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Disney’s Anxious Ice Queen

Elsa distraught in the climax of Frozen

Are we still talking about Frozen? Yes? Excellent. Because I have something important to address about our much-loved, anxiety-riddled role model of an ice queen Elsa.

In early development Elsa, being the snow queen in The Snow Queen, was planned as the villain of the piece, but with some inspiration from her voice actor and a general sit-and-think of things she was reworked to flesh out her potential as a sympathetic, misunderstood almost-heroine. Her ice powers, while not conforming to a lot of logic, serve as a wonderful metaphor for issues of isolation and uncontrollable anxiety as well as being the cause of them in her case. Quite literally, she’s afraid to go out in public, even to her parents’ funeral, in case ice shoots from her fingertips (which to clarify is a very valid fear). Scarred after injuring her sister Anna when they were young, powers that would have otherwise made her super special now just terrify her, and her parents too, who understand them even less than Elsa and decide the best thing to do is to lock her in the castle and impose a ‘conceal it, don’t feel it’ mantra that evolves into Elsa chaining herself to the psychology that she can never reveal the tiniest fragment of her true self to anyone without freezing them.

It’s not fun, and this is made abundantly clear. Sitting alone in a room full of ghostly snowflakes is a pretty nice visual metaphor for having internal issues and not feeling able to talk to anyone about them. Her creators wrote and animated her with a desire to portray anxiety and depression, making her, whether you get clinical about it or not, a Disney princess with major neuroses. Which is not always the stuff of warm hugs, yet Elsa is everyone’s favourite at the moment, across the age groups. I imagine she will stay for some time (it’s been screening in cinemas for four months!). She is the star of a Disney movie after all—those have a lot of cultural influence, and they stick with you. Which is why it’s so great that she is the way she is. Continue reading

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