“Frozen 2” Review: Elsa Gets Mommy Issues Instead of a Girlfriend

Three weeks after Donald Trump was elected president I went to see Disney’s Moana. It made me smile for the first time since the election and cry for the hundredth. A few months later, I came out as trans and the movie’s power ballad, “How Far I’ll Go” became my private little trans anthem. There was something about the simplicity of a Disney “I want” song that captured my intense feelings.

But the voice inside sings a different song/What is wrong with me?

I’m certainly not the first queer person to project their coming out onto a Disney musical. Some people watched Pinocchio and wished to be a real boy. Others watched The Little Mermaid and longed to be part of that world. Many, many watched Mulan and wondered when their reflection would show who they were inside.

But none of these movies, not Moana, not even Mulan, elicited the same queer uproar as Frozen. By 2013, the possibility of a gay Disney movie didn’t feel as far-fetched as it might have ten years prior. Mainstream LGBTQ+ acceptance was moving at a rapid pace, at least when it came to palatable queerness, and what was more palatable than a white cis femme snow queen?

While certainly unintended by its straight co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and its straight co-songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Frozen works remarkably well as a queer allegory. Its power is not simply that Elsa reads as queer. It’s the specificity of her queerness, and her struggles with that queerness, that really make it sing.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see/Be the good girl you always have to be

Frozen is not about Elsa falling in love with another woman. And it’s not just about her feeling different and learning to accept that difference. What Frozen is really about is the guilt queer people feel when coming out – the feeling that being ourselves will hurt the ones we love most. Elsa and her sister Anna make me think about my own family members that told me again and again how hard my coming out was on them. When I watch the sisters hug at the end of the movie I feel a possibility for healing – the stuff of fairy tales, but comforting all the same.

I didn’t expect Frozen 2 to give Elsa a girlfriend, despite the widespread internet campaign. I was far more worried that the perfect allegory of the first film would be ruined with the opposite. I was worried they’d give her a boyfriend. Thankfully the sequel did not make that misstep, but it makes another that’s more complicated, and, in its own way, equally painful. It doesn’t erase the magic of its predecessor, but it strips itself of its own potential.

If Disney wasn’t ready to explicitly represent a fifth of its young audience, they could’ve at least given Elsa a gal pal. I don’t need to see Elsa make out with the mysterious voice calling her to the next chapter of queer life, but lord did it have to be her mother?

The plot of the sequel is both convoluted and familiar. Elsa is feeling another swirling storm inside and unleashes the power of the nearby enchanted forest. It was closed for decades – ever since her father narrowly escaped as a teen after a mysterious disaster. With the magic forces freed, Arendelle has become unlivable, and Elsa, along with Anna, her boyfriend Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and their snowman Olaf, must venture into the mystery. Elsa must follow the voice.

Are you someone out there who’s a bit like me?/Who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?

The enchanted forest allows for some truly stunning animation, and the introduction of creatures that I’m sure have already been turned into toys. But the emotional beats of the forest often feel hollow. Anna’s insistence on following her sister lacks the motivation of the original film, instead reading as a foolish death wish. She knows she lacks Elsa’s powers, so why doesn’t she realize her presence is simply a burden? Allegorically, why is Anna trying to tag along with her sister to the gay bar?

But, of course, this isn’t the allegory at play. When Elsa finally does discover the voice, it’s not a coded lover – someone a bit like her – but instead the spirit of her mother. This is made especially painful by the incredibly gay lyrics in her dead mom duet.

Are you the one I’ve been looking for/All my life?

Elsa’s mother reveals why she’s been calling her daughter to this land – and reveals the actual allegory. The inhabitants of the forest are coded as Indigenous and Arendelle was responsible for the destruction of their land. Elsa’s mother reveals that she was one of these Indigenous people but she rescued Elsa’s father out of love. There’s a moment where it seems like the movie might be making an interesting point about reckoning with a colonial past, but then Elsa finds a way to save the forest and Arendelle, and any strength in the metaphor is removed. A statue is erected to commemorate their parents’ love, a painfully reductive celebration of people coming together. The film’s take on colonialism ends up being as morally complex as Disney’s Pocahontas. Ultimately, this becomes the film’s most abhorrent misstep, beyond its disappointing approach to queerness.

What made Frozen special as a queer allegory is it didn’t require a double consciousness. Unlike other very-gay-not-gay movies, there are no scenes in Frozen that have to be ignored; no moment where Elsa is forced to engage in compulsory heterosexuality. You can enjoy the movie from beginning to end with your whole gay heart. But Frozen 2 does not allow that. Instead you have to parse through the complicated mess that is Elsa having queer longings for her mother.

This isn’t to say Frozen 2 is without its pleasures. The soundtrack really is phenomenal, as is the animation. The world that’s built is a joy to watch and the script is filled with a lot of fun humor. The movie also contains a thread of environmentalism that works much better than its attempts at portraying colonization. But despite these strengths, the movie just made me feel sad. When Kristoff proposes to Anna near the end of the film, I felt its message deep within me: queer children still don’t get a love story.

Maybe someday we’ll finally see the movie we deserve – a queer Disney musical that loves us back. But until then I’ll listen to the Frozen 2 soundtrack and imagine it was supported by a movie with even a single snowflake of moral courage.

Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?
Related:

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 190 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Speaking as a legit Snow Queen I am unimpressed with the first one and disinterested in the second. I have a good relationship with my mother, thank you, and I still get to be queer. Ta-da! Not that hard, was it, Disney??

    LET ITTTTT SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW

  2. This is actually the same icky move that the first film made: queerness blurred with/masked by family love. In the first film, we had two women questing after, battling and rescuing each other–sharing a kiss of true love!! And it was weird because, sisters. Now we get the same move with a mother.

    I appreciate them showing love other than romantic love. The love and hate and longing a child feels for their mother or sister will be far more urgent and real to them than the romantic loves they’re told endless stories about. As a child, I hated being told to care about romance years before it could possibly be meaningful.

    Still, given the widely recognised queer resonances of Elsa, it’s strange and squicky for them to do this again. An odd displacement activity.

    And the description of the colonial subplot just makes me want to NOPE right out of here.

    • I’m truly not trying to be antagonistic, but I don’t think Elsa being queer is as widely recognized as you may think it is. If I ever bring up that theory to a straight person they are always so taken aback about it (but they usually come around a bit once I lay out the evidence, although are never entirely convinced). I’m sure the creators are peripherally aware of it, but if it’s not something that was meant to be there from the beginning, they’re not going to give in to fan pressure.

  3. When I realized there was that colonialism allegory going on I was actually a little impressed that Disney was tackling that, I thought that Anna was going to sacrifice Arendelle for the forest people, but what ended up happening was very having your cake and eating it too. And they didn’t address the fact that the Arendelle king started that fight in the first place for absolutely no reason. I thought the animation, especially all of the water, was absolutely stunning, and duet-with-dead-mom aside, Else was looking pretty darn gay the whole damn time, so bring on Frozen 3 I guess.

    • It would’ve bothered me less that Arendelle is saved, if Anna and Elsa weren’t revealed to be half-Indigenous. None of the characters have to reckon with the sins of the past, because it’s framed that THEY were victims too. I just think it gets really messy and plays into both the cliché Dances with Wolves/Avatar white savior trope AND white people claiming to be part Indigenous as a way to feel more spiritual or absolve themselves of their privilege.

  4. I respectfully disagree with this review. I don’t understand these “mommy issues” comments. It’s really messed up that Elsa’s relationship with her mother is being sexualized. Her mother is just calling her to her destiny. Elsa asks “Are you the one I’ve been waiting for?” And her mother replies “You are the one you’ve been waiting for.” As in “you don’t need someone else to be complete.” Its also probable that it was the fifth spirit that was calling Elsa and it took the form of her mother because that would be the most familiar form for Elsa to accept the truth in?
    I wanna see Elsa have a lesbian lover as much as anyone but that’s not the focus of her story right now. She’s finding out where she belongs. Also they DID give her a possible love interest for the 3rd movie. You didn’t mention Honeymaren at all. There was no reason to introduce Honeymaren in this movie unless she is going to have a role in the next one.
    Also isn’t it possible that Elsa is aro or ace? I personally think she’s gay but you could make just as strong a case for that as for her being a lesbian. Especially by her reaction to kissing in the beginning of the movie.
    I’m also not sure they are trying to portray colonization here. The story of two tribes meeting in friendship only to break out in battle for unknown reasons is as old as time. And as Disney movies are based on old fairytales, this is probably a depiction of one of these stories instead of white colonization. The people of Arendelle weren’t trying to take over the enchanted forest, the king was trying to weaken the forest’s magic because he didn’t trust the Northuldra’s connection to it.
    But Anna DID take responsibility for her ancestors’ sins and did what she needed to do to make things right. She put herself in danger and was willing to destroy her own home to break the dam. And the Arendelle soldiers help her. She didn’t know Elsa would come back and save Arendelle.
    I absolutely loved everything about this movie. I respect your opinions but I just felt like this was a really unfair review.

    • I understand the point you’re making and I certainly think it’s possible to read Elsa in the first film as aro or ace instead of gay.

      I think what I’m specifically responding to in this film is the nature of the plot and specifically Elsa’s two big songs. I would’ve been bothered far less if the plot of this movie wasn’t literally “Elsa is longing for a mysterious voice, wondering if it’s someone else just like her. She wishes she was satisfied with her current community, but decides it’s worth risking safety to venture out in search of this other person.” She literally calls the voice a siren in “Into the Unknown.”

      The creators are aware that a large portion of the queer community projected their experience onto Elsa (they’ve discussed this in interviews), so either they’re mind-bogglingly thoughtless in their heterosexuality, or it was pointed to have Elsa express queer feelings, but not commit to them.

      The first Frozen showed a relationship between sisters that felt authentic and separate from any potential queerness of Elsa. If this film had done the same with her relationship with her mother I would’ve felt differently. But having her sing two lesbian power ballads to a mysterious voice that turns out to be her mother is just gross and frustrating. Sure, that may have not been the intention, but then I have a whole other critique with the film’s thematic messiness and total lack of point of view.

      I didn’t mention Honeymaren because a few moments where Elsa talks to another woman doesn’t read as queer to me. Not nearly as queer as a single line of “Into the Unknown.” Sure, it’d be great if Elsa and Honeymaren fall in love in Frozen 3, but in this movie Honeymaren isn’t a full enough character for her to feel like anything other than an annoying wink.

      Also, the creators apparently consulted with Indigenous people in creating the Northuldra, so the intention of that storyline was there.

      But I’m glad you liked the movie! I love the soundtrack, and wish I liked the movie too. I also know I’m bringing a lot of baggage to the movie, but in 2019 I think my baggage is fair. I’m glad you had a different experience though.

  5. This wasn’t my read at all. It seems to me like the writers set Elsa up for a relationship with Honeymaren in the third installment. Also I took the mom stuff as her mother reckoning with herself to accept who her daughter is, and in so doing accept herself. Felt to me like facing internalized homophobia.

  6. For anyone thinking thru what the f*** was up with Elsa and Anna’s relationship to the people coded as Sami, I recommend this podcast: https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com/podcast/episode/33235119/ep-4-can-a-dna-test-make-me-native-american. I am a settler aka not indigenous.

    In the podcast, Matika Wilbur, Prof Adrienne Keene, and Dr Kim Tallbear explain how defining kinship thru bloodline is NOT to be expected; it’s bananas (to put it mildly) that the realization that Elsa and Anna’s mother belonged to their group would lead to instant, seamless welcome; and unfortunately it dovetails with a dangerous trend in US of white people claiming indigenous ancestry based on DNA with little to no understanding of what it means to be indigenous or allyship for native sovereignty, which effectively contributes to erasing indigenous people. That’s on top of the way the people coded as indigenous had very little agency in the main story line, and Elsa and Anna never stopped to ASK THEM WHAT HAPPENED and WHAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL. Also as a mixed person it was very weird to watch the sisters have exactly zero questions after they learned their mother came from a different ethnic group than the one they grew up in. All that said, a movie can’t be all things to all people and cheers for Olaf’s comic relief, pretty ice animation, and the ‘don’t dam rivers because it hurts mama earth and makes her angry’ and ‘water has memory’ take aways for the littles.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!