morning just trying to get dressed, fighting against the despair I found myself in. I would kill to be able to live in the moment when my condition finally brings good into my life. To taste those fleeting moments when I don’t feel like I’m at war with my mind, and instead feel bulletproof.

It’s more than that. I wake up every day and down five pills for various reasons. I dream of being able to leave and go somewhere else, but those pills are a ball and chain. I can’t leave, I need the system, I need that medication (which may only get worse, even if it’s in service of getting me functioning). To cast all of that off, and maybe be able to just live with myself as is (if I wouldn’t hit menopause at twenty-six if I abandoned all my pills), and forge a goddamn life for myself is a dream of mine. To make something lasting, rather than simply build something on a shaky foundation only to lose it a month later when it all goes to shit again…

The entire musical number is essentially Elsa’s realization of my dream, and something that I’m increasingly worried I’ll never have. No, I’m not wanting to build an ice palace, but that sense of freedom is what I’m dying for. As well as embracing the card I was dealt, I’d be playing it to my advantage, bending it to my will, taking control of my body and mind at long last… To watch Elsa do all of that in one spectacular musical number is a bittersweet mix of both vicarious wish fulfillment, and a painful reminder that it is only a fantasy. One that’s likely going to stay that way.

It is a powerful scene, and the moment when the film really grabbed my attention. It’s a scene I’ve watched dozens of times. It’s a song where I actually ended up writing down the lyrics, then tweaking them to be about fire instead of ice (someday I’ll write on why I identify so strongly with what fire symbolizes). I even managed to find a rhyme for ‘phoenix’ that fit the context of the song. Maybe I’ll post the lyrics when I’m happy with them… I already have the entire ‘carving a home out of a volcano before falling into it and being reborn’ scene/ shots down in my head too. Needless to say, I love the hell out of this scene.

It was a burst of inspiration and happiness that spoke to the trials I faced yesterday. It was something I really needed. Best of all, I never saw it coming. It was pure coincidence I got around to seeing the film that day.

I feel that when you have an anthem with such themes of rebirth, discovery, and accepting one’s self there’s going to be a lot that resonates with people. With the popularity of this song (and the film as a whole), I’m certain others have found that it spoke to a part of themselves, their experiences. Coming to understand, master, and be liberated from mental illness is mine. What’s yours?

>>> Ice as Symbolism

Ice itself might be symbolic in Frozen. While I’m certain it was largely chosen as an aesthetic choice, and a creative one as you can build so many things with ice, there’s something important about it. Water flows freely, can take many shapes, and it has saved countless lives and ended countless others (including Elsa’s parents). Ice (and snow) is bringing order to water. Ice stands still, unlike water its shape does not conform to its container, and it is very useful as a building block. We have built entire homes out of ice before, the art team even visited a few while making the film.

Elsa struggles with bringing her powers under control, and during the song ‘Let It Go’ does so by building an ice palace. Note that she starts by making snow, which is a sort of middle ground of ice and water really, but it isn’t until she focuses and matures that something lasting comes forth. Ice, not conforming to the shape of its container might also symbolize how Elsa struggled in Arendelle Castle where her influence was severely limited. She didn’t fit in there, the walls kept her in, she was a prisoner and suddenly she gets to build a new home where she’s Queen. She even explains how there’s a ‘storm’ inside of her and summons blizzards, forces of nature which turn everything into a still, crystalline order.

Elsa’s cryokinetic abilities feel like an extension of her character, almost as if she personifies it to an extent. It felt very natural to see someone who didn’t fit in, was introverted, and who appeared ‘cold’ at first, to be a frost mage. She also ‘melts’ slightly, eventually letting people into her world and reforging her bond with her sister. Arguably this isn’t my strongest point, and it might have been the setting, but accepting Elsa as having command over frost came easily.

>>> Parts of the Story that I Wish I Understood

I wish this film were longer, because my criticisms of it stem from feeling that it’s missing twenty minutes. I’m almost certain that it is, but that many scenes were cut in service of the film’s relentless pacing. Maybe I’m a little too interested in the world building aspect, but here’s some things that I didn’t get. I’m putting them in list form. If you know the answer, please leave a comment. It’s entirely possible that I missed something.

1. Why didn’t the Trolls recognize Anna? It’s not a stretch, and they did know the royal family.

2. How can the trolls reverse Elsa’s frost magic? Is it because they’re earth/ fire element?

3. Why are the trolls so loyal to the King and Queen, despite apparently not being a part of their society?

4. Why was Kristoff raised by the Trolls? Did he follow the King and Queen all those years ago and lose sight of his family? How does that happen? Did the guys he was with not give a shit about the kid? No one went looking for him? Where are those guys now? Why didn’t Kristoff go back? What?

5. Can Sven talk? I swear I heard him talk, but not often. Is that normal? Is it a secret? Am I remembering it wrong?

6. So Elsa’s powers come to her naturally, but the Trolls asked if it was done through a curse. How does one become cursed with ice magic? Wouldn’t that be easier to deal with than someone naturally born with them? They seemed relieved when the King explained Elsa was born with it. Wouldn’t that make the magic more entrenched?

7. The ice miners were singing about how the ice was cursed. Was Elsa influenced by the ice? Can the ice curse people? Why exactly are they selling it? What reason do they have to believe the ice is cursed to begin with? Was Elsa conceived on top of the ice (some people are into that) thus inheriting some of its magic? Sorta like how River Song was part Time Lord because she was conceived in the TARDIS? How does this work?

8. Did we really need Olaf? Why are these comic relief sidekicks so necessary? I don’t think I would have had an issue with him if he didn’t stand out so much. He looks like he’s from another film, and never fit well with the other character designs.

Thinking about it, I’m starting to wonder if we’re missing a solid twenty minutes of Troll exposition.

>>> Concluding Thoughts

Story-gaps aside, this really is a charming film and one I’m certain I’ll see numerous times once it’s out on Blu-Ray. It’s a very positive film, has some excellent comedic timing (probably the reason why I tolerated Olaf was because of Josh Glad’s delivery), and the musical numbers were wonderful to listen to. The animation is breathtaking, and it’s really interesting to see Disney do their hybrid CGI/ Hand Dawn animation style again, that I think started with Beauty and the Beast. I can see why the film is so popular.

I think there’s a nostalgic kick as well. I’m twenty-six so there was a period when I was small that a new Disney film was an event, and it was during ‘Disney’s Golden Age’. It’s nice to see that they still have the potential to make great films, especially after the Golden Age ended and they meandered around a while. Disney/ Pixar films were still enjoyable, but never felt like Disney films. Now that they’re going it alone again, Frozen has that Disney vibe back and I’d be lying to say I didn’t get a kick out of experiencing it again.

 

Stay Tuned for In-Depth Lightning Returns Analysis! I had the whole thing spoiled for me a month ago, and while that sorta sucks, it has given me an entire month to ruminate over and analyze EVERYTHING. I haven’t even played through it on my own yet, so I’m sure there’ll be even more to discuss once I experience the minor beats and throwaway lines. This is going to be fun…

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