The Frozen Problem Pt.1: Elsa

I've been trying to articulate for a while just why Frozen irritates me, in spite of all the hype over this being a Disney movie focused on the relationship between two sisters etc etc. After seeing it a few weeks ago, I decided to mull it over a while and then rewatch it, and I think I finally know.

Frozen is badly written.

I'm serious. It's got plot holes you could drive a double-decker bus through, for all that it's got a few catchy tunes and lots of shiny special effects. I'm going to talk about a few of them in a couple of posts. Needless to say, there are massive spoilers after this point. You have been warned.


frozen


Still here? Okay, let's roll.

Elsa. Just Elsa.

Everything to do with Elsa is almost top of my list. So what do we know about her?

She's born with her powers according to her parents, but later she talks about being cursed with them. So which is it?

She's spent her whole life trying to not use her powers since the incident with Anna, and we never see her actually use them to any great degree as an adult until the Let it Go song, and then she somehow turns into a full on architect and makes the ice palace. And she rearranges her clothes. And later fights off a bunch of attackers. There is precisely zero progression here from her not really doing much with her powers, and then her having a really crazy ass amount of control and accuracy with them.

They're activated by her emotions, but it's heavily plot dependent activation. Like, her parents die and she casts a light dusting of snow about her room, but Anna shouts at her for two seconds and suddenly there's giant icicles all over the place.

The troll leader tells her parents that being afraid is the big danger. But there is a massive, MASSIVE dissonance between how much they hype up Elsa's fear of hurting anyone as opposed to how much she uses her powers. It makes zero sense for her to just start throwing ice around (the one thing that absolutely terrifies her) during Let it Go, after having spent literally years not doing it because that one time she almost killed her sister. It also makes zero sense for her to even allow Anna to approach her, if she's that scared of hurting her - she's a fucking ice sorceress, why does she even leave the stairway into her palace in place?!

It is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE that she walked all the way up a mountain and didn't notice that Arendelle was frozen solid. Seriously. Not possible. We even see Anna pointing out that Arendelle is frozen when she follows her sister. And then, when Anna tells her, NOW she doesn't want to use her powers to figure out how to fix it? WTF.

The biggest question, though, is this: why doesn't she resent her powers?

Seriously - the X-Men are all over this trope, and Elsa's situation mirrors that of Marvel's mutants pretty well. Considering what her powers and the control thereof have done to her life (hint: ruined it entirely), she doesn't ever show resentment or flat out hatred of them, which would be a far more believable reaction after running away than the whole Let It Go bollocks.

The Big Problem with Elsa

And this is probably the first thing that jumped to my mind, after seeing Frozen: Elsa is never allowed to be angry. For all her power, and it is immense, she is never allowed to really use it. She's never allowed to be the monster.

That really started to bother me near the end of the movie. Elsa got the short end of the stick in every possible way, apart from having a loving sister:

  • she's cursed with uncontrollable, dangerous powers
  • her parents died
  • she's effectively imprisoned in one room in the castle
  • she has to be Queen even though the pressure of hiding her powers is actively screwing her up
  • she can't even talk to Anna about anything because she refuses to let her come near her, so it's as if she doesn't have a sister at all for most of the movie
  • as soon as she displays her powers, everyone breaks out the torches and pitchforks
  • even when she tries to do the right thing and get away from everyone, a bunch of assholes come and try to kill her.

This is an eighteen year old girl, remember. I don't know on what planet a girl can go through all of that and still be mentally stable, let alone calm. But Elsa never gets angry - she's scared and worried, mostly, when she's not playing the part of the demure, reserved Queen. But not angry.

Even when Hans tells her not to be the monster, it sounds flat out ridiculous. Everything she does is completely justified. Two guys were even trying to kill her at the moment he says that, for gods' sake.

The way she uses her powers is very telling. What I noticed is that the stuff she does intentionally is mostly small scale, like building a snowman, whereas the stuff she does when her powers run out of control is very large scale, like freezing the whole country. Can we talk about how equating a woman's uncontrolled emotions with widespread devastation is a really backwards thing to do? Seriously, Disney. I am side-eyeing the crap out of you for that.

But assuming they were going to go there, it completely baffles me that they never once let Elsa rage against everything that had been thrown at her. They spent the whole movie keeping up this image of her being a model of fearful self-sacrifice, except for the three minutes where she sings a catchy tune about just being herself from now on - which, by the way, she tosses right out the window as soon as Anna shows up.

Let's consider for a moment how she reacted over the course of the movie. It went from her having fun with her powers, to her being terrified of her powers, to the short time where she sang Let it Go and she's back to having fun, then right back to her being terrified, which continued until the end of the movie and she's suddenly back to where she was at the start, having fun with her powers with other people around. This is not an actual character arc. At best, you can call this 'some shitty stuff that happened this one time and she eventually got over it'.

I'd accept it if it wasn't a character-centric movie, but the whole fucking thing revolves on Elsa and Anna's relationship. Their characterization HAS to be better than this. What if they had written Elsa as initially reckless? What if she had fought against her parents' wishes and was planning to use her coronation to finally show everyone her awesome powers? What if THEN it had all gone wrong, and she hurt Anna, and the shock of the realization that she was actually dangerous had caused her to run away? Then Frozen would have become a very different story, one where Elsa faces the fact that she can very easily become a villain, and Anna's love saves her and brings her back to Arendelle to become a wiser, more humble Queen.

A character arc needs to involve some kind of evolution in a character - a change, a development, a divergence from the kind of person they would have been if the events in question had never happened. At the start of Frozen, Elsa and Anna play together happily with her powers providing the entertainment. At the end, they have returned to exactly the same set of circumstances. Neither one has evolved in spite of the events between now and then.

That is not good enough to carry a character movie.

Disclaimer

Look, I'm not going to say Frozen was complete crap. It wasn't Battlefield Earth bad and enough people liked it that we'll hopefully see more movies about women having relationships that don't revolve around men. That's good, of course.

But I am not giving it a pass for shoddy writing, and I am not going to laud it for being some progressive feminist triumph when it's clearly got issues.

Also including the usual caveat, this is my opinion, feel free to disagree or whatever.