Frozen: What Went Wrong

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.

Vilhelm Pedersen illustration.
Gerda in The Snow Queen, Vilhelm Pedersen illustration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Troll dolls from the 70s.
Seriously, we did not need to animate these things.

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.

Elsa & Anna | Phone wallpaper
(Photo credit: chris.alcoran)

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?

Frozen Hans Doll
Frozen Hans Doll (Photo credit: fitzcharming)

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:

  1. Let Elsa be murdered while he struggles valiantly outside
  2. Avenge her by killing the henchmen
  3. Return home and report their treachery, verified by all the witnesses of the rescue party, ensuring his heroic welcome and continued regency
  4. Secure his position with Anna, if she ever turns up again, as the avenger of her beloved sister
  5. 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.

Anna and Kristoff Frozen Dolls
Anna and Kristoff Frozen Dolls (Photo credit: fitzcharming)

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.”

courtiers from FROZEN
“Oh, you say our beloved princess who was just carried into your room is now dead? Well, that’s a bummer. Okay, dude, you be king. We’re cool.”

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.

Opposing Views

Elsa, from Frozen

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.

Just, nope.

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.

Norwegian fjord horse
Norwegian Fjord horse

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.)

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  1. I think I can explain some of Hans’ actions and they all deal directly with the kingdom.

    When Elsa runs off she unleashes a blizzard on the kingdom in the middle of summer when it’s supposed to be warm not freezing. She didn’t mean to, it’s just that she has no clue how to control a power that she’s spent all her life till then suppressing and hiding. So finding Elsa becomes a top priority as everyone rather assumes that she can undo what she’s done. That’s part of why Anna chases after her (that and they’re sisters).

    Now when Elsa and Anna run off it would seem that Hans has been handed his goal on a silver platter. Except his prize is frozen over. He can’t really import or export anything through his harbor, and supposedly overland travel would be more hazardous (mountains to the north at least, and they mention fjords so it might be safe to assume the harbor is for the most part the only safe trade route). So when Anna supposedly disappears he of course has to pursue. Remember no one but Elsa knows that she can’t undo the blizzard at this time. This also would be the reason why he stops the two guys from killing her in the palace, since if they kill her then she can’t stop the blizzard.

    Fast forward to after he assumes control (and I agree, where the deuce is that regent or council?). Elsa admits that she can’t stop the blizzard. Hans probably is still kingdom minded in his new plan to kill Elsa (remember, frozen kingdom is just as bad as no kingdom). He comes up with a charge of treason against Elsa * so that he might be able to undo the blizzard himself. This would give him a dual advantage, the first being that the royal family all dead and the last act of them was giving him power. The second being that if it does undo the blizzard guess who the hero of the hour is?

    In the end Hans is sent home a criminal and branded as a kingdom wrecker. It might seem light a light sentence but if he gets to go visiting another kingdom (and that’s a big if) expect a super tight lease. He’ll be even less trusted by others now and quite possibly trade relations with Arendalle have been ruined by his actions. All this from someone who was merely going as a guest to a coronation.

    As for Weselton it’s actually just trade rights with Arendalle that was lost, we’ll assume other trade routes are ok (assuming that news doesn’t travel too fast). The Disney wiki also notes that the Duke of Weselton was only interested in exploiting trade with Arendelle and sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Plus consider that the Duke is technically ruler of his country, so he also controls how his country would trade with Arendelle. Just getting kicked out isn’t enough if he can then turn around and manipulate the trade markets anyway.

    Yes, there are some plot holes concerning the servants (were they even ordered not to interfere?), the fact that you can apparently be married in this country without the need of a priest (maybe a death bed exception?), Han’s plan somehow involving removal of a queen before it could possibly work (and this assumes that if you’re King by marriage you still could rule, otherwise add Anna to the hit list) and Kristoff’s acceptance of the need to stop the girl who could keep his ice business going no matter what season (though surely he has a summer job, right?). The trolls were funny but not really necessary and also too quick to hitch their adopted son off to the first girl he brings home, and Olaf is nice and naive but only there for comic relief.

    * Interesting that this charge of treason ignores that fact that Anna is technically the younger princess and that Elsa already was crowned queen. We might also infer from this charge that it’s a constitutional monarchy with no Divine Right of Kings, otherwise Elsa being charged with killing a younger sibling (or anyone for that matter) would not be a plausible reason for charging treason.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Matthew!

      You have a good point about stopping the blizzard; I admit I was surprised no one really voiced aloud the idea that killing Elsa might stop the magic she was perpetuating, which certainly should have been at least a point of discussion. But if Hans really thought that he needed Elsa alive to stop the blizzard, then sentencing her to death and trying to cut her in half is contra-indicated.

      Accusing Elsa of treason is legally plausible — she *has* trashed the kingdom! — but I don’t see how that would end the cold snap. And as he goes right on to try and kill Elsa, it seems he doesn’t, either and is going to try to end the spell by icing the ice mage.

      And sorry, but I still have a problem with a tight leash if Hans visits another kingdom being a suitable response for multiple murder attempts. I’m not big into retribution, but it does send kind of a bad message for Arendelle, y’know? “Go ahead and try to kill us, we don’t mind.” ;-) (On the other hand, that’s going to be a fascinating political scenario for the Southern Isles, so there’s your poli-intrigue fanfic opportunity!)

      Only the trade beteen Weselton and Arendelle was ended, yes, but that’s a big deal. I could have had an econ minor with just one more class (didn’t realize that until I was graduating) and the short version is, yanking all trade between even just two countries will have some major effects. But, Weselton’s guilty of bad stuff, so maybe that was necessary to make the point. I know the Wiki says he’s only interested in trade, not the crown, but seriously, killing the Queen over money is not really any better than killing her over politics. Just not sure why the same point wasn’t made re Hans.

      There were periods in European history when a couple could be married without an officiant, so I didn’t have a problem with that persisting in Arendelle. Hans was good there. :)

      And yes, I suspect a constitutional monarchy as well, given the period of regency before Elsa’s coronation, the charge of treason (against the state, not the monarch, for those who were confused by that), and other bits. Which is fine.

      Thanks for pushing back!

      • What other bits make you feel that Arendelle has a constitutional monarchy? :) I thought the same but other viewers said it had an absolute monarchy because the king was able to close the gates for years, Elsa was able to end trade relations, and Anna was able to put the kingdom in Hans’s hands (but this scene doesn’t make sense even if it was an absolute monarchy, really. That, and Elsa did have a regency period. If Anna is still a minor, she can’t put Hans in charge of anything! The regency council would apply to her, too! Some persons say Elsa was Princess Regent before coronation day but again, she was a minor; how can she be Princess Regent if the whole point is to babysit a kingdom when the heir is a minor or mental?)

        • >> What other bits make you feel that Arendelle has a constitutional monarchy? << Oh my gosh, I frankly don't remember. :) I haven't seen the film since that last comment in 2013. But how much the monarch can do in a constitutional monarchy does depend on the particular constitution involved. Unless someone has a copy of Arendelle's lying around for easy reference, we don't know that the monarch can't strongarm trade relations. It's not like there's been no executive overstepping in the USA for the last couple of years and the present day....

  2. The only possible reason I can think of for Hans creating the rescue party despite the opposition of the courtiers is his concern with how it’s going to look to everyone if he *does* agree to stay and leave both sisters lost. Assuming he at least wants to appear concerned for their fates, his other option is to create a rescue party headed by someone else — captain of the guard, one of the courtiers, whoever. That leaves whatever happens up in the mountains completely beyond his knowledge or influence, which means no opportunity for him to knock off one or both of them in the process and call it an accident.

    Which, we know, he doesn’t even when given a perfect opportunity. So basically I think it’s possible to explain his heading the rescue party, but you’re definitely right that his actions make very little sense overall.

  3. Coming a little late to this party but I just saw “Frozen” and I was also SUPER disappointed. The plot was good and had nice momentum and then after “Let It Go” it really did let it go. No more real plot, so much squished in it was really cohesive. I’m a HUGE Disney fan and this movie really dropped the ball in my opinion. No heart …. so sad. And yeah, beautiful cosplay ideas!

  4. I meant, ‘was not cohesive’. Because neither was my comment without the Was Not. Lol

  5. So here’s a spin: Hans is genuinely interested in Anna until she visits the trolls. The trolls want to marry her off to Kristoff, their adopted son, but she’s engaged. Hmmm.

    Are the trolls as benevolent as they seem? Could they have interfered with Hans’ feelings? After all, they are the LOVE experts. Could this explain Hans’ irrational behavior? Food for thought.

  6. Can I say thanks for writing your article. My daughter loves Frozen and so I have now seen it a few times!! It was a great piece but I confess I disagree about the treason comments above.

    In a monarchy kingdom Elsa could not be guilty of treason. Treason is not about THE state as that infers “the people”, it is to the monarch and representatives therefore. Also the film in no way demonstrates quite how Elsa in anyway commits a crime against herself (or even the state). Weselton and Hans are immediately guilty of quasi-treason in even commenting that Elsa has to be killed/deposed. However, technically as Hans and the Duke are not subjects of Queen Elsa then they are not committing treason as they are neither royal subject or citizen. But, as represenatives of their kingdom/duchy it could be argued they are both guilty of acts of war (by virtue of aggression to the Crown) and Elsa would be within her rights to see both men’s actions as acts of aggression to her and the Kingdom. Pragmatism might be such that it could be seen as unwise to execute both men as the Southern Isles and Weselton might then respond with full declaration of war. But, I found the lack of punishment for both men seriously unlikely, implausible and too unbelievable. This annoyed me.
    Other points you sensibly raise are about who is running the country. If Elsa runs off then running the country would not immediately pass to Anna. The Queens Council would have than likely have to make that decision. And Elsa would not be able to hand over power to Hans. European monarchies were temporarily run by a prime minister whilst a regent was arranged – not done overnight. They would have to look at the King’s siblings and uncles, cousins etc. I can not see any circumstances where Hans could be left running the country like that. Besides if control was not with a Royal it would have to be a subject/citizen of the Kingdom. In UK history the nearest contradiction to this is with William of Orange who, obviously, was a dutch national – but he was invited by the government after lots of councils and committees. He was also Royal (UK as well as Netherlands) – his mother was daughter of King Charles I.

    I can see the Prince being sent back to the Southern Isles to avoid blood shed but if the Duke is not a ruling Duke (of a Duchy state) then there I feel there’d be a good chance he’d be imprisoned. This was seen in the European Wars of the medieval period where Dukes fought in the military and were captured. There’d be a sizeable ransom expected for their return. The Duke’s henchmen wouldn’t be given such nice treatment though. They’d likely be executed pretty quickly. In the UK the Treachery Act was the alternative law used to prosecute “those who do not owe an allegiance to the King” – punishment was the same.

    My other big gripe is the supposed marriage of Hans and Anna and her death. I did swear at the screen shouting “rubbish” at this point. I’m not aware of a royal wedding that would ever have been recognised without witnesses and the fact no one questions it or when he says she’s died it was tosh. “she’s died” reply “oh ok” is humbug – and no one even checks except Olaf. And then they see her minutes later and don’t think “hang on”. It ruined it for me.
    Also king or queen consorts do not have any rights of power. It would have been in Hans’s interest to marry Anna properly and then use her as a puppet queen.

    The whole politics of the story suggest to me Disney do not understand the rules and traditions of monarch kingdoms.
    There’s a great example of this at the dance. At one point someone (i think duke of weselton) refer to Anna as “my lady”; she is a Royal Princess, not a wife of a Knight or Lord. She would, therefore, be address “Your Royal Highness” and then subsequently “Ma’am”.
    Also, at the coronation day presentation of the Queen, she is introduced as Queen Elsa of Arendelle. This too is incorrect. She would be introduced as Her Majesty, Queen Elsa. At the coronation ceremony they might refer to “of Arundelle” but a monarch when based in their own kingdom would not need the “of ……” element as it’s obvious. She would have the “of Arendelle “part if she was visiting another sovereign nation eg. Southern Isles as she is not Queen of there.

    • Thanks for chiming in!

      I think the definition of treason, at least as to state vs monarch, can vary by the individual state and monarchy, which is why we wondered straight monarchy or constitutional above. (Today’s Denmark, with Europe’s oldest monarchy, is looking to charge terrorists with treason as a crime against the state.) Given our lack of knowledge of Arendelle’s political history, we may never know to what precedents and laws Hans was appealing. Regardless, we can all agree that it was a pretty slapdash writing hack to blithely declare first Anna and then Hans in charge. William of Orange is a great example of how complex it would be in real life.

      “The whole politics of the story suggest to me Disney do not understand the rules and traditions of monarch kingdoms.”

      True! And while it isn’t a huge problem when the kingdom is just a backdrop for setting, it’s a much bigger issue when politics is the plot.

      There’s a very real divide in American understanding between fairy tale politics and actual functioning monarchies. :) And I am frequently frustrated when I read books which were apparently researched by watching Disney movies instead of reading up on historical monarchies. Grrr.

  7. In the case of this movie, the needs of the story prevailed over reason. Elsa, Anna, Hans, and Kristoff needed to all be alive on the frozen lake so that Anna could make the decision to sacrifice herself. Hans had to go retrieve Elsa because, without some major character development, she was not going to come down the mountain on her own. He had to attempt to kill her so that Anna could commit her selfless act. In the end, he gets a bucket on his head because there has to be justice for the villain, and Disney was not going to end a movie for children with an execution.

    • Yep, I understand the need for a compelling climax. My point is just that it’s a lot more compelling when it makes sense, and it’s the job of the writers to make sure everyone ends up in the right place for the right reason. Force Hans to go retrieve Elsa because she’s not coming back without some major character development? What if we perhaps developed her character instead? Made her a real threat to Hans, so the final conflict was scarier, a clash of two mighty and motivated forces, and couldn’t be stopped by a single guy picking up his head and saying, “Hey, guys, he actually can’t do this?”

      Having three people totally committed to their different and conflicting paths would make an awesome climax and could still allow an act of selfless love to be the centerpiece.

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