There seems to be some confusion, so lemme clear this up and also get this out of the way at the start.
Frozen is a good movie and everyone should go see it. You should also totally go take your kids to see it. It is currently one of the highest grossing animated films of all time.
And it deserves that money. I’m even excited that Frozen is currently making _all_ the money right now. Considering one of the alternatives people could be spending their money on is The Croods*, I’m more than happy to report that we are not all entirely brain dead when it comes to entertainment choices.
Score one for the home team. I own the deluxe soundtrack. T-Fury ran a Calvin and Hobbes and Frozen crossover shirt, and if I wasn’t worried about things like ‘eating food’ I would have bought it in a heartbeat. I’d buy the blu-ray if I had a blu-ray player.
After finding out the quote feature is just a way to make some text really big and super pretentious, I won’t go into the Chesterton quote I wanted to use, so we’ll skip the freshman English paper and go right to the heart of the matter.
In order to even get the drive to improve something, you’ve kinda gotta fall in love with it first. It’s why I’d never think about writing a Disney movie after, say, Dinosaur, because that particular movie makes me want to do something else– namely drink heavily, or write C code to simulate a computer drinking heavily.
If you put things on too high of a pedestal, they essentially can’t inspire you because they’re too good. You’re too starstruck to actually want to create things. Sadly, any example I give here is going to have far to much math for you to care about, because I find math pretty. Beautiful, even. I got your back, Euler’s identity, even when the kids in the parking lot are making fun of you.
To get inspired to improve something means you need to see something special about the original, so much that you want to wipe the flaws off of it and make it even better. This project isn’t quite ‘lets write Frozen better!’ because it turns out, that’s not fun. Instead, the fact that Frozen was still good (despite cracks) inspired me to think, “Well, hell, if you can still be good even with some flaws… I can do that!”
And so, we get to Frozen, which for those of you who don’t remember, was the movie that sparked this entire adventure off. I have problems with Frozen. I still like it– hell, I still love it, but I do not think it is perfect in every way.
Keep this in mind, as I’m gonna be pretty blunt with some things.
Oh, and one more thing– let us not forget I’m mostly a computer geek who has seen far to many movies about princesses.
This is the closest I get to a critical analysis. Oh, yeah… Spoilers, ahead, I guess?
Now that we’re done with preamble, lets talk about this guy:
Hans is the “villain” of Frozen. And he is really bad at it. The idea is that he’s evil because he wants to marry Anna and murder Elsa to become king of
Rivendell Arendelle. Which is a rather evil plot, I won’t lie. However, Frozen gives you this reveal in the third act, as a Shyamalan styled plot twist.
And like most things Shyamalan has done, it’s bad. Don’t imitate that guy, Disney. Don’t. No one likes him. It’s like trying to be more like the kid that collects far, far to many firearms or the kid that flays squirrels in his free time.
See, here is the thing about plot twists– they need to be set up. You gotta give the audience some hints that someone is about to change their colors. You don’t have to tell us outright (although, that is a useful way to heighten tension), but give us something.
Hans goes bad out of nowhere. Anna goes to kiss Hans to not get frozen to death and Hans pulls back, revealing that he never loved her after all, thus becoming less of a character and more of a plot device in less time than it took for me to write that sentence. This also makes Hans’ earlier actions in the movie beyond puzzling. For someone who wants to make a power-play for Arendelle, he does a fantastic job of making sure the sisters stay alive and don’t get vilified by the community.
I mean, its not the worst villain Disney has ever done (I’d nominate Edgar Balthazar, but not with any confidence). It’s just frustrating because he could have been the most chilling villain ever.
If you want to go the villain route, then the scene where Hans goes after Anna and Elsa just needs a single modification. It’s the perfect time for him to hint that he’s got bigger plans than falling in love with Anna. He’s isolated from the rest of the cast, outside of that ineffectual old guy who, I’m convinced, exists only to throw a sly Arrested Development reference in the movie (and also to help keep the stupid pump fake alive for the villain).
I’m on to you, Disney.
This is the perfect time for him to hint at his true colors. In fact, this is when good Disney films actually do perform their villain reveal. In The Lion King, Scar unveils his murder plot when he’s separated from the rest of the main cast (with song). In Hunchback, Frollo unveils his rape plot when he’s separated from the rest of the main cast (with song). In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston unveils his plot to win the heart of his true love when he’s separated from the rest of the main cast (with song).
Instead, Hans looks and acts like he is really concerned about Anna (like, maybe, he actually cares?), and is generally a pretty good ruler in the midst of the current crisis. If he were to clue us in, at this point, than his very heroic actions at Elsa’s ice hotel are more believable as cover.
Also, for members of the audience that catch that Hans is the villain at this point, the ice hotel battle royal gets an extra dose of tension and meaning. What’s Hans going to do once he has Elsa? Oh shit, the camera faded to black, did he just kill her? Did she just die? No, he couldn’t have killed her because he stopped those two other guys from killing her, but what if she got trapped under the ice chandelier and he left her there? He totally would do that because he really wants the throne, and Anna doesn’t even know and oh my god, SHOW ME THE NEXT SCENE.
And then when Anna is galloping back to the castle, half the audience that missed the clues are like, But he won’t help you! KRISTOPH IS YOUR TRUE LOVE, TRUST THE SENTIENT ROCKS, THIS IS A DISNEY MOVIE. ALWAYS TRUST THE SENTIENT ROCKS. And the other half is like TURN BACK. He’s gonna use you Anna! HE’S ALREADY USED YOU. But you also have to go back and save Elsa, he’s gonna kill her and/or let the town people kill her! WAIT NO. WAIT. WHAT DO?
There is a pretty solid explanation as to why they ran Hans as a villain the way they did. We’re supposed to emphasize with Anna as she’s freezing to death, locked in a room. We got played by Hans too, Anna. We feel your pain.
But that’s not really how movies work. Or books, for that matter.
The reader, or the audience, can’t be a true participating member of the action on-screen. We get a different angle of insight on the characters– either too much (we know things that the characters don’t know about) or too little (the characters discover something that isn’t shown to us, see all of the detective genre). We also don’t spend enough time with them to really develop emotional bonds.
Aside: You know how little kids can be best friends in like, 3 seconds? You ever think that maybe the reason why they respond so heavily to onscreen things is that they literally form a stronger bond with the characters in the time we see them, because they form interpersonal bonds faster?
Back to my main point: as such, we aren’t going to sympathize with a character that way– tricking the audience doesn’t make us feel pity towards a character who also go tricked. We can relate a character being tricked to a time when we were tricked, in our own lives. That’s how you generate an emotional response and sympathy– you set it up to something the audience has experienced in reality and can relate too.
So, we don’t feel Anna’s pain. If, however, we knew Hans was evil all along, then we could relate to Anna’s distress, as more of a mentor/teacher/confidant. I knew this was going to happen to you. He was rotten from the start, Anna. Just like Jeremy was when he dumped me, so that he could murder my Dad and take over the family bank. He also dumped me because he judges women by breast size. I bet Hans and Jeremy will die alone and no one loves them. Fuck them. Lets get a drink.
Anna still has the same problems in this version though– which brings us to my big second point. Frozen has this other character, perhaps you’ve seen her:
Now, I have no problems with Anna at a start. But, any good character should grow and develop through a film, especially one that is going to have some moral teaching attached to it, because Disney films always do. Especially because we spend most of the film with Anna as our protagonist. Anna… isn’t so big on the character arc concept.
Anna’s supposed to be kinda derpy, a do things first think later kinda girl, who is desperate for love because she’s been locked in a castle for most of her– huh. That’s funny. Totally thought I was writing about Rapunzel again for a second.
Her arc is set up to teach her a) love, b) maybe think for like, three seconds before you do things? Kristoff’s comments to her (“I don’t trust your judgement!”) and general reaction to Anna’s Impulsive Decision Making Process (trademarked) make it pretty clear this is not a trait we’re supposed to approve of.
Except it totally works out for her, like, all the time. Of all the decisions Anna makes on the fly, how many come back to bite her?
One. One of them. Maybe. The entire wolves scene is Anna being better than Kristoff at everything, despite his experience. Snow giant fight scene? Again, it’s the quick, “DO THIS THING” type decision making that saves her. And Anna’s saving grace at the end? Split second decision to throw herself over her sister.
The movie does laud her rapid fire decision making process. In fact, she tends to make worse decisions the more time she has to think about them. So, that’s out. And on the love side? Surely she learns about love?
Why does Anna leave the castle when she is freezing to death? If you answered, “To seek out a true love’s kiss from someone she met two days ago”, you’re correct! Good job. We made a whole lot of progress on the ‘learn about love’ front during this journey. She has some evidence that Kristoff might care for her by coming back (or that he’s really looking out for his ice business), but how does she know that she loves him? You just got dumped by someone you swore you were in love with, that’s a pretty intense about-face to pull after five minutes.
In fact, Anna doesn’t even believe it (“What do I know about love?”) while she’s freezing to death. It’s Olaf (sigh) that suggests that Kristoff loves her, and she just decides, whelp, its either that or a freeze to death. Might as well go kiss the same lips a reindeer may or may not have kissed.
“Well, the trolls just tried to get them hitched,” you reply. Because love is something other people tell you to feel? Right. Sure. Don’t start pointing fingers at me, I know I’m being hypocritical. Just keep reading, I promise I make sense eventually.
Anna makes a trademark split second decision to sacrifice herself for her sister, which is the catalyst for Elsa’s big character moment, which thaws out the entire kingdom. Anna learns, after the fact, “oh, check it. Elsa loved me after all,” and gets to do nothing with this new nugget of wisdom. Laaaaaaammmmme.
Speaking of, lets talk about the most beloved character to ever eat a carrot after it had been in a reindeer’s mouth:
Man, Kristoff. You’re… tricky. Kristoff doesn’t really develop much as a character either… unless we want to run his development parallel to Elsa’s. One of the things I love about Frozen is the unmentioned extrovert against introvert personality types the movie showcases. Anna is a very strong extrovert. Elsa is a very strong introvert. Hans, Anna’s love interest, is a very strong extrovert. Kristoff is a very strong introvert… but Elsa doesn’t get a love interest.
Shannon and I have talked about the theory that Kristoff is a holdover from an earlier version of the film where Elsa does get to find love (They even match hair colors! That’s adorable), but I’ll let her talk about her own theory. In order to really get the subtext of personality types across, Anna or Elsa need to interact with someone of their opposing personality type. Elsa can’t interact with Hans, because Hans is the villain and wanting to kill people generally ruins genuine interactions.
Anna and Elsa’s interactions tend to end with ice-splosions, so Anna gets Kristoff as an introvert foil until they get to Elsa’s ice hotel. And that’s about it. He gets elevated status towards the end of the movie, because someone’s got to get the girl and the magical talking rocks said so. A pity, because even if his character isn’t developed further, it could be a better foil. That being said, the seeds for Kristoff to have his own arc that mirrors Elsa’s are in the film, and Anna and Kristoff ending up together at the end of the film can totally make sense.
So… lets try to take the entire third act of the film entirely in the other direction. Don’t make Hans the villain. Make his feelings genuine. Teach a real love story for once, Disney. First, for all you young ones in the audience, (don’t tell your Mom I swore, ok? Also, never drink your problems away) love is not that ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling you get when you see someone you like. Your heart fluttering when that special someone touches your hand? That’s your body having a fun cocktail of hormone overload and a surge of adrenaline from your fight or flight response (Papers with respectable names say so.).
In a nutshell, you just took a hit. Welcome to being high on “love,” and the people that constantly form new relationships after breaking up with people after a few months? Junkies.
Now that I ruined that for you, what does Anna’s and Han’s relationship most resemble after they sing Love is an Open Door? High school kids in love. Actual love, real love, true love, is something that develops over time. It can take years to finally come into bloom. True love’s first kiss is not the same kiss you have on your first date.
(This is getting to sappy. I need a crass joke, stat!)
So, no, even without the trolls priming us to jump for Kristoff as Anna’s true love, no one over the age of say, 17, expects a kiss from Hans to heal Anna. I’m ignoring any argument that starts with, “But in Disney movies…” for a bit. We don’t have that experience, we don’t believe it. Not for one second. So… what if it doesn’t? What if the kiss does not heal Anna, but both Hans and Anna still think they love each other?
Well, wouldn’t that be one hell of a moral quagmire for Hans? We, as the audience, knew Anna’s plan wasn’t going to work. We know Arendelle is starving to death. We know Elsa doesn’t believe she can stop the storm. We know Anna is dying. If Hans and Anna aren’t in true love, well, it’s pretty doubtful that Kristoff and Anna are. Not even the trolls thought they were truly in love, they just wanted to set Kristoff up much like how the Italian side of my family is probably talking over how to set me up. This is… rather bad, isn’t it?
Beat pause. Linger for a second. Annnnnnnd…. then have Hans decide to kill Elsa.
But, to really make it hit home, have him do it out of fear. He doesn’t want to lose Anna. He’s scared, everything is falling to pieces around him. He takes the only path he sees, because good ol’ panic has got blinders on his face. Because that’s what panic does. Good tie in to the themes about fear, incidentally.
He can even tell Anna that he’s off to murder her sister– because he wants to save her. She can object, but she can hardly walk. Besides, she’s about to get hit with the revelation of a life time– she loves her sister. That’s true love. And hey, Disney, you were able to make the bestiality joke earlier, so I assume a quip about ‘kissing your sister’ is on the table.
Olaf (sigh) comes back in the room, Anna realizes that the one person she’s loved all this time, even as she got doors slammed in her face, was Elsa. Even after near freezing to death, she still believes in her sister. And, even given present circumstances, she believes that Elsa loves her. That’s the feeling she can trust, not this heart-fluttery bullshit.
That also takes some real critical analysis. Way to think through your problem and analyze your feelings, while everyone else is jumping at the first option that comes to their heads. Way to think first, Anna.
She goes back outside, looking for Elsa. Kristoff comes back (more on this in a second), Anna is presented with the same choice. She can either trust what she knows is true in her heart– everyone else at this point has told her that Elsa’s kinda a loose cannon at worse, extreme introvert at best. Maybe Elsa doesn’t love her back? Or, she can trust the trolls– who just tried to set her up with Kristoff.
However, to follow her heart, well, that one comes with a serious gamble. But she throws herself in front of Hans and saves the day. Elsa, at this point, gets the same character revelation Anna got as the snow stops and she breaks down, sobbing. Anna was a reckless fool, sure, but Elsa can’t imagine she’d ever turn Anna away. Anna thaws, Elsa realizes that love is the opposite of fear and thaws the kingdom.
Kristoff is back, and instead of fumbling over getting kissed, fumbles over asking Anna out. This is a big moment for him, actually– he hasn’t been in love before (his own admission, earlier in the film), and Kristoff doesn’t exactly do the whole ‘act on your feelings’ bit. The very fact that he’s asking is a big deal, he’s thawed out beyond that cold ‘people suck, reindeer rule’ exterior.
Internal thawing to mirror external thawing!
Does Anna turn him down and go back to Hans to try again? Does she say no to both of them? I dunno, I think both options are more interesting than the sort of love by default we get at the end of Frozen.
My changes aren’t perfect. The trolls still don’t really fit into the action at all, and the ending is still meh (Oh, so Elsa can just thaw everything now. Sure. Ok.), but I sorta think that a lot of people would watch it.
You know what the kick is, and why I’ve written a 3500 word essay on this? Frozen arguably covers all of these things. From the lyrics of Fixer Upper, the movie is hinting that the solution to Anna’s problem is to show a little love to Elsa, and Elsa needs to open up to Anna. All of Kristoff’s character development I’ve “added” is in Frozen, it’s just never explicitly called to light, so its impossible to tell if I’m over-thinking it or if it’s what the movie intends. You’ll notice Elsa isn’t on here, because Elsa is an awesome character.
Frozen, at the end of the day, copped out and shoehorned a traditional ending on a movie that was screaming for something else. None of what I’m talking about occurs in Frozen‘s first act. And that’s the cautionary tale– Disney probably would never make a Frozen without the typical ending.
Pixar would, though. But that’s a post for another time.