THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FROZEN AND FROZEN 2
Despite all my best intentions, I didn’t make it to see Frozen II until today. I’d meant to see it immediately upon its release so that I could rant, in a timely manner, about a movie I was sure I’d hate. But illness and a (planned) surgery kept me from the theater until today. And, despite the movie’s fairly incomprehensible story line, I found myself completely fascinated. Frozen II totally dismantles the message Frozen I took great pains to convince us of. And this is both confusing, and wonderful.
My issue — as you may recall — with the original Frozen movie was that it tried to convince us that fairy tale romance was evil. It gave us a picture of a naive heroine — Anna — falling for a man she didn’t know who turned out (gotcha!) to be a murderous psychopath. And it recast “true love” — the greatest love of all — as a love between sisters, rather than lovers. I go into this more fully in my book, of course, but the movie failed to understand the symbolism inherent in the kind of love the movie reviled, and missed the point of princess fairy tales entirely by suggesting that the end goal of a princess’s journey was to cleave to her sister — her family of origin — rather than her lover, her new family.
But Frozen II reverses all of that. Olaf, the silly snowman voiced by Josh Gad, tells his pals at the beginning of the movie (and reminds us later just in case we missed it) that forests are places of magical transformation. Holy fairytale shorthand Batman! Did the creators of Frozen read up on fairy tales in the six years since the first movie and realize their mistake? I honestly have no idea what happened, but I’m not complaining. In Frozen II, the sisters go into a magical woods as children and emerge as adult women — just the way they are meant to, just the way they should have six years ago.
The film opens with Elsa as the very obvious third wheel in Anna and Kristoff’s growing relationship, and shows us that Elsa is certain she was meant for something different. For Anna, this life of idyllic domesticity is exactly where she’s meant to be. She’s met the man of her dreams, fallen in love, and is ready to settle down — to start a new life away from her family of origin. But Elsa — contrary to the original film’s emphatic message — can’t really be part of that. Even though Anna is doing everything she can to include Elsa, Elsa knows this cannot last.
When Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling her to the magical forest, she is torn between her worry that she’ll ruin her relationship with her sister, and her desire to strike out on a path that will surely lead to her independence and acceptance. It’s the traditional Disney princess dilemma: go forth and follow my dreams, or stay within the safety of what I’ve always known. We all know what a Disney princess must choose, that’s the entire point of the princess narrative. And suddenly, the creators of Frozen seem to have gotten with the program.
This whole scenario, interestingly, casts Anna in the role of the family member holding the princess back. She follows Elsa to a magical realm, reminding her constantly of their promise to stick together, and interrupts Elsa’s quest to discover the source of the mysterious voice and become who she was truly meant to be. Unlike Elsa’s original wrong-headed self-isolation in her ice palace, Elsa is now maturely trying to confront and accept her true self. And Anna’s holding her back. Ultimately, Elsa must literally fling Anna away from her in order to strike out on her own and do the thing she knows she must do — and do alone, like a good Disney princess must.
Anna, thinking Elsa is dead, has her own realization. Elsa is gone, but she — Anna — is still here. She is her own complete entity, even without her sister. Even in her crippling grief and terrible fear she knows who she is and what she must do. Her bond with her sister is not the thing that makes her who she truly is. And, at the moment of that realization, she reconnects with Kristoff who is willing to do whatever it is Anna needs — he’s not holding her back, he’s holding her close. “My love is not fragile,” he tells her. This bond, the bond of — eventually — husband and wife, is the bond that will sustain and uphold them both.
When Elsa and Anna find each other again, their love for each other is not diminished but it has changed. They are now two independent beings, on different paths. Elsa has found her true purpose and the reason for her magic, and Anna has discovered that her own existence is not dependent on her sister. Just as all sisters must, they will live apart, but their closeness and their love will live on. Elsa goes to fulfill her purpose, and Anna goes to fulfill hers — as Kristoff’s wife and, sort of tangentially, Arendelle’s queen.
Sure, the movie also features a sort of convoluted political message about something something something, but honestly who cares about that? The real message here — unbelievably — is that the bond of sisterhood, though strong, is not the ultimate goal. In order to become your true self you must strike out on your own. And, while you might love your sister — love her fiercely and passionately — you must, ultimately, break away from her. You must follow your purpose and become your true self. And, for Anna, that means shifting her allegiance from her family of origin to the new family she will now create with Kristoff. For Elsa, it means striking out to find out who she is and what she wants. (Do I smell Frozen III?)
Frozen II was primed to rake in the big bucks at the box office no matter what it was about — the first movie was just that popular. So I have no idea why the creators chose to dismantle the manifesto they so carefully presented in the first movie. The only thing I can think is that they actually have no idea that they did. Is that even possible?