Frozen Is a Romance

I still maintain that Frozen, at the very least the first film, is a romantic film, and that the plot at the core of Frozen was lifted lock, stock and barrel from the classic formula for a romantic story.

The modern definition of a romance story isn't about sex. It's a love story between two people each of whom, initially, has a strong reason to avoid being in a relationship with anyone, especially the other person, and then, through the course of the plot, which often involves external antagonists that force them to work together, they understand that they belong together.

At the core of every romance plot is a trope called mask and essence. The mask is the face each character wears at the beginning of the story. It's made of family, history, circumstance, and persona. Each character wears his or hers, reluctantly or enthusiastically. Through the trials and tribulations of the plot, each character's mask starts to slip and he or she is exposed to the other. As each character starts to see the essence under the other's mask, they fall further and further into love. A good writer will be able to reveal the essence of one character to the audience before she does to the other character, so we can root for both to see that the two characters belong together, and always have.

This is literally the meta-plot of Frozen. Elsa not only has a mask, she has a whole damn song about it ("For the First Time in Forever, Reprise", which is where the "Conceal, don't feel" bit comes from) and she has literal clothing for it (her gloves). Anna's mask is about being the wounded sister, the one who had to bury her parents alone. Through the task of solving the twin tribulations of trying to control Elsa's powers and the machinations of Hans, Anna and Elsa's masks begin to slip and they realize that they belong together, as family and as the people responsible for the well-being of Arendelle. Each has to struggle to see the other's essence under the mask.

Anna knows there's a mask and wants to know what's under it ("My sister's not a monster"), but Elsa is terrified, justifiably, that her essence, for all her goodwill, is also murderous ("Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free"). This is the romantic struggle at the heart of Frozen; everything else is just decoration.

And it's literally signaled at the end of the film. Every romance features a scene where the two characters together face the antagonist and defeat it. It isn't until Anna and Elsa agree to see each other for who her sister really is, how brave, how wonderful, how giving, determined, loving, and courageous, no matter how terrified, that Anna gets to deliver the coup de gras of a solid, knockout punch to Han's nose, and Elsa gets an important measure of control over her powers. The masks are down, and their essences as people who love each other and will support each other are revealed.

This isn't about sex. I mean, the closeness of Anna & Kristoff's relationship in Frozen 2 strongly signals that Anna's probably not a virgin and has figured out she's straight ("Some Things Never Change"), and her relationship with Kristoff is loving but not "romantic" in the literary sense; the two of them have talked a lot in the six years since the incidents in Frozen. (The whole presentation of Kristoff as neither threatened nor inspired to salaciousness by Anna & Elsa's closeness is one of the best parts of the movie. No, really.) Anna knows what she wants out of a lover, Kristoff fits the bill, and she understands that what's really important is their mutual willingness to work at it over time. It's an alternative path to love that's just as healthy as any "soulmate" story could be, and it's important that Anna's relationships with her sexual partner is one the where the communication came without any interpersonal crisis.

None of that applies to what's going on between her and Elsa. They're family, and circumstance gave each of them reasons to leave the other behind ("Then leave!"). But each refused. Their essence drove them together.

Psychologists tell us the difference between friendship and love is that friends have something in common outside of each other that they focus on, while for lovers the focus is on each other. Elsa and Anna are in a liminal place in between: their caring focus is on each other, but that focus is informed by their common bond of loving parents they'll always mourn and a kingdom they must rule. Anna & Kristoff is on each other, but their essences were clear from the beginning, there was never a mask to see behind, so there's no struggle there between them, only within them, a struggle well-resolved by the ending of Frozen 2.

Anyway, that's my take. Frozen is a romance plot about two sisters, each of whom has every reason to hate, fear or reject the other, discovering that actually her sibling is a person worthy of her attention, love, and familial belonging, and if doing painful self-work is what it takes, then that work is worth doing.

Earlier: Review: And Shall Machines Surrender, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Later: Romance Is Science Fiction