Okay, so there are many discussions out there that address the issues with Frozen, particularly my favorite: this Youtube video which addresses all of the storytelling issues I had, and this one awesome article that breaks down why it shouldn’t be lauded as “revolutionary” in any way.
But after a while, seeing all of the “Frozen is so progressive, focusing on siblings instead of love!” argument continue, I wanted to try and share a little more of my personal opinions. Make no mistake, I loved the premise of the movie. An icy tale of magic and two female characters, featuring Disney’s legendary animation and a hit number by Idina Menzel? I was absolutely looking forward to it.
As much as I enjoyed the songs and want more/diverse numbers and reprises that include Kristoff, evil Hans, and the trolls’ lives (Frozen the musical anyone?), I will rather focus on the story execution here as well.
I love the idea that LGBT and other marginalized groups are identifying with Elsa, because great! Relatable characters are key!
One of the problems for me? As an older sister myself approaching the age of 21 (like Elsa) with a younger sister (17) that has a completely opposite personality from me, I couldn’t identify with the sibling relationship at all.
I’m not saying we can be delegated to either Elsa or Anna’s role, because let’s face it, we all have our moments of Elsa’s isolation and Anna’s mess-ups. As the elder sister, I don’t even approach Elsa’s level of poise and perfection, but I for one don’t buy that that’s all there was to her either. The audience can feel her raw fear of hurting others, her struggle to handle all of the responsibility herself, and how she was forced to cut out the people she loved the most. Yet we never get in her head beyond that portrayal. She was raised completely alone, restricted from the outside world and taught to be the model daughter as the future queen. When Anna confronted her, was it just my own grudges that wanted Elsa to explode at her with, “Do you realize all that I’ve gone through?”
She hasn’t seen or been close to Anna in the span of her miserable adolescence and grew up early into all of her duties. Stuck in her own room with her lessons and insecurities while Anna was skylarking through the halls without any pressures, did she never begin to bear any resentment? She has her parents staring at her with fear and confusion while Anna has her dolls. She has the four corners of her room with frost damage as Anna can build all the snowmen she’d like on her own. And she can never tell her anything, never let her in – all for Anna’s sake. She has to learn to lead the kingdom and be a gracious hostess, while Anna has the freedom to flirt. Anna’s naturally likable and fun while Elsa has to live with the fact that no one will ever be able to get close enough to know the real her, not even her sister. Sure, she can love her sister and be willing to protect her, but Elsa’s lack of development never seems to hold any impure thought, any humanness in her turmoil. She sings that the past is no more, and she will be who she is with pride. Right up until she is faced with Anna with another guy, and the entourage of villagers. Her dialogue with Anna still never lets her in on her private storm and merely continues to push her away, out of love. She urges Anna to live the life she always wanted, the life Elsa herself could never dream of having. She wants Anna’s happiness even as her own heart breaks. Am I just a horrible sibling (even worse than I believe) for missing that sibling dynamic of bitter comparison and rivalry? At the very least, let Elsa expose herself given the chance with what she has had to deal with alone all these years. It doesn’t have to have explicit blame.
Or better yet, if the emotional Anna got mad for being shut out for no reason, like in this comic on tumblr.
And on that note: Where is the love?
Sisterly bonds are not the same as friendship. It isn’t all hugs and professed loyalty. For one, I understand that years and years of silence during the most formative years of their lives with already mismatching personalities will create this enormous gap between them. My own sister and I have very limited conversation due to our distance while I’m at school in the city and she’s busy with her schedule of being a straight A student and an athlete. Yes, after this movie we did go out and build a snowman (yes, I am also a college student). I see Anna and Elsa’s small attempts to reconnect, and then it immediately progresses to, “She’s my sister, I love her and I know her! She wouldn’t hurt me”, and them melting the frozen heart with a hug. A hug? That’s the grand gesture of love? Even if you have these sisters discover they value their love for each other above all else, I just didn’t see enough interaction to feel they made that jump to being best friends as they implied in the end. What great act did either do for the other, before Anna throws herself in front of Elsa (melting her own heart, which was a good twist to the whole “saving” thing but confusing, at least for me)? What did Anna offer to Elsa to really show she wanted to understand her and valued who she was, more than her ability to calm the storm? There didn’t seem to be enough build up to get to that point.
What I really wanted to see is more moments like this promotional gif illustrates:
Why weren’t there more moments like that in the actual film? They are absolutely adorable and realistic. The Snow Queen might be a fable, but a Disney movie can more than take some time out of some trolls singing and cute Sven scenes to add a bit of homey endearment to two siblings that children (!!) are watching. Don’t tell me any two girls are perfect little angels and the picture of proper sisterly devotion, no matter their age.
Bottom line is, I don’t feel Elsa was developed enough as a character, or their relationship with each other to make that ending convincing.
And it’s better not to get me started on the attention the story paid to other areas that overshadowed the screen-time these two main heroines deserved; the shortened version of the list goes something like, why is there no background culture about Arendell’s people, Kristoff, the mythology of the trolls and magic, I literally know just as much about Hans as I do Kristoff and Kristoff can just as easily turn out to be evil at this point, pointless villains, etc.
Overall, yes the theme is commendable. The intention is there. The potential for such great characters and story (please bring us back to the ice sellers and Arandell citizens sometime) is outstanding. Myth versus reality, and sibling love over romance? I just don’t see it done all that well.
Frozen is like a step, yes, like a step up from having Snow White marry the first guy that kisses her. It subverts princess themes where the only true love involves a guy and a girl, although the trolls were also unnecessarily problematic to that point of the plot. While it has a more feminist direction to fit with the modern message (ignoring the male side characters that outnumber them), there wasn’t really that much saving and internal conflict going on in comparison to say, Brave, Tangled or Mulan? For a better portrayal of Disney sisters, I would have to say go with the popular recommendation and try Lilo & Stitch (Nani fights plenty with Lilo out of her real frustrations and fears) to put it into perspective. Which makes me think, Disney should really add some more sibling stories to their list.