(WARNING: this post contains spoilers for both the movie and musical Frozen)
Ah, love. The ancient poems speak of it, the singing songbirds tell of it's tales- Orpheus and Eurydice, Cinderella and her prince, Romeo and Juliet, Natasha and Pierre, I and my Annabel Lee, Jonathan and Mina Harker... the list goes on. We're taught of it from a young age, of the happily ever after. And one of the biggest culprits of this is Disney- they built an entire empire on a little glass shoe and though the formula is pretty predictable, there's still a movie for everyone.
However, in 2013, Disney made an interesting break from their predictable pattern with Frozen, a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Ice Queen. In this one, the main love story isn't romantic, it's familiar, between two sisters- the older of which doesn't fall in love, and the younger of which learns an important lesson about love at first sight and how true love isn't like that, it's not something that happens, it's something you have to choose, every day. Revolutionary for Disney.
Now, growing up, Disney was a huge part of my life. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas my family would go to the movies and usually there was a new Disney movie on the marquee, and Frozen was no exception- though it was extra special because the voice of Prince Hans was from our town and of course we wanted to support Richland's favorite son.
For those of you who haven't seen Frozen, the plot focuses on two sisters, Elsa and Anna. Elsa was born with magic ice powers and after almost killing Anna by hitting her in the head with an ice blast as a young girl. As a result, the king and queen decide to separate the two until they can find a way to control Elsa's powers- first using the solution of having her wear gloves and repeating the mantra of "Conceal it, don't feel it."
However, her parents are lost at sea and once she comes of age, for the first time since Anna almost died, the gates are open and people are let in for her coronation into Queen Elsa. At the coronation, Anna meets Prince Hans and it's love at first sight. However, when they go to ask Elsa for her blessing, Anna snatches one of Elsa's gloves and she panics, freezes everything, and runs up to the mountains where she builds an ice castle while singing a very catchy song that if I ever hear another four year old sing again, it'll be too soon.
Anna goes after her in the hopes of thawing the eternal winter, leaving Prince Hans in charge, and along the way meets mountain man Kristoff who agrees to help her find her sister. When she explains what happens, he too sides with Elsa on the Hans issue, leading to a charming duet ("What Do You Know About Love?") where the two get to know each other better, but still just don't quite agree on what love is.
When Anna finally reaches her sister, in a fit of emotion, Elsa hits her sister with an ice blast again- this time freezing her heart. Kristoff calls on the nomads to try and undo the blast, but they can't do it and instead are told that the only way to thaw a frozen heart is with "an act of true love"- like for example, true love's kiss. Now THIS is the Disney we all know. They go back to Arendelle, she kisses Hans and then they pair the spairs and get Elsa and Kristoff together. Boom, drop the mic, we're done, right?
Surprisingly, not right. Spoilers, but Hans was not her true love. In fact, after Kristoff delivered her back to the castle gates to be taken to Hans and was shut out himself, Hans actually locks her in a room to freeze to death so he can then execute the queen and seize the crown. Olaf, the sentient snowman created by Elsa, unlocks the door and relights the fire for her, despite her protests that he'll melt, and saying one of the movie's most iconic lines- "Some people are worth melting for."
Olaf convinces her that her true love is Kristoff, who is coming back across the frozen fjord (which is also where Elsa is running about and is the heart of the storm) for her, and convinces her to try to go to him. However, as she's crossing to try to get to him, she sees Prince Hans has caught up to Elsa and raised his sword against her. Instead of continuing to Kristoff, she diverts to throw herself between her sister and the sword, which shatters on impact with her frozen arm as that was her last action before freezing solid.
And then, as Elsa weeps at Anna's frozen stature, she begins to melt. The act of true love was not a romantic one at all, instead it's the one she showed for her sister. At the merch booth, they even sell matching necklaces for sisters. Anna and Kristoff kiss at the end, Elsa rules the kingdom without a man, and we all live happily ever after. But I'm left with a question... what defines "true" love? Earlier in the show, after she's been stricken, we see acts that are undoubtedly motivated by love- both Kristoff leaving her there and then returning through the deepest part of the storm to return to her, and Olaf willing to melt to try and warm up Anna.
Is the love of a friend lesser than that of a family member? Or is an act of true love something that must come from within, not be presented with? While I am absolutley for the overall message that women don't need to be saved by men, that she can be complete with her friends and family, the exact details are important to me. Not everyone has a family who's love for them is pure and true. The relationship I have with my best friend is the strongest I have in the world and I would die for him in a heartbeat, is that not true love?
Anna is wrong about a lot of things, because she's a well-written character with an amazing arc and acted beautifully (I saw both understudies, Aisha Jackson and Lauren Nicole Chapman when I went, but I'm sure Patti Murin is also fantastic.) but something she is wrong about, even in her own plot, is when she declares at the beginning of "What Do You Know About Love?" that "love is the one with thing with zero complications."
(Photo credit Deen van Meer)