Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale ‘The Snow Queen,’ Disney’s Frozen (2013) tells the story of two sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), the Princesses of Arendelle – a fictional kingdom inspired by beautiful Norwegian cities. Elsa has magical powers that allow her to control ice and snow, a gift she uses when playing with her younger sister. One day, Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her magic – causing her parents, the King and Queen, to take precautions. They whisk the sisters away to a colony of trolls led by Grand Pabbie (Ciarán Hinds), who heals Anna and alters her memories to leave the fun, but forget the magic; Elsa is warned that fear will become her greatest enemy – something that later comes to fruition.
When they return to the castle, the sisters are locked away from the public, with Elsa told that she must learn how to control her powers or otherwise great danger could emerge. Despite Anna’s best attempts to reconnect with her sister, Elsa’s isolation continues as she shuts everyone out for fear of hurting them with her unpredictable and ever-growing powers.
As teenagers, their parents die from a storm at sea. Following her 21st birthday, Elsa is to be crowned Queen of Arendelle, but she remains terrified that the kingdom’s citizens will find out about her powers and fear her. While the coronation itself goes well, things start to unravel during the celebrations when Anna announces to Elsa that she has fallen in love (at first sight) with Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana). Elsa objects to their sudden engagement, and the emotional distress causes her to accidentally unleash her powers – propelling Arendelle into an eternal winter. Scared, Elsa flees the kingdom, leaving the citizens trapped.
Frozen is a great metaphor for how unhealthy it is to repress our emotions. Women in particular are often taught from a young age that anger is not for us. If we are too emotional, then we get a bad reputation; instead, we must be polite and passive so that we don’t upset other people. This is exactly what Elsa learns from Grand Pabbie and her parents, who continuously reinforce the idea that Elsa’s emotions are not only unwelcome but dangerous. Most superpowers portrayed in film and television are tied to how these characters control their emotions, and that’s certainly the case here.
After repressing her emotions for so long, Elsa doesn’t know how to deal with them in a healthy manner – she only knows how to “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” She explodes when she tells Anna that she cannot get married to someone she has only known for a day. Sharp shards of glass emerge and almost injure the kingdom’s citizens. The eternal winter represents how her emotional distress isn’t resolved – and it won’t be until she learns how to accept her emotions and let other people (like Anna) back in.
The lyrics from the iconic track ‘Let It Go‘ further disclose Elsa’s inner battle: “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be.” Ultimately, Elsa has tried to turn her emotions off in case she upsets someone else. She isolates herself because she thinks there’s no escape from the icy storm that swirls inside of her. After running away, Elsa builds her own kingdom – an ice palace whose beauty proves that our emotions aren’t ugly, even if they feel like it.
While Elsa tries to push her feelings aside, Frozen confirms that you cannot run away from your problems. If Elsa doesn’t face her painful emotions, then the people of Arendelle will remain trapped in an arctic winter forever. After ice is unintentionally placed in Anna’s heart by Elsa, it’s revealed that only true love can thaw a frozen heart. Repressing your emotions not only harms yourself, but it harms those around you.
Traditional narrative conclusions typically see men as our saviour in a brave act of true love, but Frozen updates this tired narrative – true love can refer to the love we have for our family and friends. At first it’s believed that Hans is the key to saving Anna, but we soon realize that he’s a fraud – the true antagonist of the story, not the emotionally repressed Elsa, whose love for her sister saves both them and the citizens of Arendelle. By finally allowing herself to feel, the princess saves herself in this one.
Frozen shows us that Elsa is not a monster for having feelings and expressing them – nor is she a monster for not knowing how to deal with these emotions in the first place. It sends the message that you should never isolate yourself from love, nor should you fear hurting others for having normal emotions. Repression cultivates emotional distress – distress which builds up to be even more painful to contain. Don’t “let it go” unless you’ve worked through it healthily first!
Frozen 2 is out in theaters worldwide on November 22nd.