Warning: The article below contains significant spoilers for Frozen 2.
When Frozen hit theaters in 2013, it was a game-changer of a Disney film in many ways. Both Elsa and Anna were inherently flawed in ways that children of all ages could relate to. Elsa with her powers that caused real consequences; Anna with her emotionally volatile personality after growing up mostly alone, devoid of human contact or family support. The movie subverted classic Disney tropes by making the handsome leading man not a love interest but an evil personality, while Elsa wasn’t a typical princess who wanted or needed a knight in shining armor to help her find her place in the world. And in a perfect twist, it was not romantic love, but the love between the two sisters that provided the magic needed to save Anna in her most dire moments.
I’m six years older than I was when I saw Frozen for the first time, and in a completely different place both literally and mentally. And I’m not the only one who has grown. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf have also matured and changed since we were first introduced to them. The themes of Frozen 2 are also darker and more mature because the characters are dealing with feelings and issues that come with growing into self-awareness and building on lessons learned in their younger years. Aging is unusual in animated film sequels, and it makes sense as to why. Children (and adults) will still latch onto the characters they’ve already fallen in love with, and they’ll still lose themselves in new songs that are usually set in familiar territory. Whereas we watch a movie like Harry Potter or a show like Stranger Things and focus immediately on how much the actors have changed, it’s easy to forget about the passage of time and hand wave the lack of growth—visually and emotionally—of characters who exist because they were drawn or computer-generated.
It’s significant that as Frozen 2 has shifted its aesthetic from icy winter to colorful fall, the characters, particularly Anna, have also moved from being frozen in their ways. In the first movie, Anna was the lovable, socially awkward, optimistic girl whose primary job was tied to being her sister’s keeper. The differences between Elsa and Anna were clear in the way we accepted them—we laughed at Anna stuffing her face with food and we felt empowered when Elsa built her ice palace. We rolled our eyes when Anna decided after five whole minutes that she would marry Hans and we felt sympathy when Elsa couldn’t even touch the people she loved without hurting them.
While both sisters are presented equally in Frozen, it’s not hard to feel that that Elsa gets more of the focus, from the song that won’t ever leave rotation on Spotify to the flashy, pronounced powers. At first glance, Frozen 2 looks like it’s destined to fall into that same pattern, making Elsa the focus of the film once again with the reveal that she’s the renowned “fifth element,” her powers giving her the key to unite the magical elements of water, fire, earth, and air so that she can bring together the still-feuding Northuldras and Arendellians. But it’s Anna who has the more significant journey, thanks to the movie allowing its characters to age.
When Anna learns the unsavory truth about her past—how her grandfather initiated the conflict between the Northuldras and the Arendellians and that the dam he presented the Northuldras with wasn’t actually gift of peace as much as it was his intent to sabotage their resources—she decides to destroy it, despite the fact that means destroying her own home. It’s a decision she makes alone, as she believes at the time that Elsa is dead. That fact is important because in the first movie, we watched Anna struggle with her codependency as someone who had to overcome the repercussions of growing up with and supporting a family member with mental illness.
But while Elsa eventually went on her hero’s journey of self-discovery, Anna wasn’t given a chance of that same kind of growth. In Frozen 2, we get to watch Anna focus on herself—who she is without Elsa, without Hans, and without the security of goodness that she always believed to be her family’s legacy. We see her hold tight to her codependency, but also face her own insecurities as well as her own mental health head on.
As I sat in the theater watching Anna struggle with her decision while singing her solo “The Next Right Thing,” I realized I wasn’t the only one who was still learning to do what feels right versus what others might think or expect. I wasn’t the only one who had the experience of long-held beliefs being challenged. While we can debate whether her decision to destroy the dam was the right one, Anna addressing her anxieties and making her own decisions makes her story more powerful.
Although Anna has grown older, she hasn’t lost the parts of her that made her lovable and endearing in the first place. She’s still sharply witty, and she’s still a silly girl at heart. But letting Anna age in Frozen 2 allows her to be a more self-realized protagonist, not only one who can control her own narrative but one who gets to take a bigger journey and leave more of an impact. It allows her to be more independent and secure in her choices. When the sisters go their separate ways at the end of the film, it’s the culmination of Anna’s growth over the past six years that allows her to assume her new role as Arendelle’s queen with confidence, maturity, and wisdom.
Elsa may sing the flashy songs and make the flashy ice palaces and hold the magical powers. But it’s Anna who is the heart and soul of a movie that, at its core, is about the fact that growing up means you can be flawed and still be someone worthy of love and improvement.
Featured Image: Disney