Okay, I’m gonna pull some hate for this one, I know. But.
Disney’s Frozen could have been amazing, but its script got in the way and made it, not a glittering glorious castle of ice, but that splashy muddy sludge left after snow melts. It had good moments, but given its individual parts, the sum should have been much better.
I’m not even talking about the internet rage at the de-feminizing of The Snow Queen, a fairy tale which featured a nearly entirely female cast and a girl actually rescuing a boy. I’m talking purely internal plot problems. And yeah, there’s gonna be lots of spoilers ahead, so be warned.
So Much Potential
There was a ton of potential for this film. Because ice powers are really cool, and I’ll suspend a metric ton of disbelief if you show me pretty elemental battles. And I quite liked the ice-cutters’ song which opens the film; too bad we never see them (or their style) again.
Setting up Elsa with the enormous pressure of hiding her magic — Why? Did the populace fear it? — and protecting her sister was not a bad start, either.
(Though I could have done without the trolls. And okay, if we had to have trolls, why not cool Scandinavian trolls? Why refugee druggie trolls from the 70s?)
So we have two sisters forced into isolation, each desperate for the other but unable to connect. Great potential, let’s run with it! This is a story with depth, more about family and relationships and less about over-the-top villains and romance. Let’s do this.
And when Elsa loses control, first horrified by her power and then embracing it in “Let It Go,” well, that was the high point of the film. It wasn’t as powerful as some other Disney moments, but like I said, build me a glorious ice castle and I’ll follow you almost anywhere. Now we have an amazingly powerful ice queen! Bring it on.
But the problem with hitting the high point so early is that then it’s all downhill.
But We Had a Government, Didn’t We?
I had a friend obliquely spoil the role of Hans for me (“I won’t say who, but he turns out to be the villain” — well, that’s not obvious), so I was able to peg his villainy within a few seconds of his appearance. And knowing his ploy and his goal, his actions throughout the film make absolutely no sense.
Hans plans to seduce a naive girl — he later calls her “desperate” — into marriage and kill her elder sister. This much he says explicitly, and we can infer that he would need to kill Anna too, after their wedding, because clearly this country recognizes female monarchs and he wants to be king, not consort. So we’re looking at a man planning a political seduction and one, probably two murders.
The country has been running just fine since the death of the king and queen, even obviously prospering enough to be envied by rival trading powers. So there’s got to be a council or a regent or someone who’s kept everything ticking along in order the last few years. But when things get out of hand, Princess Anna inexplicably hands control of the country to a foreigner she’s just met.
This is Hans’ dream come true. Elsa gone, Anna gone, the entire kingdom delivered to him. Now all he has to do is keep it. Sweet! And yes, it will take some politicking, but he’s up to that. Certainly easier than two murders of very public figures, right? So Hans sets about currying favor with the populace by handing out goods. Oh, this is gonna be easy. And then Anna is reported missing.
A lesser man would have considered his job done, but Hans is still partially clever at this point. No point in leaving live things around where they might come back to haunt you, right? So he sets up a “rescue party” (maybe gonna be awkward to flub that rescue in front of witnesses, but surely he’ll find a way) and heads into the mountains.
And then he must ride his horse under the Stupid Tree and bang his head on the lowest branch or something.
Hans, What Were You Thinking?
Remember, the courtiers at home were urging him not to go into the wild but to stay and run the country. Exactly what he wants. But instead, he puts himself in personal danger fighting a snow monster, nearly losing not only his cushy regency but also his life — for no other reason than deceiving the audience, which is a jerk thing to do, writers.
And he realizes that the first two to make it inside are the Weselton henchmen, apparently trying to kill Queen Elsa. He could not have planned this better himself! Now his way is clear:
- Let Elsa be murdered while he struggles valiantly outside
- Avenge her by killing the henchmen
- Return home and report their treachery, verified by all the witnesses of the rescue party, ensuring his heroic welcome and continued regency
- Secure his position with Anna, if she ever turns up again, as the avenger of her beloved sister
- Optional but likely: Knock off Anna when convenient, considerably more secure in manufacturing a single fatal “accident” instead of two
But nope, Hans brings Elsa back to the city, again for no other reason than deceiving the audience. What is he profited by returning her? Nothing. He’s regent, exactly as he was before.
(I will grant that once Elsa was kicking the assassins’ butts, the above became a less attractive plan. But he could have at least let them try while he fought the snow golem with the others instead of hurrying after them to intervene.)
I was pointed to an article (more from it below) explaining that this choice bought him “big bonus points” in Queen Elsa’s eyes. Well, yes, I guess. Except that he doesn’t need bonus points in Elsa’s eyes, he needs Elsa dead. Has been planning it from the beginning. He had the perfect scenario, complete with convenient guilty party, and he didn’t take it.
So then Princess Anna is returned — no, well, first she goes to see the “love experts” trolls who try to marry her to the second guy she’d known less than a day, sheesh, after Kristoff used them to argue why Anna shouldn’t have gotten engaged so quickly. Then she’s returned to the city and delivered into the literal hands of Hans.
And Hans plays his full house of stupid. Everyone knows Anna’s near death, and he himself expects she won’t last more than a few minutes. But he can’t be bothered to play out the suitor role that long. Nope, he opts to monologue instead. And then he locks her in the room and walks away, without thinking that even one of the half-dozen people who carried her in might want to check on her or wonder why he walked away so quickly.
But if he’d kissed her and she’d died, everyone would know he didn’t love her, right?
Nope. The only other people who knew that Anna needed an act of true love were the trolls (mercifully off-screen and wholly out of Hans’ ken), Kristoff (whom Hans didn’t know about), and Anna herself. No one would have known about his lie. Not that it mattered at that point, because he was already regent.
Remember how earlier he went into the mountain, despite courtiers asking him to stay and be regent, to make sure there were no loose ends or living heirs to the throne? Now he can’t even be bothered to wait ten minutes to confirm her all-resolving death. Better to hope no one remembers the dying princess they just carried in and instead go tell a lie which can be so easily verified.
“Hey, councilors and courtiers, your princess is dead. And she married me first. And I accuse the queen of treason and sentence her to death.”
And all the courtiers (and the duke from Weselton, oddly also in this inner-government scene) say, “Man, darned shame about the princess. Yeah, let’s totally not go to honor to the body or stop the clocks or, you know, pick her up for a state funeral or anything. We don’t mourn in this country. And accuse and sentence the queen in one line of dialogue? Yeah, we’re okay with that too.”
Okay, maybe Hans wasn’t so wrong in underestimating them.
But still, it would have been ridiculously easy to let Anna really die, even stage a deathbed wedding if he’d wanted one, or get Anna to officially name him heir (grab any of those waiting nearby as witnesses to either). But nope, had to monologue instead.
So then Elsa escapes and flees. Again. And if Hans had been checking his scorecard, he’d have seen that his every interaction with Queen Elsa has been her running away from him and trying to avoid people. She can’t come back even if she wanted to, because he’s already accused/sentenced her (to save time). And he’s already regent and already accepted as new ruler without question by the council of people-who-don’t-even-live-in-this-country. So why does he chase her and taunt her and try to stab her? I seriously have no freaking clue.
You have what you want. You won. Go home, Hans. You won. There is no reason to again risk personal injury or death just to… oh, never mind.
So Hans goes out and taunts the crazy-powerful snow queen who frosted an entire kingdom and froze the fjord and built an ice palace — seriously, have you thought about the kind of energy transfer we’re talking about here, Hans?! — and tries to kill her. So she can’t run away and leave him to be king, and instead he can be… king.
And then Anna commits her act of true love, which I actually approve of far more than her kissing the other guy she’d only just met. And then the courtiers watching from the balcony, who a moment ago were all like, Yay, kill the queen! now all cheer as Hans is punched in the face, forgetting that the queen just might ask why they blithely agreed to make him king while Elsa was in chains and Anna was dying without anyone even bothering to look in on her.
In the end, Anna doesn’t get friends and an education of the world, she gets a romance with Kristoff. (That’s okay, but that’s not all she needs, y’know?) Kristoff gets a fancy new sledge for his ice business, except that Queen Elsa has totally put him out of work because she’s making ice for free in the town square. The reindeer Sven gets to pose like a bikini model on the new sledge. (Really, Disney, what was that about?) Elsa comes out best of all, queen of a country that no one will ever invade or insult.
Hans? Our stupid, bedraggled Hans? He gets away with attempted regicide, attempted murder, lying to the council about the death of the princess, lying to the council about his marriage to the princess and his right to rule. He gets sent home. Yep, that’s it. While the Duke of Weselton, possibly for his attempted regicide (we never see if his henchmen are charged or if the crime is laid at Weselton’s feet) and probably for his attendance among the courtiers of Arendelle, gets his entire kingdom punished in trade, likely harming two whole populations.
Why Does It Matter?
If a villain does not present a credible threat, the hero — or heroine — does not achieve a credible victory.
If Disney had made the story wholly about overcoming society or personal anxiety, Elsa and Anna could have won out on their own. If the danger is Hans and his plot to take the throne, and he’s inept, they don’t have to do as much to win. It diminishes their work.
But this is my opinion, and there are others out there.
Weselton got the worst ending of the film, losing trade rights for his entire kingdom (and having to go home and face the result). But he didn’t really deserve that! Per The Disney Wiki itself, “the Duke of Weselton is in no way heartless or evil.”
Except for that part where he orders his men to join the rescue party so they can kill Queen Elsa. You know, that might be a little heartless, a touch evil.
Now, the Disney Wiki says, “Hans’ most powerful trait is quite possibly his vast intelligence.” And this article says Hans’ entire character was “absolutely BRILLIANT writing and character development/psychology.”
Sorry, no, gonna have to disagree. Not only because of everything above, but because of this:
I do think that he has redeeming qualities, and that he might have been at least a sympathetic ruler to the people [of] Arendelle. Personally, I’m of the opinion that he was actually a semi-decent person who was so desperate for power and control that things kind of got out of hand….
Okay, yes, I think everyone has redeeming qualities. But let’s not forget that Hans’ PLAN A was to seduce a “desperate” naive girl into matrimony, then kill her sister, and probably then do something about Anna so he could assume the throne in place of his wife. Right? And then Plan B was to taunt and verbally abuse a dying girl instead of playing his suitor deception along those final few minutes? I’m not getting the “sympathetic” vibe here.
So the author is saying, Yeah, Hans was a decent guy who was only playing a girl for political advantage and, you know, planning regicide, but THEN things got out of hand, poor brilliant him.
Things That Are Right
But the movie isn’t all wrong. It is gorgeous (again, I’m a sucker for elementals) and has really nice character design. I predict a ton of cosplay, and I’d be doing Elsa myself if I weren’t so disappointed in the film.
As the characters rode up the mountain, my husband leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s a fat horse.” And I answered, “Nope, that’s a Norwegian Fjord, and they really are chunky with two-toned manes. It’s the most accurate thing in the film.” If you want to see some examples of what their unusual black and white stand-up manes can be trimmed into, check out this page.
And I liked, as I said, the “Let It Go” song and sequence. I just wish the movie had stuck to its original problem — the estranged sisters — rather than shoehorning in an inept villain.
Okay, still here and disagree? Prove me wrong! Comments welcome.
(Last year about this time I dissected The Rise of the Guardians. I wasn’t planning on making an annual critique of a ice-mage film, but we’ll see what next year brings.)