Disney’s newest movie musical Frozen has been hitting high notes ever since its release over Thanksgiving. Just last weekend, it accomplished the rare feat of re-emerging as #1 in the weekend box office six weeks after its initial release, elbowing out other holiday highlights to steal the show. That same weekend, the film’s soundtrack hit #1 in the Billboard Top 200—one of only four animated film soundtracks to ever do so. A Broadway musical was announced just this weekFrozen‘s success cannot be understated.

Anyone who has seen the film can easily see why it’s so appealing. It’s sympathetic, dynamic main cast, ear worm songs, gorgeous animation, and break from Disney’s “traditional” princess narrative all make for a refreshing new film. But what most people seem not to know is how close this film came to being Disney’s latest lackluster showing.

You see, it all hinges on Elsa.

(Spoilers ahead!)

Elsa’s character arc is arguably the most compelling in the story. As a young child, she is blessed with cryokinetic powers that she cannot control. After an accident with her sister, Elsa’s parents isolate her, teach her that she’s dangerous, and demand that she emotionally castrate herself (“conceal, don’t feel”). Those lessons are so ingrained that she continues hiding herself away even as an adult and her parents die. It is not until her power is exposed and she runs away that she finds beauty in herself and her power. Her journey to self acceptance, and then acceptance by her sister and her people, is a powerful and much-needed narrative for today’s young people.

Originally, however, Elsa was slated to be the villain. According to the Internet Movie Database:

[W]hen the character’s major song, “Let it Go,” was played for the producers, they concluded that the song was not only very appealing, but its themes of personal empowerment and self-acceptance were too positive for a villain to express. Thus, the story was rewritten….

This, for starters, explains a lot of the clumsier parts of the film. Hans’ betrayal comes completely out of left field at the end; his character seems truly genuine from the beginning of the story such that his reversal seems contrived. It also explains a few lines from “Let it Go” that don’t quite fit in context, particularly, “Let the storm rage on/the cold never bothered me anyway.” There is no storm in Elsa’s “blossoming” scene. Originally, this line referred to the storm in Arendelle, and Elsa was proclaiming to not care about it even as it devastated the country. A very villainous line.

Make no mistake. Elsa was intended to be the bad guy, and re-imagining her is the best decision Disney made in this film.

Think of what Frozen would have been like with Elsa, sitting in her ice palace, letting (or actively making) a snowstorm ravage her homeland. The unique dynamic between the sisters, Elsa’s compelling conflict of what to do with her powers, and the climax where Ana saves her sister’s life, would have all been ruined or substantially tainted. Instead, we would have received a perhaps slightly altered princess movie that falls neatly in line with the canned narrative Disney had been churning out for decades. Yawn.

We also would have gotten a movie that was much less positive for women. Disney is no stranger to playing on harmful portrayals of women, and in this iteration of the film, they would have added the “Ice Queen” archetype to their list—quite literally, this time.  In fact, the original title of the project was “The Snow Queen.” Given Disney’s penchant for creating one-dimensional villains for their heroes to defeat, I must say I breathed a retroactive sigh of relief when I realized Elsa was saved from a near-fatal character design.

Whether they realized it or not, Disney producers realized that women did not need more representations of them that showed them as heartless, unfeeling, and cruel. They need heroes like Ana, Elsa’s sister, who is forever optimistic, spunky, and awkward. But they also need heroes like Elsa, because there are girls out there who have been told their whole lives that they are dangerous and worthless, either directly or indirectly. They need to know that there are other options for them than becoming cruel, heartless, and, dare I say it, cold.

I believe that the richness of Elsa’s character and her struggles is the deciding factor in Frozen’s monumental success. Hopefully, seeing that fully realized female characters make for a successful movie, Disney and other franchises will continue to make films with them.

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  • Brittney Wheeler

    I actually wasn’t interested in this movie because I figured it would be a “typical” Disney princess film, but y’all are making me want to see it!

    • Diirge

      Oh my goodness you have to see it. It was so good.

  • Darcy H

    I’m loving that you and Rachel wrote about Frozen!

  • Luffy .

    “Let the storm rage on” actually makes sense. It refers to the storm in her heart and freedom of expressing her feelings for the first time in forever (pun intended).
    And Hans’ twist made a lot of sense from every point of view and is crucial to the theme of a story. It’s especially obvious when you watch it many times.

    • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Gina Luttrell

      I disagree on both counts. Elsa refers to “the storm inside of me” as something negative every time she says it. It refers to her conflicting emotions about her power, family, kingdom, and sister.

      While it’s true I’ve only seen Frozen once, I watched the movie knowing that Hans was going to end up being the villain, and I disagree that it was foreshadowed at all. People say they listen to “Love is an Open Door” and realize it, but I think the interpretation could go either way. Hans talks about finding his own place, but, again, that could be just as genuine. I definitely think it comes out of left field.

      • Alexandra

        I figured out that he’d be the villain when he said he was the youngest of thirteen other brothers. The oldest living son takes the throne; he’d never be king.
        It makes total sense that he’d be nice to Anna with the hopes of marrying her and eventually becoming king; after all, he only had to take Elsa out of the picture for that to happen.

        • NoName

          Good job! I totally missed it all the first time ’round & was shocked when his true side came out.
          I was happily going to accept my own brain’s “outcome” of Hans & Elsa (b/c he kept saying “don’t hurt her”, “don’t be the monster they think you are” etc…giving her a chance) and Anna & Kristoff. In my mind there HAD to be a reason for two good men and all would work out as a typical Disney fairytale.
          So….KUDOS to Disney for catching my foolish “Anna-like”, “optimistic”, “true love” mind.

      • ljlego

        I don’t think that there’s any foreshadowing, as such. There’s no indication of treachery at any point in the film, because all of the power-grabbing acts that he undertakes (marrying into the family, taking charge of Arendelle when Anna leaves, ordering Elsa to be killed) are instigated by external forces and he’s just playing along. However, “out of left field” implies that there was no groundwork laid for the reveal and that it didn’t really make sense, and that’s simply not true. All of his motivations and actions that he lays out in his “villain speech” are certainly mentioned, alluded to, or otherwise put forward earlier in the film. I also think they pull a very deft feint by painting Alan Tudyk’s character as the villain with the music and his overt motivations, making the reveal of Hans (who’s previously sparred with our designated villain – really just a weird greedy old guy who’s justifiably afraid of a woman who turns an entire kingdom into a tundra) that much more shocking.

        Tl;dr: Twist, absolutely. Out of left field, not so much.

      • ljlego

        Also, it’s worth noting that Elsa doesn’t realize that the storm has affected Arendelle until Anna comes and tells her. As far as she’s concerned, it just followed her up the mountain and the kingdom is fine. So really, that line is not villainous in the context of the movie as it currently exists. The potential is definitely there for it to have been villainous in a previous draft of the script though!

      • David Peralta

        In their commentary on the Special Edition soundtrack, the composers do say that Love is an Open Door is their way of foreshadowing Hans’s actions in the end. The two were schooled in the Ashman and Menken style of making musicals, and instead of giving the villain his own song– fused the “New-found love song” with the “Villan’s song” in Love is an Open Door. Since Let it Go was the first song they created and it did change the plot and flow of the story significantly, they had to devise some way to introduce the villain without being obvious. So when Hans sings he’s found his own place and that now life could be so much more, it was already his evil plan.

        • David Peralta

          Sorry- it wasn’t in a commentary on the soundtrack that they said that- it was in another interview on the nature of the villain in Frozen that the Lopezes said it was their villain song.

        • Alianya

          I like that he is not an overtly ‘evil’ villain, I thought that it was a thoughtful choice to not go the ‘some people are born evil’ route and instead paint the portrait of an opportunist who makes selfish choices (12th in line prince with very little options for advancement sees chance to rule kingdom in need and when that chance starts slipping away he makes selfish choices to try and maintain the power he had).

      • Erika

        Actually, with regard to the foreshadowing, I noticed one point (albeit, the second time I saw the film) where I definitely noticed something suspicious about Hans. He was speaking to the Duke of Weseltown, and he spoke something about not letting Arendelle fall victim to treason, and the Duke is caught off guard (I can’t recall the line verbatim). Given the circumstance, it was a rather strange conclusion to jump to, considering the Duke simply wanted to increase trade between the two countries.

        Later on, recall, Hans accuses Elsa of committing treason. Had it not been the exact same charge being brought upon two innocent individuals by the SAME PERSON (our villain), it would not have been noteworthy.

        Just, some food for thought.

      • Holly Mann

        I have to say I saw his betrayal coming. I didn’t have a spoiler beforehand, nor has I visited tumblr. The moment he said something along the lines of “I’m the youngest of 12 sons” bam. It’s a cliche I’ve seen in so many books. And it’s also true- you need to marry into your own kingdom if you’re the youngest of 12, cause no way in hell are all 11 of your brother going to die off so you can be the king. Not naturally, anyway. But back on topic, the mentioned line was a bit of a giveaway to those who heard and and inferred correctly.

        • Chris

          I didn’t see it coming, because I was thinking of a different cliche that’s very common in fairy tales: The youngest son is the triumphant hero.

          • afmlpl

            I guess I am too gullible. I didn’t see it coming.

      • Kait

        The moment Hans mentioned his 12 older brothers I knew he was the bad guy. I don’t know why people were surprised.

  • James

    I think the “let the storm rage on” part fits into context since Let it Go is an anthem saying to just not care anymore about holding back her powers; to stop fighting and accept her powers. Also “the cold never bothered me anyway” could sound “villianous” but its true because she’s immune to the cold and since shes alone now (when she sings the song) she can’t hurt herself so it makes sense why that line is there.

    The “storm” is a metaphor to her inner turmoil and not the storm in Arendelle. In First Time In Forever (Reprise) she even sings “no escape from the storm inside of me” so that confirms she was using storm as a metaphor in Let it Go which was sung earlier.

    So in my opinion I think those lines in Let it Go fit in context with the story and not as flawed as you make it out to be.

  • Ann Marie Mohrmann

    I had no expectations when I went to see the movie, but I will admit I was very surprised by Hans’ real motives. For one thing, I had been thinking that Ana would end up with Hans, and after Kristoff showed up, I thought he would end up with Elsa. That might sound odd, but he did say ‘I like ice’,and Disney has a history of having love change people, so Elsa falling in love wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.

    And of course, at that point Hans was still cementing his place in Arandelle by being kind to everyone. When he finally reveals his true colors, yes, it came as a complete shock, and there was very minor foreshadowing – but that doesn’t make it clumsy. It just means Hans is a very good actor, in true villain character.

    • Alianya

      I agree completely, I thought that he would be perfect for Elsa, and they could live up in the mountains together and make and sell ice and be happy but somewhat isolated/introverted and would abdicate and Ana and Hans, who actually do love people and being around people and interacting would be good rulers for Arandelle. It made sense to me.

      (plus, how exactly did a girl who grew up with NO, read’em NO, companions suddenly feel comfortable around people/ruling, seriously, are they not going to address 20 years of isolationism with any social awkwardness or aversion to change?)

      • JustASC

        Thing was, she had companions before the isolation, and at her coronation she admitted she’d like it if every day was like that. She *might* be an introvert, but introverts still get lonely (I speak from firsthand experience). Her isolation was imposed by her parents; it wasn’t of her choosing until later, when she didn’t know other options were possible.

  • Debbie Valenta

    The original title of the project was “The Snow Queen” because that’s the title of the Hans Christian Anderson story that “Frozen” is VERY loosely based on and the woman Elsa is based on is a villain and not a sister either. Considering how much it deviated from the original fairy tale, it’s no wonder that Disney would “re-imagine” the main character.

  • trogdorthe8th

    Another interesting point I noticed: They had a song, which was cut out of the story, called “Life’s too Short”. You can find a recording on youtube. In it, they talk about Elsa being the prophecy- the original story also had a prophecy that a queen would encase the country in ice. So, Elsa saying “I can’t control the curse” also makes sense to the original story line that she would be the cursed one to destroy the country with ice and snow.

    • Elena

      That makes sense, but I thought that line referred to how her parents inadvertently taught her to view her powers as a curse, a source of trouble she has to hide, rather than a blessing.

    • ElsaTheGreat

      I think you make a very interesting point but I don’t see how this has anything to do with the author’s point of view.. Kind of sounds like you are just trying to sound like an intellectual. I think this comment would be much more effective if you could dig deeper in to tying this thought in with what the article is about

    • afmlpl

      That song is also on disc 2 of the soundtrack :-)

  • Dacio

    My only real complaint (or at least the biggest one I can remember right now), is Anna ending up with Kristoff: it’d have been better if he had just become friends with Anna and taught her that she shouldn’t marry Hans so soon. At the end, she would’ve returned to the kindomn and told Hans that they should wait a little more time before getting married. It would’ve made the movie more original than it already is. Anna and Hans ending up together and being happy. But also Elsa and Kristoff both single showing that you don’t necessarily need to be in a relationship to be a happy and strong person (yes, they already did that with Elsa, but, you know, just saying). It’d also show a good example that a man and a woman can be just friends and no more than that.

    I wish my English didn’t suck so I could express my opinions better. Sorry if you read this and it made you confused!

  • Una Dagger

    “Hans’ betrayal comes completely out of left field at the end; his character seems truly genuine from the beginning of the story such that his reversal seems contrived.”

    What? The very moment Hans appeared, I turned to my wife and said “He’s the bad-guy.” He had “bad guy” written all over him. He couldn’t have been any more obviously bad if he’d been twirling a mustache. They made him a Ginger with sideburns, for heaven’s sake. That’s Hollywood code for “villain”, and always has been.

    • Dacio

      I admit it was somehow REALLY obvious, but it made me (and I’m sure that a lot of other people too) confused why he had such a “nice guy attitude”. At the beginning, when Anna goes back to the castle because she is late, Hans acts in a way that only a character who truly falls in love would do. He is hypnotized by Anna, and we can clearly see it in his movements (her hand) her smile (when he falls in the water), etc, all while she is not looking at him anymore.

      Add to that the song they had, how they finished each other’s senteces, etc. They gave him a TRUE nice attitude, and not a cheap disguise like most evil guys in movies have.

      So, when he revealed his true self, I wasn’t like “WHAT THE FUCK”. It was more like “Oooh”. And I think most of the viewers had a similar impression.

      • Tsuma

        Basically, Hans fore motive is to be Ana’s prince. He has to be as nice as he could or he wouldn’t be the king, which is, first, he has to marry Ana.

      • CT14

        It was shocking to me how evil he was. He did look like he was genuinely falling in love, but actually likening the girl was just a bonus to his plan to rule Arendelle.

      • JustASC

        Actually, it was mostly Anna finishing the sentences and him claiming to agree: “That’s what I was going to say!” At least that’s what tipped me off that he was possibly bad news.

  • kaity

    You guys realize that Frozen is based on a book called “The Snow Queen”, right? And in the original story the snow queen was evil… just saying. Though i am glad Disney made her good.

  • Todd Blood

    Funny how everybody tries to sale their agenda when the rare good movie comes along. Remember when everybody said Groundhogs day was about their reliigion? Just enjoy, don’t sale.

  • Rin

    Ok, I agree with everything you’re saying (I’m in love with Frozen) except for two: Hans turning out to be the bad guy coming from “left field” and the line about “Let the storm rage on/The cold never bothered me anyway.”
    In regards to Hans, I feel like they give a hint to his real motives in the song “Love is an Open Door” when he said “I’ve been searching my whole life to find my own place” as he gestures to Arendelle. He’s not saying he wants to be with her as much as he wants her kingdom. Also right before he “saves” Elsa, he actually glances at the chandelier and you can see him actually aiming the crossbow up to hit it. (though I’ll admit I could be over-analyzing that part.)
    When it comes to Elsa’s line “Let the storm rage on/ The cold never bothered me anyway”, even if it was originally meant as a nefarious line, it also makes perfect sense when you think about an earlier line “The wind is howling like this swirling storm in side/ Gotta keep it in, Heaven knows I tried”. The “storm” she’s talking about is the storm within herself/ her own powers. When she says “Let the storm rage on” she’s talking about accepting her powers and her termoil and just letting it become a part of her instead of trying to “keep it in”.

    • Beth

      that part with the chandelier is a perfect point… it’s really the only time he REALLY let his wickedness show before his reveal, and it was only a split-second, but after watching it again it’s DEFINITELY noticeable

  • Equality please.

    Feminist scum.

  • mommaofmany

    I actually felt that they needed Ana to have the power of Spring and the girls learn to temper each other, work together. But that may have been part of the original plot, with all of the flowers and red hair, and Spring theme to Ana, vs the winter theme of Elsa

  • Vpowell

    I saw Frozen back in December for the first time, and when you meet Hans sure, at first he seems normal-ish. But then you hear some of the things he says. Such as, “I love crazy” in an almost pained, eye-rolling sort of way. When he’s singing about getting his own place, he looks at the village below, implying “I would like to sit up in this castle and rule”. And when they “finish each other’s sandwiches”… man, that was too cheesy to be genuine. And when Anna says she’s completely ordinary and he so firmly says “That’s right, she is” and there’s that pause.. makes it seem like he found the night with her rather droll. Sure he had his moments, but there was no doubt in my mind by the end of that song that he was not the love interest for Anna. Also introducing him that fast. Sure, it could happen… but to be in love that quickly and to spend the rest of the movie in love? I mean he was a good ruler when left in charge. But his scheming? Not a surprise in the slightest. I would also have not been surprised if Disney kept Anna/Hans together and when Anna went up the mountain with Sven, he fell in love with Elsa and the rest of the movie was trying to help Elsa and Sven thaw their hearts because Elsa has so many issues with herself and maybe she might’ve hit Sven with the ice shard to keep him from liking her?

    All ramblings though. The article did give some things to think about and it was an interesting read.

    • deathnoteforeva

      umm.. (not to be rude) sorry but his name is Kristoff not Sven, Sven is the reindeer

      • afmlpl

        They’re both called Sven, remember? That’s what Olaf thought when they first met him :-) :-)

  • JustASC

    I’m not sure if it necessarily would have ruined the movie to have had Elsa be a villain, at least temporarily. Having been isolated for so long, her anger and resentment would have been understandable and relatable, which makes for a compelling villain. Hans still could have been a villain, too, which would have made things interesting. They could have had a redemption and reconciliation between Ana and Elsa the same way there was in the movie. All in all I’m pleased with how they did it, but I don’t think having Elsa be a villain would have necessarily ruined it, if they still had the reconciliation.

  • Common Tator

    You didn’t address the supposed “gay rights” agenda hidden in the subplot of the movie.

  • http://lauraconnell.com/ Laura Connell

    I’m not sure what changing the script had to do with Hans reversal at the end? Although surprised by the twist, it explained to me things that didn’t make sense like why a Disney suitor would let his bride-to-be go off on her own and why he never had to win her love.

  • Jess

    I think that the statements about her parents are a bit harsh. “Isolate her, teach her that she’s dangerous, and demand that she emotionally castrate herself” makes the parents seem more evil than caring. Conceal don’t feel was supposed to mean that she needs to remain calm and hide her powers because if she didn’t, her powers would flare up as seen in the scene after her parents died and when she finds out that she caused a blizzard in Arendelle. They didn’t seem to be very angry with Elsa after she hurt her sister and were just trying to help her. In addition to that, the trolls were the ones that suggested that she isolated herself in order to get more control over her powers. The trolls told her she was dangerous and her parents tried their best to help her control her powers as seen through the scene where they give her the gloves. They seemed like pretty supportive parents that didn’t want their daughter to be portrayed as a monster by her lack of control. And honestly, most people would’ve done the same thing in their position. They had very little knowledge of what was happening to her and they were trying their best to keep both of their daughters safe. Not to mention that Elsa’s fears and isolation were also a result of hurting her sister accidentally which clearly traumatized her. Her parents also let her use her powers freely before the accident which shows that they were open to letting her practice however after the accident, there weren’t many other options.

  • john

    It would have been more interesting if Hans kissed Anna and it failed to heal her. He then decides to kill Elsa to save Anna. Therefore anna’s last act was to save her sister from the start rather than shift at the very end from kissing Kristof to saving her sister. She would have had to sacrifice both her love and her life. Except for 1 minute speech Hans did not seem a villian at all. Anna began singing love is an open door and his rference to finding his place was Arendale, but there was nothing evil with that. As for him being youngest of 12 simply means that both he and anna were the youngest ignored by their siblings. I really do not see Anna and Kristoff getting together. When I saw the movie I just thought they fit the stereotype of Tangled’s couple on the run and Enchanted’s second relationship being true love. If there was a sequal I would think Elsa and kristoff get together. Both are loners who love Ice. For those who hate the Disney love at first site myth, Hans and Anna did seem right together. We never saw the moment when Kris and Anna went from anoying each other to true love like we did in Tangled. I am still glad they went along with Elsa as tragic heroine than evil queen which is what i was worried would happen when I first saw it. I am still hoping for a Frozen sequal. If every other crap movie can get one why not one that deserves it. (or a cartoon series like Little Mermaid)

  • Lia

    I enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t think it was a GOOD movie. Maybe it was their “re-imagining”, but a lot of the movie felt clumsy, the narrative seemed disjointed the whole way through, and aside from her self-exploration in the “Let It Go” sequence, I thought elsa was weak both as a character and a person. (I suppose this goes for every character in the movie). So many elements and details of the film are so useless I don’t know why they were included at all.

    I like it when movies are progressive and try to go outside the mould, but NOT when it sacrifices the whole narrative and quality of the movie from a technical standpoint. Frozen would have benefitted with either another rewrite or an extra twenty minutes in its running time for the opportunity to tie up loose ends and maybe actually make some sense.

  • Anon

    I feel that it would have been good for her to be a villain. You see villains in Disney as a bad thing, and it would ruin her to make her into a black and white, one dimensional villain… But who said she had to be one dimensional? What villain in Disney history has had such a dynamic and tragic back story? We see her grow up through childhood, face hardships, and when soldiers are sent to kill her she has actual motives to be a villain. Her goal would be to crush her hometown for sending soldiers to try and crush her. She would have made a great villain, a sympathetic one, who is not just pure evil, but acting the way she acts because of the emotional hurt she feels. And her defeat? Her defeat could have been brought by the love of her sister, and realizing that she has gone too far. Perhaps the near death of her sister for a second time due to her actions would open her eyes. Had she been a Villain, she would have been one of the best villains in history. We get to see her backstory from childhood, how she wasn’t always the way she was, and that she acts the way she does does due to her being brought up concealing all her emotions and finally being able to be free.