Fridge Brilliance: Analysis, interpretations, and possible improvements for Disney's movie Frozen

Frozen is a movie that has easily surpassed my initial expectations. Granted, those expectations were not that high to begin with; Disney's recent history has been less than stellar when compared to its winning streak during the Disney renaissance (1989-1999).

However, Frozen brings back the magic of the classics while simultaneously breaking the mold. Once again, we are presented with a well-animated fairy tale musical, but the writers have also taken daring steps to deviate from more traditional Disney templates.

Obligatory Let it Go video clip.

Being a family film, Frozen offers a broad spectrum of entertainment to its audiences. Visuals, music, humor, and some pathos are the most immediate since they hit you while you're still sitting in the theater. After the credits roll, all that the audience has left are the details of the story itself.

Personally, I find this period as satisfying as watching the movie itself because it gives me time to digest and appreciate the writing. Frozen doesn't disappoint in this aspect either, thanks to various details which point to interesting possibilities and interpretations. The story also employs a number of motifs and metaphors; some a little less explicit than others.

Love is an Open Door

The primary metaphor in the movie would be doors/gates.This is explicitly brought up in the songs Love is an Open Door and For the First Time in Forever (and its reprise), while the songs Do You Want to Build a Snowman? and Let It Go are more subtle in referring to it.

Some viewers might interpret doors as a symbol for introversion and extroversion, but it should be noted that Elsa shuts out people not because she wants to but because she thinks she needs to. For her, isolation is the result of a conscious decision rather than a personal preference.

Thus, it may be safer to assume that doors refer to their attitudes towards interpersonal relationships. Elsa shuts out the world out of fear that she may harm others. In contrast to this, Anna leaves her doors open and actively seeks out affection due to Elsa denying her this.

Of course, these two extremes lead to problems. Elsa's isolation strains her relation ship with Anna and leads her to abandon her duties as queen. On the other hand, Anna's openness leaves her and the kingdom vulnerable to exploitation by strangers (Hans and the Duke of Weselton).

These two opposing views reach a synthesis towards the end of the film after Anna demonstrates an act of true love. Here, it implied that one's heart should only be (fully) opened to those who have already proven their love (or at the very least, their sincerity). Some viewers might find this slightly jaded (though realistic) advice unexpected from Disney.

Beware the Frozen Heart

The other prominent metaphor in the movie is the frozen heart (implicitly described in Frozen Heart, For the First Time in Forever (Reprise), and Fixer Upper. I find this metaphor more intriguing because of its possible implications within the context of the story.

It is understood that
1) Elsa is capable of manipulating ice, and
2) her power is directly influenced by her emotional state.

These two things still hold true by the end of the movie. If the frozen heart refers to her ice-based powers, then she remains cursed until the very end. Since this doesn't sound like a desirable outcome, I propose that the frozen heart is actually a reference to her fear instead.

In her carefree younger days, Elsa appears to have no issues with controlling her powers. The problem only begins after Elsa accidentally strikes Anna, and Elsa panics. It is only after this moment that Anna's hair turns white and Elsa starts losing control.

Later, the elder troll warns Elsa that "Fear will be your enemy." Ironically, this ambiguous statement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (Trolls be trolling?). Under the impression that other people would fear their daughter, the misguided parents isolate Elsa from the rest of the world and instruct her to to keep her emotions bottled up.

Adding fuel to the fire, Anna makes matters worse by constantly (though unintentionally) reminding Elsa about the traumatizing childhood event. Do You Want to Build a Snowman? may initially sound like a cute song, but this is also the same invitation that Anna gave on the night when Elsa almost killed her. It's no wonder then that Elsa kept herself away from her sister for 13 years. Each attempt to draw her out was also a haunting reminder of the harm that she could inflict on others.

Some notable implications if this interpretation is valid:
  1. It's possible that Elsa might have never lost control if only she had not panicked after the childhood accident.

  2. Arendelle's untimely winter is unintentional but not incidental. It's the direct consequence of Elsa being pushed into a corner.

  3. The frozen heart is Elsa's curse, not Anna's. The princess would have been doomed if she had chosen Kristoff over her sister because it is Elsa's heart which is in need of being thawed. The true love's kiss would not have worked because that act of romance has nothing to do with the bond between the two sisters. Elsa required something which would overpower her fear; this is why Anna needed to prove her love to Elsa specifically. Only then could Elsa regain full control of her powers and undo all of the damage.

The trolls hint at the possibility of a familial relationship during the song Fixer Upper, but once again, they later throw in misdirection by being the first to suggest the true love's kiss as the cure (Trolls be trolling still?).

Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.

Besides being the most powerful lead character since the Genie from Aladdin, Elsa also happens to be the unlucky 13th Disney Princess, and she takes one hell of an emotional beating compared to her predecessors. Although she is eventually presented as a conflicted heroine, the Snow Queen is often portrayed as the antagonist in adaptations of the fairy tale, and Frozen was originally not meant to be an exception.

It's interesting to note that even in the final version of the movie, Elsa still retains the potential to become a tragic villain. Consider her track record: Elsa almost kills her sister twice, ignores Anna's pleas for emotional support for 13 years (this duration including the death of their parents), abandons her duties as queen of Arendelle, plunges her kingdom into a potentially eternal winter, and nearly commits manslaughter in self-defense against the two crossbow-wielding henchmen.

Fortunately, Anna stops her sister through her act of true love. However, this happy ending hinges on a rather arbitrary event: Hans's sword must shatter against Anna's frozen body.

Imagine a different outcome: a fragmented Anna thaws into a bleeding mess. Maybe she even gets to utter something heartbreaking like "It's okay, some people are worth melting for." before she breathes her last.

What if Elsa were to lose the one person that she cared for? What if she had somebody other than herself to blame for that loss? If she could already wreak havoc unintentionally with fear alone, what more could she do with hate? Could we expect icebergs dropping from the sky? How about a kingdom (or two) buried beneath a glacier? Perhaps an ice age even? Given that emotions appear to be he only vulnerability, Elsa the Snow Queen had the potential to become a villain that could have easily surpassed the likes of Sauron and Darth Vader.

For better or worse, the writers have passed on this opportunity to explore a less orthodox ending. We'll just have to wait and see if the next Disney movie (Maleficent) will take this up another notch.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

And while we're on the topic of missed opportunities, I also think that Frozen's climax isn't as dramatic as it could have been.

Consider these:
  • After For the First Time in Forever (Reprise), the last song in the movie is the inconsequential Fixer Upper.
  • After Anna's defrosting, the only exchange between the sisters is "You'd risk your life to save me?" (paraphrased) followed by "I love you."

Personally, I find this development a bit anticlimatic. Two things could have given this scene more impact:

  1. The movie seriously needed a reprise of Do You Want To Build A Snowman? sung by Elsa because it would have emphasized her acknowledgement of Anna's act of true love. Anna has been calling out to her sister since childhood, and that scene before Anna's defrosting would have been the perfect opportunity for Elsa to finally respond after all those years.

    Do You Want To Build A Snowman? is a song that packs quite a punch. It starts out as cute and amusing but it later changes its tone to portray a decade of separation. A song with this much emotional weight deserves a reprise, and it would have brought the story full circle.

  2. Tears

    Plain, simple, and bordering on cheesy. Throughout the movie, the characters talk about thawing a frozen heart and people worth melting for. If the writers wanted to slap the audience with even more visual metaphors, nothing would have illustrated the point better than tears streaming down Elsa's face, dripping down, and defrosting Anna upon contact.

With these improvements thrown in, the two previously mentioned lines could have been removed altogether since they would no longer be necessary.

The abrupt closing statement

Despite these minor gripes, Frozen is still beautiful, entertaining, meaningful, and the most engaging Disney movie that I've seen to date. For a family film that's not even 2 hours long, it contains a surprising number of metaphors, morals, twists, and subversions. Hopefully, Frozen has paved the way for opened the doors to another Disney renaissance.

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