One of the best things about Frozen is that it’s primarily a story about two sisters repairing their relationship, not one about finding love with a man. While romance is part of the story, it is not either of the main characters’ primary problem. Even Anna’s doe-eyed infatuation with Hans takes a back seat when Elsa leaves, showing one of many ways in which Anna simultaneously supports and subverts the Disney princess stereotype.
Throughout the film Anna and Elsa are agents of achieving their own happiness. Elsa does this by finally accepting her powers, a journey that parallels the experiences of many queer people. Anna does this by persistently taking action when something goes wrong instead of relying on a man to solve her problems for her. Even at the end, when she is expecting a man’s action to help her, she ultimately takes matters into her own hands.
Anna the Rescuer
Despite the fact that Anna has an over-the-top love at first site experience with Hans, it never occurs to her to let this dashing prince be manly and bring Elsa back. During that magical night when Hans and Anna sing about finishing each other’s sandwiches, they are both presented to the audience as character types that we have come to expect. Anna becomes the lovely, innocent princess whose dreams will come true when she gets to marry her prince and Hans becomes that handsome, kind, and brave prince. These two are so into each other that they’re ready to tie the knot the first time they meet, but Queen Elsa doesn’t give them her blessing, which infuriates Anna. Their fight is what forces Elsa’s powers out of control, exposing them to the entire kingdom.
The context around Anna’s choice to go after her sister makes her agency more prevalent and more effective to the audience. Anna resents Elsa a lot and now that Elsa has just refused to affirm true love, Anna has yet another reason to resent Elsa. However, Anna doesn’t hesitate to tell Hans to wait at home while she ventures to the dangerous mountain to find her sister. From this moment on, Anna sees it as her task to save Elsa and hers alone. The only time a man comes to save the day is near the end of the film when Anna literally cannot move. Even then, Anna still makes choices that defy the conventions of her character type.
Anna in Love
Anna’s love story also supports and subverts the typical princess love story. Her fling with Hans comfortably fits this pattern and it borders on parody without obviously hinting that it’ll fall apart. It isn’t until Anna meets Kristoff that she seriously questions getting engaged to a man she just met. His frank criticisms of it are a blatant example of Disney mocking much of their filmography, as this very plotline is what they popularized in several of the classic princess movies.
Of course, Hans turns out to be a conniving fiend, feigning innocence and honor to win Anna’s trust in the hopes of marrying into royalty to rule his own kingdom. The moment when he stops short of kissing a dying Anna and says, “Oh Anna, if only there was somebody out there who loved you,” is perhaps Anna’s darkest moment. At this point in the story, she’s relying on a true love’s kiss to stop her heart from freezing, so naturally she expects Hans to fulfill this role, but instead he reveals his true intentions. This betrayal speaks to real experiences that many people have unfortunately had, and it also provides a cautionary lesson of making sure you actually know who someone really is before you decide to marry them. The fact that Frozen presents a girl learning this lesson is especially important in a world where “ring by spring” is a goal that many college girls still aim for, especially at Christian schools. Our culture often repeats the idea that a young woman’s greatest story is falling in love with a man in a manner that’s not too different from what Anna experiences with Hans. By having that story fall apart, Frozen is teaching everyone, but especially young girls, that true love is not the handsome prince you connect with on your sister’s coronation–it’s not the classic Disney fairytale.
Though it’s heartbreaking for Anna to be denied her true love’s kiss and to also discover that her “true love” was never love at all, the only way out is for Anna to solve her own problem. Frozen is a story about women taking active roles in their happiness and how they express love, so Anna cannot stay in the damsel role. Kristoff is certainly the obvious choice for Anna’s true love. If Anna can reach him, they can kiss and she will be healed. With Olaf’s help, Anna makes it outside in the blizzard, still hoping that the act of true love will happen to her. However, Anna is soon forced to make a difficult choice: run into Kristoff’s arms to receive true love, or sacrifice herself for Elsa to act in true love. She chooses the latter, and in doing so, makes the final point that true love is an action that women take, not for the sake of men, but for the sake of each other. Anna saves herself by performing a loving action rather than simply being a recipient of love.
One final point I’d like to make about Kristoff, though, is that he is a much better example of a love interest. Not only does he have the sense that people should know each other well before marrying, but he also clearly understands consent and shows this at the end of the film where he asks Anna if it’s okay to kiss her. Yes, it’s a cute scene, but it’s also an important message for viewers to internalize.
Thus, through Anna’s agency, the meaning of true love is flipped on its head and comes much closer to a Biblical understanding of love as expressed by Christ’s sacrifice. In the next and final post, I’ll examine Anna’s actions in this light. Although the parallels are admittedly loose, they still provide interesting insights as to what love actually means.