Warning: This post contains spoilers for Frozen 2.
I left a packed showing of Frozen 2 on Sunday night feeling a wintry mix of emotions. Mainly, gratitude that my two-year-old and five-year-old—plus four of their friends—sat through it, affording us adults roughly two hours to lie undisturbed in reclining seats. Obviously, it was charming to see a packed theater of little costumed Elsas flaunting clip-in braids. But at the same time, I had little to no idea what I had just seen. Even after sleeping on it, even as the movie’s spiritual siren call rings in my ears, I remain deeply confused by the plot. What are the origins of Elsa’s magic? Was her grandpa a colonizing a-hole? I am only sure of the latter (spoiler: yes).
A cursory glance at the reviews reveals that “convoluted” is an oft-used descriptor: Frozen 2 “can sometimes lose us in a thicket of convoluted plot lines,” as Rolling Stone put it. Sometimes? More like the entire time (except for when Olaf was reenacting the original Frozen via dramatic ice dance, which was perfect). I acknowledge full well that Frozen 2—which made a record-breaking $350 million worldwide over the weekend—is not “for” me. Still, as long as grown-ups are made to watch (and rewatch) Disney’s sisterly adventure, I exercise my right to questions—many of them. Here they are. I’ve attempted to provide answers, but I’m not sure I have it right even now, because this movie is so confusing that even talking about it is confusing. Sorry!
1. Why do memories, both good and bad, suddenly manifest as ice sculptures?
In the original Frozen, Anna turning to solid ice marked her (temporary) death. But in the sequel, ice sculptures materialize as memories frozen in time, including charming ones like Elsa and Anna’s parents as teen lovers. In fact, that sculpture is so detailed, it depicts the pattern of their mother’s shawl, tipping Elsa and Anna off to her, and their, indigenous ancestry. Later, however, Elsa (temporarily) dies and becomes an ice sculpture again. Are they death or happy memories—or both? (At this point, I think my son was just randomly shouting, “Olaf!”)
2. Wait, so Anna and Elsa have indigenous ancestry now?
It seems like it—they learn that their mother was a member of the Northuldra tribe, which is described as being true to the earth and guided by spirits.
3. Is it a disconnect, then, that both the royal sisters and their late mom look exactly like white Barbies?
I had to wonder, but, as Slate notes, “the Northuldra are modeled on the Sámi, an indigenous people scattered across northern Scandinavia and northwestern Russia…but there’s a lot of disagreement about the genetic and linguistic origins of Sámi to this day. Many Sámis would be classified as ‘white’ in an American context, while others would be considered ‘Eurasian.’” Sámi representatives reportedly consulted on the film.
4. Is it kind of lofty to wedge the concepts of colonialism and reparations into a kids’ movie?
It certainly is ambitious, which is on brand for this plot! And perhaps karmically necessary after Pocahontas. At first, we are led to believe that Elsa and Anna’s grandfather, the then king, gifted the Northuldra with a dam as a peace offering. But later, Elsa learns her grandfather actually gave the dam to weaken their territory. It is subsequently determined that the dam must be destroyed in order to restore spiritual harmony, even if it means the tidal wave unleashed by breaking it would subsume and destroy Arendelle. (Of course, Arendelle is not destroyed.)
5. Why does an impenetrable fog settle over Northuldra, again?
Evidently as punishment, because the fighting that broke out generations ago between Elsa and Anna’s grandfather and the tribe angered the “spirits.” But it’s easy to lose track of how, why, and when that all happened. When Sterling K. Brown’s Lieutenant Mattias marvels at the end of the movie that he just spent “34 years” trapped in said mist, I almost spit out my popcorn.
6. Speaking of Lieutenant Mattias, did Frozen 2 just add black people to Arendelle and pretend they had been there all along, even though there were definitely no people of color in the original?
Yes. Yes, they did. Though I’ll never argue with Brown being cast in anything.
7. Who and what is the mysterious “fifth spirit”?
This is arguably the crux of Frozen 2: Elsa hears the aforementioned siren song ringing in her ears, and sets out to find the origin of it, which might also be the origin of her powers. We learn it’s the voice of a “fifth spirit,” in addition to air, fire, water, and earth. Anyway, once Elsa crosses the treacherous Dark Sea to the mysterious island of Ahtohallan, the voice seems to belong to her late mother. But then, we’re led to believe that Elsa herself is the “fifth spirit”—the one she’s been looking for, as she sings in “Show Yourself.” Cut to me, asking myself: So, is it her or her mother? As a friend’s seven-year-old described it, “the fifth spirit is love,” which actually makes the most sense. Can only kids decode this film? I think so.
8. Is Ahtohallan horrible or amazing?
Elsa and Anna’s parents didn’t die by shipwreck where we thought they’d died by shipwreck (always a fun, uncomplicated topic for kids!); they actually died by shipwreck trying to journey to Ahtohallan, the mythical island they believed held the answers to Elsa’s powers. Elsa risks her own death trying to get to Ahtohallan. (She is mercifully saved by a spooky horse-spirit.) Once there, she sees a vision of her late mom, which almost made me cry. But then Elsa falls down a hole, loses all her powers, and turns into an ice sculpture herself. What even is this place? Why, at the end of the movie, do we see Elsa triumphantly riding back to Ahtohallan, despite its obvious treachery? Is it a temple of special memories or a death trap?
9. Aside: Why does Elsa wear perfectly tailored scuba leggings into the ocean?
Okay, I think I know this one. Because she’s an action hero now and she has to ride a horse! But really: How much is this new Elsa costume in a size 5T going to cost me?
10. Will we forever be denied Elsa, the queer icon?
Intentional or not, Frozen’s “Let It Go” was embraced as something of a coming-out anthem, and the internet has recognized Elsa as a queer heroine. The vocal prowess! The self-discovery! The hip swivels, the glitter! Glimmers of hope abounded that the sequel would reveal her to be queer (love is an open door, after all). But alas, no dice. Anna gets the romantic (hetero) proposal from Kristoff, and Elsa is in love with herself—which is still pretty cool in itself.
Originally Appeared on Vogue