It’s weird to think that Frozen came out almost three years ago. This is partly because time is bizarre and moves a hell of a lot faster than any of us would really like it to, and partly because thanks to Frozen’s never-waning popularity, it hasn’t really had chance to fade out of the limelight in the same way other films might have done.
Pretty much everyone has seen Frozen. And ask almost anyone about their favourite character and it’s likely you’ll get an “Elsa!” in response. Elsa – the tense, frightened Queen of Arendelle – quickly became a Disney heroine, but not just in the eyes of young children. When I spoke to friends and read pieces online that suggested Elsa was an obvious metaphor for depression and anxiety, it made sense why so many teens and adults were so taken with her, too.
I bought an Elsa doll before I even saw Frozen. There was something about her that I immediately liked and trusted, despite having no knowledge of what her character might be like. I felt like Elsa got it, whatever ‘it’ was. But when I watched Frozen in 2013 – and then again when the DVD came out, and again and again after that – I found that it wasn’t actually Elsa I related to. It was Anna.
At first glance, Anna is Arendelle’s version of the Girl Next Door. She’s sweet, freckled and friendly. She talks about gas. She accidentally knocks things over. She says herself near the start of the film that she is “completely ordinary,” and you’d be forgiven for thinking “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Elsa’s the one with the hidden powers. Elsa’s the one with the awkward hand movements and the closed doors and the visible anxiety. And then there’s Anna: sleeping in, asking to build snowmen and skipping down the halls. Anna seems fine, and so Anna gets forgotten.
But it was Anna actively encouraging this “completely ordinary” talk that made me stop and look at her again. Why was someone so outgoing and confident able to talk about herself so negatively? When Anna meets Hans (of-the-Southern-Isles, AKA the sneakiest Disney villain you ever SAW), he apologises for knocking her into a boat (remember the adorable “I’m awkward – you’re gorgeous! Wait, what?” mumbling from Anna?) and she insists it’s not a problem, because she’s “not that princess.” If it was Elsa, things would have been different, she assures Hans. I realised that Anna is so used to thinking of herself as a sprawling, inelegant version of Elsa – as the loud nuisance who can’t stay put in her room or keep her sister’s attention – that she doesn’t really like herself very much.
It’s this self-deprecating language that really piques Hans’ interest. Sure, he can’t believe his luck when he finds out he’s come face to face with the Princess of Arendelle (WE KNOW YOUR PLAN, NASTY HANS), but when she also turns out to be outwardly insecure (“If you’d hit my sister, Elsa, it’d be… yeesh! But lucky you: it’s just me”) he questions it (“Just you?”), as if he’s trying to gauge just how low Anna’s self esteem might be. Why even bother approaching Elsa now? If her sister is this self-conscious and unassertive – giving strangers permission to hit her with wooden boats and suggesting she’s not worth a whole lot – Hans’ plan has already kicked off, without him lifting a finger.
Although we know that Elsa’s excessive amount of time spent behind closed doors is purely to protect Anna, it makes sense that Anna herself – unaware of Elsa’s powers – feels differently. From Anna’s perspective, Elsa just doesn’t care about her anymore. Elsa feels distant and almost scary. Remember the post-coronation party, where Elsa waits coolly on the stage? Anna rushes into the picture – late and flustered – and suddenly realises she has no idea where to stand. Unconvinced that she should be up on the stage with her sister, Anna flounders awkwardly at the side until she’s instructed to move. A moment later, she is visibly surprised when she realises Elsa’s laidback “Hi” is actually directed at her.
Even when Elsa’s not involved, Anna seems to go out of her way to place herself at the bottom of the metaphorical pile. When she stumbles upon Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post (ooh, and sauna!) and meets Kristoff while paying for her new winterwear, she says “Excuse me” shyly and moves out of his way, despite the fact that Kristoff – painfully afraid of people in his own way – has spoken to her rudely and cut in front of her in the two-person queue. Anna’s polite and kind – both brilliant qualities – but her behaviour frequently suggests that she views other people as more important than her.
As the film continues, Anna pushes herself and comes out on top. She asks Kristoff to take her up the North Mountain, which he refuses to do, and Anna realises she needs to demand, not request: “Let me re-phrase that. Take me up the North Mountain.” She adds a hurried “please” at the end – understanding that she doesn’t have to be rude to get what she wants – and Kristoff agrees. Encouraged by the results but irritated by his lack of urgency, she blurts “We leave… now. Right now.” You can see from her body language and facial expressions that she’s not quite comfortable with this kind of behaviour, but in my eyes, that’s what makes her so impressive – she’s afraid, but she tries anyway.
What I love the most about Anna is that she acts as her own metaphor, too, perfectly depicting so many people who struggle with self-worth and assertiveness. While Elsa is coming to terms with her powers, Anna’s dealing with her own issues – learning that she isn’t there to be ignored or dismissed, and realising that sometimes she might get to call the shots, as well.
But Anna doesn’t change overnight – she puts the work in. She takes small, tentative steps, and her lack of self-confidence and attempts to build it up are realistic, whether she’s breathing a frightened, relatable sigh of relief after standing up to Kristoff or plucking up the courage to tell Hans “The only frozen heart around here is yours” as the movie ends.
To me, Anna is not “completely ordinary” at all – she is quirky and clumsy and excitable and anxious and lonely, and her layered personality is equally as complex as Elsa’s.