"Love Will Thaw": Why Disney's 'Frozen' is a Metaphor for Mental Illness

February 28, 2014
*Warning – This post contains spoilers*

Tonight I finally watched Frozen. For months now the latest Disney Princess film has been the subject of Tumblr’s obsessive affection. So I knew it was going to be a good watch, but what they neglected to mention was that it would make me cry within the first 10 minutes. It wasn’t like Up, I wasn’t openly presented with the reason that I was crying. It wasn’t until halfway through the sweet little number of ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ that I even realised why I was crying. Elsa accidentally hurts younger sibling Anna with her icy powers and is hidden away by her parents, who believe Elsa is cursed. This is a horrible move by her parents, because instead of loving and accepting her for who she is, they make her feel inferior and that she is wrong. They hide the power away from Anna, for fear of hurting her again, which is also wrong as they end up hurting her more. I believe Anna would truly accept Elsa for who she is, and together as sisters they could help Elsa realise that she not all bad or dangerous, that she too can create beautiful things. Instead she is excluded from her, hidden in her room. It then started to occur to me that these magical powers were a metaphor for mental illness – let’s call it depression. A sneaky Google search affirms that I am not the only one who thinks this way, though some people believe it could relate to a disability (I’d like to make it clear that I didn’t read anything – I didn’t want it to influence me). But the way I interpreted it was depression, and it’s my blog and this is my view on things.

I, like many other people have suffered with bouts of depression throughout my short lifetime. I’m not trying to portray myself as some ‘special snowflake’ (excuse the pun), I’m just sharing my experience with you. In the scene I just spoke about, there is a heartbreaking moment where Anna is trying to spend time with her sister and is left dejected at the door, thinking that Elsa is shutting her out because there’s something wrong with her (Anna) but on the other side of the door, Elsa is also sitting there feeling upset. It pans out to show her room which is entirely frozen (a product of her own anger/sadness) and it is clear that she didn’t want Anna to see what she’d done. This is what depression feels like, and I’d like to thank Disney for putting it so beautifully. Unfortunately in real life the other side of the door is not always quite so picturesque – you never know what you might find. A dishevelled bedroom, bloodied wrists (don’t worry Mum, that was never me), but my point is that no matter who is knocking at the door - be it a doting parent bearing a cup of tea, or sweet little Anna simply wanting to play with the sister she loves - it can be extremely difficult to let anyone in.

Elsa runs away into the mountains and builds a beautiful castle made of ice, and it is here that she thrives. I think for the first time she realises that she can create beautiful things, that this is not a curse. You could also regard this as a metaphor for a safe-haven created in her mind. She is alone and in charge, not having to worry about embarrassing her family, or indeed hurting them. She is free. I think this is sad because she has been made an outcast by her parents at such a young age, so she believes that this is where she belongs. Anna tries to reach out to her by entering her ice-castle but Elsa is so scarred by her childhood blunder that she won’t let her stay. She believes that she is damaged goods and belongs far away and alone. To me this is another parallel with depression. When you are shrouded in your black cloud you can often feel that you are not good enough for anyone, that you don’t deserve to have love in your life, no matter how hard someone may try to show you that they care. This intrusion makes Elsa angry and in a fit of rage she lashes out and accidentally freezes Anna’s heart. This could be compared to how depression can start to take toll on the people around you, no matter how much they love and try to support you. Anna’s hair starts to turn white as she freezes slowly, which in my eyes shows how this could really affect the people around you, you think it’s just contained within you but when someone approaches you with an open heart something is bound to get inside. Anna is Elsa’s younger sister, and I’d hate to think of my little sister being badly influenced through one of my downward-spiral turns. I wouldn’t want her to be hurt. The same goes for my surrogate sister Katie. When we were living together we constantly struck each other down – you could call it PMS or perhaps something more, but when one of us was suffering, it definitely took toll on our relationship. We dragged each other down but the special thing about friendship is that you can also pull each other back up. And this is what brings me to my next point.

This is where I feel Disney really got it right. OK, so to save Anna’s frozen heart an act of true love must be performed. Stay with me here. She is told that “only an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart”, so naturally Anna is racing down the mountain to reach her betrothed for a ‘true love’s kiss’ which we have seen many-a-time demonstrated in all our favourite fairy tales – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, to name a few. At this point I’m (and I’m sure half the audience were) secretly hoping for another route. Anyway, her ‘true love’ turns out to be a total arsehole which leaves her finally realising her feelings for ‘the other guy’ - the kind-hearted friend who we were all rooting for, and Anna tries to find him to seal it with a kiss. Something in my stomach is still hoping Disney will listen to my internal pleading, and with a teary fist pump, my wish is fulfilled. You got it, estranged Else realises how much she loves her sister and Anna is saved. This is definitely a thousand steps in the right direction for Disney, a long cry from the damsel in distress, and even a considerable few steps away from the hotly-debated Amazonian strong archetype heroine. 

Depression can be crushing, there’s no doubt about it. But sooner or later something will happen that will make you realise the beauty around and inside of you. And never, ever underestimate the power and importance of family and friends – it just might take a while for you to get there. Don’t give up, and remember that you don’t need a Prince Charming to come and save the day. And whether or not the film was intended to be interpreted in this way – Disney… you nailed it.


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