FROZEN: an amazing film, and it’s flawed conclusion. An example of poor thematic resolution.
So, two things before we get into this post.
A) SO MANY SPOILERS for the new film FROZEN. Read at your own risk.
B) Seriously? You haven’t seen it? I thought I was the last one… you should DEFINITELY go see it right now.
It used to be that conclusions were the point of stories. You stuck with a film till the end to see how a film is going to resolve itself. The last ten years, thanks in large part to a generation of post-modernist filmmakers, films have become more about the journey than they are about the conclusion.
This isn’t such a terrible thing though. New storytelling methods usually result in some groundbreaking strides for the medium. Tarantino is a fantastic example of a “journey over destination” storyteller, and he holds near universal praise critically and commercially.
I’m here to try to explain that Frozen is only enjoyable as a story whose strengths lie in the journey, over the destination. Because the destination is completely half assed.
Just in case I wasn’t clear enough… FROZEN RULES. The entire soundtrack is crazy catchy, the characters are all equally endearing, the drama will wrench your heart and elevate you all at once, it’s just a fantastic entry into the Disney canon and deserves to be among the ranks of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
Let’s talk about why the ending sucks.
Our protagonists are two sisters named Anna and Elsa (voiced by the lovely Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel respectively). Elsa has a very unique growing pain to deal with… because she’s a sorceress. Her powers enable her to turn everything she touches to ice, and this results in a near fatal accident while she and Anna were playing together at a young age. Because of this, Anna’s memory is magically wiped and Elsa is locked away in her castle until she is of age to be crowned Queen. She must never reveal her powers to Anna in order to protect her weakened heart from the effects of the accident as well, and Elsa’s aloofness offends Anna.
Of course, eventually something goes wrong where Elsa’s powers are revealed and she runs away from home. Upon doing so she accidentally freezes the entire country, and Anna sets off on an adventure to find her and restore the balance to the country’s inconveniently consistent new weather system.
The amazing thing about Elsa’s character is that she’s not a villain, not an unlikeable one anyway. She spends her life in solitary confinement (literally never leaving her room, or interacting with anyone) in an effort to protect her sister and the entire kingdom, something that her sister becomes bitter over. But Anna’s situation is understandable as well, it’s not her fault that her sister can’t control her powers (an element she is not even aware of), but she is punished alongside her by being locked up in a castle with a sister who has seemingly abandoned her and no connection to the outside world.
Immediately the film has established a theme for us. Sacrificial love. There is no greater way to express love than to sacrifice something precious for someone you care about. Elsa sacrificed her entire childhood, and eventually sacrifices her social status and hikes up a mountain, willing to live there forever. Being a part of the royal family, Anna is also locked up in the castle… so she is also in a similar situation to her sister, but she is not willingly sacrificing anything for anyone, just in an unfortunate situation.
Here is another example. In the beginning of the film Anna meets Hans. The day of Elsa’s coronation they meet and continue to hang out for the entire evening, and fall “in love”. So naturally Hans proposes to Anna, because that makes sense right? They approach Elsa to receive her blessing, to which Elsa wisely responds “WTF?! NO! ARE YOU JOKING YOU LITERALLY JUST MET THIS GUY? You can do what you want I guess, but I’m not going to give you my blessing.” This is, once again, an expression of sacrificial love. In fact, it parallels Elsa and Anna’s upbringing in isolation. Elsa’s refusal is done out of hopes for Anna’s well being, but Anna takes it as another opportunity for Elsa to “shut people out” and tries to expose her as being a cold, calloused person.
Let’s just skip to the end. Eventually Anna is cursed and frozen forever, unless an act of true love is performed (of course). Elsa hugs Anna, says I’m sorry or something… and the curse is lifted. Elsa touching Anna after years of literally no physical contact unfreezes her. Currently, WE ARE ACTUALLY STILL AT THE POINT WHERE THE MOVIE IS GOOD. It feels odd typing it out, but the film leads us to believe that a true love’s kiss is the only thing that can break the curse… but Hans, Anna’s betrothed, is revealed to be evil. We are led to believe that Kristoff, the “true” love interest, will kiss her to lift the curse, but the movie doesn’t address that she has only known Kristoff for 24 hours as well! I’m choosing to believe that this is merely a subtly and that the filmmakers are trying to say that there may be more powerful forces out there (or at least comparable ones) to sexual tension, which is a welcome shift in the traditional Disney fantasy playbook in my mind. But immediately after this “miracle hug” Elsa is all “of course! Love! Love can lift the curse!” she does a spin and the winter is lifted. (edit: a friend pointed out that it was Anna’s sacrifice that lifted her own curse, not Elsa’s hug.)
AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THAT IS FREAKIN STUPID????
All Elsa has ever done is act out of love. She has sacrificed more than any other character in an attempt to save those she cares about the most, even to the point of making those she loves bitter towards her. Those points are now MOOT, because CLEARLY she didn’t understand love before… right?
But every element in the film, from the lovable Olaf the Snowman’s arc, to Anna discovering that she has an immature understanding of relationships, and Kristoff’s isolated familial/friend group, or artistic exercises meant to illustrate the frustrations and beauty behind real sacrificial care… and these things ARE love. “Some people are worth melting for.” A Snowman said that. If a snowman melts he might as well be dead guys. Hell, I just realized that Kristoff in the third act does the same thing Elsa does in the first act, and Anna does the same thing in the climax that Elsa did in the first act. They both put their own selfish needs aside in order to protect the person they love most. Kristoff delivers Anna to Hans hoping his kiss can thaw her, Anna jumps in front of Hans’s sword to defend Elsa from the killing blow, Elsa spends her life in solitude to protect Anna.
All these things don’t matter when you have the duchiest of duchey ex machina cliched endings where someone shouts “LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED” and everything is somehow suddenly fine.
This movie was so close to conveying that universal truth and it’s really sad to me that we just went with a hokey “anything goes brah! just end that story with a song or something!”
Here’s where I THOUGHT the movie was going…
Olaf’s character and the snow golem… what are they? Olaf is the name of the snowman Anna and Elsa built as children, now personified and alive thanks to Elsa’s magic. Whereas Olaf is the personified voice of the “positive invitation”, and basically Anna’s spirit animal… the snow golem is the symbol for the ramifications of Elsa’s fear, and her fear can/will destroy her relationships.
Now, here’s the cool thing. We see that Elsa not only has the power to create life, but that this life can be used for creation and destruction. Olaf is a real character, whereas the snow golem is not. It does not have any vitality to it, whereas Olaf has a lot of heart to him. He also has dreams and strong characteristics like loyalty and empathy. Wouldn’t it make more sense if, instead of Elsa reversing her powers by suddenly understanding love, for her powers to be used to make the world a place filled with more joy? Snow is cold, but snow can also be very beautiful, and it can even be used to create all kinds of beauty. We get some of this as Elsa is helping create ice sculptures when summer has returned, but the ending as it stands just doesn’t fit with literally 90% of the ideas that I felt were clearly foreshadowing an ending that involved a comprehension of received love, as opposed to a revelation of the concept of love.
Just saying “yay love!” isn’t an ending. Love isn’t a hokey idea that is difficult to quantify either, it’s often best expressed as an action. I think that Jesus quantified love pretty well by literally sacrificing his status as a god to walk among us, followed by dying for humanity’s sins. The film almost paralleled this universal truth, but fell embarrassingly short in the film’s final act.