Frozen–Movie Review–Psychological Themes Suggested by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Ice Queen

It’s good to see Disney Studios has not lost it’s touch in this entertaining story, oh so loosely based on Han’s Christian Anderson’s The Ice Queen. Some of the characters and plot are taken from the famous Anderson fable.

Let’s dive into the story and psychological underpinnings of the characters. Elsa and Anna are two princesses in a happy kingdom in the fjords of Norway. Elsa, the older sister, has powers to make objects and surfaces freeze. There is no back story as to how she came upon her prowess.

Let’s just that for children, as for adults, emotion feels very powerful. Growing up involves not just coming to understand how to feel, but what to do with the instant feedback our emotions give us in many life situations.

Elsa’s parents are told Elsa’s ability to freeze objects will only more powerful as she grows up. Also there is a moral component to Elsa’s situation as her abilities will need to be mastered since they will not be automatically good or evil. She will need to confront her fears because it has been foretold that her fears will have the power to distort her gifts. Will her special powers be a blessing or a curse?

As a young girl Elsa accidentally hurts Anna. Elsa seeks out the help of a troll so that  Anna may recover. Her parents, the King and Queen, admonish Elsa to hide her power so she doesn’t hurt her sister (or anyone) anymore. In the tradition of Bambi, Elsa’s parents die soon after they are introduced. It’s not a good idea for parental figures to take poorly explained and seemingly random sea cruise at the beginning of a Disney movie. Elsa is left as a young teenager to fend for herself as she inherits the throne.

Here’s what we have so far:

Young Elsa manages to accidentally hurt her sister. Her parents are around long enough to suggest that she is too dangerous to be in anyone’s company. Without further guidance she takes to literally to heart what her parent’s message that her powers and the feelings that motivate them are inherently dangerous. Elsa cuts off physically and emotionally from Anna.

Elsa grows up stuffing her feelings. She renounces her closeness to her formerly beloved sister not only to protect Anna but as the price she must pay for having dangerous feelings such as anger. Unable to master her anger, her destructive ability to deadly freeze others grows unchecked. Being emotionally cut off from her own feelings and the presence of others, Elsa is dying.

Anna is a different story. Anna has no idea why her sister Elsa has cut off from her emotionally. She is not privy to the messages her parents imparted to Anna. Anna has a slight inferiority complex but it doesn’t hold her back as she is game to throw off the emotional shackles of living a protected life. Anna is looking for love in the worst way which, of course, she finds in the person of a scheming young prince from a distant land.

More of the movie focuses on Anna, but it is of less importance from a psychological perspective as she most find pluck and moxie. Elsa has the more substantive role but not perhaps not the as much of the audiences’ sympathy as she is the more royal of the two.

In Disney animation, parents can’t be depicted as having direct responsibility for creating their children’s emotional problems. Or at least most of the time, it can’t be too blatant. An evil step-mother, now that’s a different story. One reason this works is that in real, as well as reel, life children endow their parents with supreme authority.

Children are not able to readily identify ways in which their mother and father aren’t parenting well. In fact I’d say just about 100% of the time children blame themselves for the traumas that befall their parents as well as themselves. So in stories such as Frozen, children are left to their own devices securing help wherever they may find it as parental figures aren’t around or are the cause of their suffering.

Youngsters in the audience relate readily because it feels like the story is a recounting of the very issues they are struggling with. As if some inexplicable source knows exactly what they are going through.

With Frozen, Disneyfied as it is, the message is that the effects of trauma can be overcome. The takeaway is that Elsa can tame the power of her emotions and be stronger for it. In so doing, she can embrace her sister without fear or guilt. She is free to connect with everybody.

In this story, like so many, love conquers fear. Internal growth, healing, and deliverance from a tragic fate is the happy outcome. Elsa unabashedly feels and integrates her power with grace. Anna gets her guy. Olaf keeps his nose. Sven gets a new sleigh. Broadway’s Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel keep the patter spritely and the songs soaring.

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10 thoughts on “Frozen–Movie Review–Psychological Themes Suggested by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Ice Queen

  1. Jen on February 08,2014 at 1:59 am said:

    Please fix the switching of Elsa’s and Anna’s names? They seem to be flip flopped quite a bit.

    • John Bogardus on February 14,2014 at 7:52 am said:

      You are so right. Thanks for pointing this out. I have gone over the review and made it much better thanks to you!

  2. TaLi Maciel on March 26,2014 at 11:53 am said:

    I like your post very much and I’d like to add my personal experience with Frozen. I’m a 26 year old woman with childish interests and like to spend most of my free time dreaming awake. The thing is, I felt extremely related to Elsa… first because I’ve always considered myseld to be so different, both physicaly (I was born with a genetic deffect that makes my bones fragile) and psychologicaly. Being so I’ve always been shy, afraid of people, and angry… angry because of the way everybody stares. So I’m a very isolated person… the thing is, I really feel I can only be myself when I’m alone, on my own far away from everybody. My interest in physics, sci-fi and toy collecting are very strange in my hometown, so, I don’t even have any friend, cause I simply can’t share my interests with anyone and everybody’s interests are just getting drunk or having sex… and I’m not into that at all… When I am myself and start talking about what I really like, being who I really am, I just get laughed and mocked at… And I see Elsa and the way she flourishes when she finally geta away from people… That’s exactly how I feel, that I could be so happy and free If I could just get away from everybody. And that also makes me sad. I block myself from people in order to not get hurt, try to be cold so their critics and mocks wont affect me. I froze wo I wont be hurt.

    Yet sometimes I wish I had someone who I could be myself around, not to be so lonely… understanding and acceptance can melt ice…

    • John Bogardus on March 26,2014 at 3:14 pm said:

      Hello Tali,
      What a wonderful and beautifully expressed message. You are very clear about what is going on for you. You also bring up points about Elsa that I had not thought about. And that is the protective components to isolation. Isolation is a natural response to trauma of being over-criticized. You identify with the freedom such state might let Elsa experience. And you also note the downside, which is loneliness and missing the opportunity to feel understood by someone who you can also feel close to. To have someone validate ones feelings can be a very powerful experience. Yes, understanding and acceptance do melt ice.

      You may have already thought of this, but social media such as Facebook may allow you to explore safely ways to find a community of like minded people. Many people are into physics with Sc-Fi being a natural extension. Or perhaps you find people who get there in the reverse order, first they like Sci-fi and then they explore physics. As for being into toys, one of the great sacrifices made by too many adults is to lose the ability to play. As you alluded to, sometimes when adults do play they can only let down by using alcohol or drugs and so are not in very good touch with themselves.

      There may well be other places to chat online where you can find people who are so inclined to similar interests as you. I don’t always recommend psychotherapy, but it may be worth considering. To see someone who will be empathic and help you find the things that even such a movie as Frozen might not be able to give you, is worth pursuing.
      Best regards,
      John Bogardus, LCSW

  3. nisha varman on October 05,2014 at 12:10 am said:

    Thanks for this post! I was very very disturbed after watching Frozen. Elsa was definitely emotionally abused by her parents by them locking her up and distancing her from human interaction. They used fear to control their elder daughter when FEAR is the main reason why she couldn’t control her gifts. Ana was never given an explanation and she is left to feel that she did something terrible to deserve this silent treatment, which makes her jump to rash decisions in the love department. The parents were emotionally distant and cold with Elsa almost as if they were punishing her for the accident. They never even hugged Elsa before their fateful sea journey. I never got the gay angle to this movie but I do feel that Elsa & Ana deserved better parenting…

    • John Bogardus on October 05,2014 at 6:51 am said:

      Nisha, thanks for this wonderful summation of the core dynamics at play in Frozen. I feel we are exactly on the same page. The paradox of the Disney treatment is that they take dark European fables, give just a hint at what makes the story truly frightening and then add huge gobs of sugary treatment to distract and “entertain” the audience. If one strips away the fluff and looks clearly at the central issues then what is truly disturbing and traumatic is laid bare as you have so aptly commented. There is a reason the fables of so many cultures have a universal fascination. The negotiation of the childhood traumas, how these traumas can become incorporated into fundamental personal beliefs, and then how we are guided by and need to understand and overcome the pernicious effects of these experiences, forms the basis of my work as a psychotherapist. Thanks again for taking the time to write. I love to hear what people are thinking and then to dialog.

  4. Pat on March 03,2015 at 9:06 am said:

    Hi John, may I ask that you email me an analysis on a particular theme in the movie (love, family,etc.) comparing the changes in the generation of Pocahontas compared to that of Frozen and explaining how the change happened in relation to the real world events/situations.

  5. Michael Kumpmann on April 15,2015 at 2:52 pm said:

    Great article. I watched the movie in parts, because I am interested in buying the same program they used to generate the snow in the movie.

    I have to admit, when I heard the “Let it go” lyrics, I had a rather extreme reaction. When I heard the words “conceal, don’t feel”,”don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be a good girl, you always have to be” and “don’t let them know”, I really had to cry for 2 hours and got headaches. I even started screaming, “Mommy, Daddy, I hate you, why did you do that to me?” (Ironically, in parts, speaking these words also felt like a kind of relief to me.)

    Because of this rather extreme reaction, I got interested in the psychological background of the movie and googled after it, where I found your article. (And I learned, when I show an extreme reaction to a medium, this unveils a secret about myself, I don’t want to know. ) And at first, I did not understand my reaction at all.

    My psychologist told me this is because of personal parallels. I actually have aspergers syndrome and my parents weren’t really happy with that. They also always told me to hide my true self and to pretend to be someone else. And I was abused by them. (Note: My parents died some years ago.)

    And although I can’t remember, according to some of my family members, due to my behavior, my parents actively tried prevent me from visting playgrounds etc. (I am no native english speaker and I don’t know a better word for that.) When my aunt told me about that, although I was unable to remember anything, I immedeately panicked.

    I was also bullied at school. My classmates told me that I should have been thrown into a gas chamber.

    Due to this, I also suffer from an extreme form of separation anxiety. (One effect of this is, I apologize to ridiculous amounts. For example, I sent one woman in one week 10 apologies. And in half of them, I apoligized for the apologies. ) I also have an extreme fear of getting punished.

    Often, I thought, I deserve to be isolated, because I am such an evil creature. There was also one period of time, where I deceived myself and told me that I did not need anybody else and I would be happier to live alone.

    • John Bogardus on April 16,2015 at 3:54 pm said:


      Frozen has touched you deeply and I appreciate that you liked my commentary. I agree that strong emotional reactions to things such as movies and music almost always reveal a personal meaning. In your case some exploration with your therapist led you to checking out parallels between the movie and your own life. Once you understand the connection between the content of a movie and how it resonates with themes in your own life, you have discovered a powerful tool for self-knowledge and growth.

      Keep up the good work.
      Best regards,
      John Bogardus, LCSW

  6. Michael Kumpmann on April 15,2015 at 2:56 pm said:

    I emphacize strongly with that character, Elsa, of the movie. And I must admit, she is by far my favourite disney character.

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