Sunday, March 22, 2015

Through An Introvert's Lens: Frozen

Yes, another article about Disney's Frozen.  At least it's relevant, given the recent premiere of the Frozen Fever short and the announcement that there will be a Frozen 2.

While Queen Elsa's character in Frozen has often been compared to a lesbian coming out of the closet, her embrace of her icy powers could be metaphorical in other ways.  One such way could be an introvert learning to embrace her true nature... or conversely, learning to become an extrovert.

Can Elsa's character arc be read either way?  To begin with, is Elsa an introvert?  Introverts are typically:

  • reserved
  • interested in big ideas rather than small talk
  • needs to be alone to replenish after socializing
  • thinks before he/she speaks
  • prefers to observe rather than be the center of attention

Some of this would definitely apply to Elsa both pre-Trauma (nearly killing her sister) and post-Trauma.  Even early innocent Elsa was more reserved than Anna, and she seemed more inclined to think about consequences than her sister.  Apart from that, we didn't see enough of pre-Trauma Elsa to extrapolate much else.

Post-Trauma Elsa is where it gets interesting.  She's so reserved, she rarely expresses her feelings.  She chooses her words very carefully.  Before she "lets it go," she needs to be alone to keep her powers under control, and afterward, she chooses to be alone in order to truly be herself.  I think it's safe to say that Elsa was and is an introvert.  The question is what message the movie is trying to convey about introversion.

Message No. 1: Be Yourself and Don't Hide Away

That seems to be the most straight-forward message from the movie.  Elsa should be allowed to show off her ice powers and have a relationship with her beloved sister Anna.  It seems to be the message the movie wants to convey.

And yet, what does it say that Elsa alone creates a spectacular ice castle, while Elsa in society seems content to merely create a public ice rink?  In fact, Elsa's happiest discovery in the movie seems to be that she can make the effects of her ice powers go away.

Message No. 2: Limit Your Unique Abilities to Be Socially Acceptable

Newly Fulfilled Elsa discovers that love can thaw ice, so through loving her sister, she frees her realm from perpetual winter.  It's certainly not a bad message, and Elsa learns that her ice powers don't control her.  Yet it never quite seems like she learns to control them.  Moreover, if Frozen Fever is anything to go by, Elsa's ice powers are still treated as a barrier to Elsa having a normal life.  Elsa plans a great birthday party for her sister and catches a cold, as people do, but her sneezes turn into party-wrecking gremlins.  Oops!

Message No. 3: You Gotta Join the Normals, Elsa!

It's significant that Elsa is not the main character of Frozen, but rather the extroverted Anna.  Like the rest of the realm, she just doesn't "get" what's up with Elsa, though in her case, there is an emotional component.  Yet the movie's journey is not about her learning to appreciate Elsa's uniqueness (to the movie's credit, she has no fear of Elsa's abilities), but rather Elsa coming down from the mountain and learning to socialize.  Elsa learns to loosen up and be with other people, and finds that her subjects still love her, at least as long as her ice powers are limited to snow flurries and ice rinks.

So is Frozen saying that the introverted Elsa should learn to be extroverted in order to be happy?  Is it saying she should keep the unique talents she cultivated bottled up in order to fit in?

Honestly, I'm not sure.

One way to sort out Frozen's attitude toward introverts is to look at how it treats another introvert, Kristoff.  Early on, Kristoff seems perfectly content to live out in the wilderness with his reindeer pal, with occasional visits to his friends the "love experts."  By the end of the movie, even though he enters a relationship with Anna, there's no sense that Kristoff has really changed.  I could see him still living on his own in the wilderness, swooping in on Arendelle now and then to date Anna.  I also don't get the sense that Anna expects him to be someone else.  Meanwhile, a more seemingly extroverted character, Hans, is the villain.

Overall, it's probably tough to draw specific conclusions about Frozen's attitude toward introversion.  Maybe the wisest conclusion is one that cuts down the middle: Frozen thinks it's okay to go off by yourself and "let it go," but too much alone time never suited anyone, and even the most introverted person needs connections to other people.  It's hard to argue with such sentiments, but it still raises the question of whether characters like Elsa give up too much in the process of forming connections.  I guess that's for Frozen 2 to answer.


Number of Introverts: At least two.

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Yes.

Is the Introvert Active?: Yes.

How Do Other Characters Treat the Introvert?:  Pretty well, surprisingly.  Arendelle still accepts Elsa as their queen despite her unexplained absence for three years.  Once she returns from the mountain, they embrace her.  Anna treats Kristoff's introversion like a facet of his personality as opposed to something he should change. 

The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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