Do you wanna… talk about it?
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Frozen 2. Not many, but definitely enough that you should be cautioned about what you’re about to read, although your very clicking on this suggests you’ve either already seen the film or have accepted a certain morbid curiosity within yourself to find out what might cause EW to call something “Anna’s devastating moment,” in which case, welcome! It’s gonna get gloomy.
About three-quarters of the way into Frozen 2, just before the film’s final original song, princess protagonist Anna (Kristen Bell) finds herself stranded in a dark cave and an even darker state of mind. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is all but considered dead, Olaf (Josh Gad) has disintegrated like an extra Avenger in Endgame, and any wisp of hope that the princess ever felt has vanished like an icicle in August. It’s a shocking nadir for the habitually optimistic Anna, who now joins Bambi and Simba in the subsection of Disney characters who have just absolutely gone through it on screen.
Believing two deaths have struck her world, Anna does what a Disney princess in mourning is wont to do: She sings.
Fortunately, what follows is a moment of inspiring resolve, even for young viewers who have been left shaken by the drama (and/or possible introduction of the word “succumb”). “You are lost, hope is gone, but you must go on and do the next right thing,” Anna sings. “Take a step, step again, it is all that I can to do the next right thing.”
What ultimately happens here is Anna finds a way to literally scrape herself off the floor and continue living, despite no longer having two of the people she’s been living for. It’s that difficult duality — of crippling uncertainty and the loss of co-dependency, in this moment and throughout Frozen 2 itself — that Bell, who voices Anna, was eager to explore.
“Before [writer/director] Jennifer Lee wrote the script, we sat down for a while and she said, ‘What do you think Anna is struggling with? What’s the next big hurdle in her life?’ and it honestly took me a while to come up with it, but I think whereas Anna in the first one is ultimately optimistic and believes in everyone around her, I wanted to talk about, what you do when you don’t know what to do, which I think is a really dark question for a lot of us,” Bell tells EW. “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?”
It’s certainly not an easy issue to unpack, and Anna’s song “The Next Right Thing” is an objectively tough one to listen to (not only for its lyrics, but for Bell’s performance and decision to not sacrifice emotion for the sake of making a song minivan-appropriate). But Anna’s uncertainty over what to do (after so confidently proclaiming that some things never change) is greatly worsened by a loss of who to even do it for — and Anna, more than any other character, is wayward when left without a tribe.
There is a chasm of difference between the loss of life and the loss of co-dependency — you don’t have to have been intensely co-dependent to meaningfully grieve a death — but Anna’s personality has always been calibrated toward an optimism that manifests in an allowance of needing others to fulfill her. That sounds pretty harsh, but recall that the first 20 minutes of Frozen introduce Anna as a person whose entire worldview was created in the absence of human interaction; the rest of the film presents a wonderfully layered adult full of wit and warmth, but one who nevertheless has outsourced a large portion of her own sense of self-completion to the new affections of other people (like Hans, Elsa, and Kristoff). Add another layer to this: Anna is, according to the directors, an archetype of fairy tale — as opposed to Elsa, an archetype of myth — and so her motivations have been purposefully crafted to follow north stars of love, harmony, and happy endings. None of those are bad things to believe in, but the reason Anna’s moment of mourning feels so disarmingly dark is because such sunny dogma exacerbate the fall from grace when you’re suddenly miles away from your castle alone in a cave grieving your sister and snowman.
Watching Anna go to her darkest depth is no easy scene to swallow, certainly not for younger audience members who didn’t exactly have “Olaf dies” on their Frozen 2 bingo card. But if the moment can spur a meaningful dialogue about determination after the film, then it holds the same power that, for decades, has made animated films a consequential medium for fostering maturity.
“We waited around to find the story lines that were important enough to talk about, ones that we felt were necessary and things that hadn’t been discussed before,” says Bell. “This film definitely grew with its audience, and it took so long to make because everyone was hell-bent on not just making episode 2 of Frozen.” In the six years since Frozen first made landfall in the world, the actress has always spoken about her “otherworldly connection” to Anna — to her humor, her idiosyncrasies, to proudly wearing her heart on her sleeve — and Anna’s development here only furthers their bond. “I am very co-dependent, and that’s part of where my people-pleasing and optimism comes from, and we really dug deep with Anna about the good and the bad parts of being all those things in a melting pot,” she continues. “But what do you do when you can’t live for someone else anymore? I think our children deserve that conversation.”
Bell volunteers a link to another current project of hers that has also sparked its share of provocative conversation: NBC’s The Good Place, the four-season-long sitcom on which Bell plays a reformed sinner whose near-death — or, actual-death — experience galvanizes her to be a better human being. “I’m proud to be a part of a show like The Good Place because I play a girl who lives in isolation and was an island, and then only when she got to the afterlife did she realize she needed people, and she grew because of it,” Bell says. “I think Anna is sort of the opposite. She lives for everyone around her, she’s seemingly happy, but even she has to find her strength and depend on herself. And I think Jen and everyone found a beautifully poignant way to have Anna discover that and look inward.” When viewed that way, Anna’s moment of mourning doesn’t have to be something terrifying, but something teachable.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt that, for the second time in forever, a happy ending still does manage to work out in the long run.