By: Casey Wilson
In the months since Frozen’s release, we’ve seen many discussions about what it does differently than most Disney movies: the importance of the sisterly bond, the way the movie mocks notions of insta-love, the multiple ways Elsa’s anthem “Let It Go” can be interpreted. All of these topics have made for meaty conversations about what we expect from our animated films – particularly our Disney princess films – and how Frozen does (and, at times, does not) challenge those expectations.
What I haven’t seen discussed – at least, not with quite the same forcefulness – is how the film defines “true love.” As the end of the movie approaches, it becomes clear that the only way to save Anna, the younger of the two princesses in the film, is through an “act of true love.” This is, after all, a Disney film.
When Anna learns of this news, she makes an assumption that would be supported by most previous Disney movies: that her solution will be an act of true romantic love, and she goes racing back to the man to whom she is engaged. (A man who she had met, fell in love with, and gotten engaged to all in the same night. As any Disney princess worth her salt would do.) In a typical Disney film, the “twist” would be that her true love is the man who has been at her side throughout the film – the scruffy, smelly Kristoff. And indeed, Anna ends the film with Kristoff rather than her previous suitor.
But Frozen offers viewers a different twist. Instead of the act of true love involving either of Anna’s suitors, it involves her sister, Elsa. This is the filmmaking choice that has garnered arguably the most attention since the film’s release, in that it makes the (sadly) bold move of valuing family – and more significantly sisterhood – over romantic love. Anna has the choice between running to Kristoff and running to Elsa, and she chooses Elsa.
I would argue, however, that the biggest and most subversive element of that choice has largely gone undiscussed. When we talk about the importance of the sisterly bond and how that is the relationship that the film values most, we risk losing sight of the fact that the act of true love that saves Anna is an act that Anna herself makes. In short, Frozen gives Anna agency.
This is a marked shift because Frozen, unlike previous Disney films, states that the princess does not have to wait for true love to come to her. She does not have to make herself the perfect vessel for receiving true love, and she does not have to wonder who might be able to give her that love. Anna is not Aurora, waiting for the Prince’s kiss to awake her in Sleeping Beauty. She is not even Giselle in Enchanted, blathering on about the importance of true love’s kiss. She does not learn this lesson immediately, true. When Anna learns of her fiance’s true nature, she is left to despair and to wonder if she is loved at all. But the film’s resolution pushes us to realize that, ultimately, that’s the wrong question to ask.
It doesn’t matter if someone is truly in love with Anna, because Anna is fully capable of loving and giving love of her own free will. When she throws herself in danger to protect her sister in the film’s climactic moment, she does so because she loves Elsa. She loves Elsa so much that she will risk her own life, so much that she will forget all the anger that had grown up between them, so much that she will love her even if Elsa doesn’t love her back. In that moment, Anna realizes that true love can be given, not just received.
And that may be the most powerful statement that Frozen could possibly make.