Disney’s latest release, Frozen, had piqued my curiosity from the moment I came to know that it has been adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Snow Queen”. This tale, where the brightest summer colours swirl beside the iciest white, is one of my favourites, not the least because it features, among others, a wayward princess who is so clever that she has read all the newspapers in the world and forgotten them again. On watching the movie, I found that my princess, has, expectedly, been edited out — she is part of the many subplots in the story as it is. But Queen Elsa, the ‘snow queen’ in the movie, retains the spirit of her character, although in a less droll form.
However, I did not like Frozen because of the correspondences, or their lack, between Andersen’s fairytale and the movie. Frozen marks a departure so far as Disney animations are concerned. Gone is the coy heroine who flutters her eyelashes at Prince Charming. But Queen Elsa is also no Princess Fiona — the green ogress who marries Shrek the ogre in the Shrek movies. The chief identity of this pretty, pale-blonde girl is that of an artist, and she is marked out as an outcast because of her talent, which isolates her from the average. The moral that takes shape as the story progresses, about how an act of true love can melt a frozen heart, seems more like confetti thrown for the movie’s target audience, the peanut-crunching children, when compared to the wild and exhilarating celebration of Elsa’s liberation once she gives in to her powers. There is also a very un-childish discourse at the centre of the movie about how parents mess up their children’s lives.
Elsa, born with the powers of commanding the snow and making art out of it, accidentally hurts her little sister, Anna, when they play in the shadowy glow of the Northern Lights in their castle. A touch of ice thus enters Anna’s head, who is “ordinary” (“in a good way”), as opposed to her brilliant sister. Thereafter, Elsa is kept locked up by her parents so that she cannot harm anybody else with her powers. The freeze on her feelings and freedom immediately kills Elsa’s childhood and marks her out to her own self as damaged goods. The adult Elsa’s ‘thawing’ is also an act of breaking out of the image her parents had fitted her into. It happens once she accepts her difference as a gift rather than as a curse. She gets back her belief in her artistic abilities that is reinforced by the faith of Anna, who has never suspected her sister of having a black heart. (The firm bond between the sisters that is pivotal to the film says that Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters are now passé.)
When read alongside the fairytale, Elsa, or the Snow Queen, with the perfect symmetry of her ice crystals, represents the frigidity of intelligence, the gift of which also carries the danger of making the bearer slide into narcissism, because she is likely to view the rest of the population as being goldfish-brained. Hence my favourite newspaper-reading princess in the story declared triumphantly that she could marry only herself since no prince she met could converse sensibly with her. (She gets one, but reportedly sleeps in a separate bed, shaped like a white lily, while the prince sleeps in a red-lily bed.) Full of references to flowers, especially the crimson rose, “The Snow Queen” is also the story of the flower with canker, Blake’s sick rose, although, quite fascinatingly, it is the boy, Kay, who is deflowered by the dark knowledge that the white Snow Queen brings.
Frozen, being officially a children’s movie, eliminates the sexual aspects, of course. Queen Elsa does not get a boyfriend, let alone a husband, although that may well be because no man is good enough for her. The repressed sexual potentials are hinted at in the song hummed by the men breaking up ice for trade, with which the film opens. Here the men, who are very ‘male’, with their bulky bodies and gruff voices, sing of mining the “frozen heart” in Old Norse beat: “Strike for love and strike for fear/ See the beauty sharp and sheer/ Split the ice apart.” After the aggression comes the admission: “Ice has a magic [which] can’t be controlled/ Stronger than one, stronger than ten/ Stronger than a hundred men.”