Psychology of ‘Frozen’: A discussion on the film’s progressive themes

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By Song My Hoang

On April 3, Green House held a discussion entitled “The Psychology of Frozen” with Professor Bizer and Professor Wells of the Department of Psychology.

There was a screening of Frozen held in Reamer Auditorium before the discussion.

The Disney megahit Frozen is the all-time highest grossing animated film. It has surpassed the $1,063,171,911 mark set by Toy Story 3.

Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale “The Snow Queen.” Disney’s adaptation bears little resemblance to the original story, because Elsa is rewritten as a protagonist.

Frozen follows the story of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who must rule over Arendelle after their parents pass away.

Elsa is born with magical ice powers that she must conceal from her kingdom and her sister.

Elsa decides to isolate herself by fleeing to a mountaintop after her powers are revealed to the public, accidently causing an eternal winter in Arendelle as she attempts to build her regal ice castle.

Anna decides to persuade Elsa to unfreeze Arendelle and is accompanied by Kristoff, his reindeer Sven and Olaf, a snowman that Elsa creates based on her childhood memories.

At the end of the movie, the sisters’ true love for each other returns the kingdom to its beautiful state.

“The Psychology of Frozen” discussion attempted to explore the psychological reasons behind the immense popularity of the widely acclaimed animated movie.

Professor Bizer opened the discussion by proposing that the movie was powerful, impacting a multitude of people.

He read a top comment in response to the Frozen producer and directors’ post on the IAmA section of Reddit.

The comment stated: “Your movie may have saved my life. If ever I owed something to a group of people I have never met, it is you. I wish I knew how to express my gratitude, but this story will have to suffice.

“The love and soul that you put into this film saved me long enough to seek help and start to heal,” the comment continued.

Professor Bizer asked attendees of the discussion which element of Frozen made it inspirational to the global community.

The audience agreed that strong female empowerment was a key component of the film. The storyline was refreshing because it consisted of two strong female characters and focused on the genuine bond of sisterhood and family, rather than the typical romances.

It resisted traditional Disney princess movies where the princess meets a prince, falls in love and marries the prince to live happily ever after.

The film included an unexpected twist to the romantic storyline. Prince Hans, the supposed Prince Charming, ended up being a gold-digging, manipulative villain.

The act of true love that Anna sought to save herself was achieved through Anna’s sacrifice for her sister and not through a true love’s kiss, in another twist on the conventional Disney romance plot.

The discussion also tackled the major theme of extroversion and introversion, presented by the contrasting personalities of Anna and Elsa.

Professor Bizer explained that this dynamic was most evident in the song “For the First Time in Forever.”

The song opens with Anna singing about her excitement to see new life in the castle. There is a key shift from major to minor when Elsa sings, which shows her reluctance to be with other people.

A student mentioned that Elsa is an introvert, as she draws energy from herself. Elsa is born with a power that is internal to her.  This power cannot be controlled by the external world.

Meanwhile, Anna is born without this magic and obtains happiness through the presence of other people.

Elsa appears to be happier when she isolates herself from Arendelle, which is apparent when she sings the line, “I’m alone but I’m alone and free,” in the reprise of “For the First Time in Forever.”

Students argued that being alone and free did not directly correspond to being free and happy.

Frozen is a commentary on the stigma of abnormal social behavior, and it follows Elsa’s acceptance of herself after being labeled as an outcast.

She is incredibly burdened in comparison to other Disney princesses. She deals with complex emotions as a child. Her introversion develops into anxiety, as she lives in fear of hurting Anna.

She realizes that being around living entities gives her anxiety, which causes her to draw further inward.

Professor Wells also explained that she enjoyed the movie because the typical stereotypes did not exist.

In particular, she observed that Elsa, the character with power, is not evil and Anna, who is a redhead, is not portrayed as having anger issues.

Other students enjoyed the normalness of the Frozen characters. Although Anna is a princess, she is ungraceful and awkward. She reflects how girls actually act in real life.

The character dynamic is interesting because each character has his or her strengths and weaknesses that contribute to saving Arendelle.

Kristoff and Anna’s relationship is not based on an idealized romance, but rather an acceptance of each other’s flaws.

Frozen emphasizes the love of two flawed human beings rather than the love of two perfect human beings.

Professor Bizer consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and categorized Prince Hans as having a narcissistic personality disorder.

He then asked the audience to categorize Elsa. Students thought she could have a manic depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or a panic disorder, all of which stem from her fear of being different.

Professor Bizer concluded, “There is a metaphor in Frozen for all of us. We all have an Elsa in us.”  The audience was able to see their personal psychological struggles through Elsa.

There are no defined princes or princesses, no true heroes or villains and no clear dynamic between the savior and the distressed.

Frozen is a revisionist fairytale that captures international attention with its soundtrack and distinctive plot. It embraces a renewed cultural legacy that resonates with its fans.

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