(This post contains spoilers. Go watch "Frozen" before you read it)
Disney's latest film "Frozen" is receiving rave reviews, and the song "Let It Go" is one of the highlights of the film. Don't take my word for it - Wikipedia, as usual, is great for such simple background facts. I am currently having an internal debate about whether Elsa is my favorite Disney character, and whether "Let It Go" is my favorite Disney song - time will tell, but I'm leaning towards "yes" on both questions. On my Google search history, there are queries such as "let it go is brilliant" and "frozen let it go analysis", but having found nothing satisfactory, I've decided to write this post instead.
There has been much written about "Let It Go", and a typical opinion on the song is that it is "liberating" or "empowering", that it is about Elsa coming into her true identity, and that it is a jubilant celebration of release for those who have been living in fear or bondage. But while all this is true as far as that goes, stopping the analysis there misses the great depth and subtlety of the song. Yes, the song is about empowerment, but there is also tragedy, anger, bitterness, and self-deception in it, in even greater measure. It doesn't mark Elsa's claiming of her identity or her apotheosis - instead, by the end of the song, she is in severe danger of losing herself. The song does lift her up, but only to set her perched atop a high precipice, with slippery slopes falling into a despair event horizon on one side and a moral event horizon on the other. The potency of the song derives not from how uplifting or positive it is, but rather how perfectly it fits into the overall narrative, and how much it does to develop Elsa into a compelling, relatable character.
(At this point I would like to link the video and the lyrics for the song - I'll be referencing them often for the remainder of this post)
First, consider the placement of the song in the whole movie. Elsa has just run away from her own coronation, and has brought the eternal winter upon Arendelle. The song itself only marks the end of the first act. The story has just begun, so this cannot be the end of the character development for Elsa - it is actually only the end of the beginning, and the primary function of the song is to set down the conflicts that Elsa must go through - the demons that she must face - before the story is over. In fact, much of the rest of the story will be played out to specifically reverse many of the most triumphant lines of her song. Consider the following:
Elsa sings several times, "Let the storm rage on", referring to her stormy heart and mind. (The weather itself is actually quite calm for most of the song). She also sings that she's now free. She is trying to convince herself that she can live with the turmoil inside. But, in Elsa's next scene (For The First Time In Forever (Reprise)), she is confronted with what she's done to Arendelle and sings, "Oh, I'm such a fool, I can't be free / No escape from this storm inside of me", driving her further toward despair. So she takes back what she had said, in her very next scene. She is, in fact, not yet free and is not fine with the storm raging on inside her.
In "Let It Go", the line "Let the storm rage on" is followed by "The cold never bothered me anyway" - a line many people remember, as it's said twice, sung in a different style, and is the last line of the song. Of course, as the Snow Queen, Elsa is not bothered by low temperatures in the literal sense. But in the other senses of the word "cold", she is still frightened of it. Uncontrolled release of her powers still remains the primary problem in the story, and after building her ice palace she is never again happy while using her powers, until the end of the movie.
Most importantly, "cold" as in isolation from other people, is still bothering her to the core. Think about what she does after she finishes her song, right after she sings that last line "the cold never bothered me anyway": she turns around and slams shut the doors to her new castle, as she had done in Arendelle. Her way of dealing with her problem is still the same as it was before her coronation: she thinks as long as she shuts people out - and if that doesn't work, as long as she's far enough away and isolated and alone - she'll be okay. But this is diametrically opposed to the central message of the film - that instead of not being bothered by the cold of isolation, she needs to be embraced by the warmth of love. The movie cannot end until she recants this sly, subtle line, which she does only at the climax. Until then, Elsa is lying to herself.
Another line in the song that's a self deception is when she says "You'll never see me cry". Both this line and "the cold never bothered me anyway" are the kind of things said by people who are trying to convince themselves; they are not usually said by people for whom this is simply true. Of course, we do see Elsa cry over Anna at the end, as a testament to the love that Elsa has for her. Again, by negating this very line in the song and shedding tears, she is finally becoming the person she wants to be. Elsa finds her identity and finally comes into her own character, not in embracing the message of these lines in "Let It Go", but in rejecting them in the climax.
Additional examples abound. Elsa sings "here I stand, and here I'll stay", and "I'm never going back". But of course, she does go back to Arendelle. She eventually abandons the ice palace (while keeping the new dress and hair). She sings "That perfect girl is gone", but in the end, she does in fact become the perfect girl she always wanted to be - fully in command of her powers, and on top of that beloved of her sister and her people. She sings "the past is in the past", but her final salvation comes from her relationship with her sister, stemming from Elsa's deepest past.
Lastly in the matter of lyrics, consider the title of the song itself, "Let It Go", which is sung repeatedly. What is she letting go of? Firstly and most obviously, it refers to Elsa letting go of the restraints of her powers, to "see what [she] can do / to test the limits and breaking through". This is the positive element in the song, and what most listeners unfortunately latch on to, to the exclusion of other elements. Personal empowerment is obviously good. If you look carefully at Elsa's expressions while she's singing, the few tens of seconds around this line is the only time she is genuinely happy. But personal empowerment, though good, is fraught with danger, as indicated by the next line: "No right, no wrong, no rules for me".
Seriously, how many characters say something like that and not become evil? These are probably the most telling lines for picking up on the narrative meaning of the song. And that is the second thing that she's letting go of: her sense of right and wrong, of the rules and restrictions that being a "good girl" imposed on her releasing her powers. Now obviously some of the rules constraining her before were restrictive and counterproductive, but they were also for the safety of others. How much of that is she letting go? Only some specific rules? All of it? The entire concept of goodness? We don't know, but her singing "No right, no wrong, no rules for me" should have set off alarm bells in the audience's heads. "Let It Go" was originally meant as a villain song, and Disney wanted the possibility of Elsa being a villain to be alive in the audience's minds. We are supposed to be worried for Elsa's soul at this point, and the rest of her character development is about how she is saved from her precarious position.
Elsa is also letting go of any hope or desire of companionship with people. This is the third meaning of "let it go". If the above second meaning of "let it go" indicated an erosion of Elsa's goodness, this third meaning indicates an erosion of her hope. The second meaning pushes Elsa towards evil, the third meaning pushes her towards despair. The second meaning may lead to villainy, and the third meaning may lead to tragedy. She has decided to stay away from all that she loves, and she's tried to convince herself that she's fine with that.
Look again at Elsa's expressions as she sings "Let It Go", especially during the lines that I've mentioned above. Open up the video, put it on a HD resolution, and slow down the speed to 0.25 during key moments. Or go see my study of Elsa's facial expressions during "Let It Go". Look for the emotions flitting across her face almost frame by frame. She switches rapidly between resignation, bitterness, giddy happiness, genuine smiles, sorrow weighing down her brow, anger, resolve, and many mixtures of these emotions. Some of the most negative emotions are on Elsa's face during some of the most triumphant lines. The animators, songwriters, and the singer did a remarkable job of conveying all this in this beautifully crafted, intricately complicated song - it's a pity that many people simply see a positive empowerment song.
"Let It Go" informs the audience of the evil and the despair that Elsa has the potential to fall into, while keeping her a completely sympathetic character. Her empowerment, while clearly a good thing, also raises the danger that she may fall one way or another. It makes the audience able to relate to her while at the same time causing us to be wary of her and worried for her. Who hasn't felt that they could become more powerful if only they let go of other people and their restrictions and morality? Who hasn't felt that there is nothing they could do in certain helpless situations, powerless despite their abilities? And who hasn't felt their soul imperiled by these feelings? For all these reasons, despite being the only human with superpowers, Elsa is the most real, relatable character in "Frozen".
After setting up this remarkable character in "Let It Go", the rest of the film is about showing how Elsa successfully navigates these potential ruins and comes to be a wholly good person, worthy to be a heroine in one of Disney's best films. She has some close calls - she nearly became evil in rebuffing the visitors and intruders in her castle. She did despair when she thought Anna was dead. But through Anna's deep love and help from the others, she earns her happy ending.
I think that if you take "Let It Go" simply as an uplifting empowerment song, you rob Elsa of a great deal of her intricate characterization. You collapse her into a two-dimensional character. If the song was entirely positive, if her soul was not in actual danger of ruin when the song ended, then she loses her agency for character development. She simply becomes someone nice and powerful who reacts to what happens in her environment. She would not be fundamentally all that different in the end than she was in the middle. To be a fully fleshed out character, Elsa's empowerment must also imperil her.
It has to be this way because it's true in real life. We have heard that "with great power comes great responsibility". We have heard that "nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power". We know that "power corrupts". Unfortunately, this is not a sentiment I hear often among many groups who have recently become empowered. There is much talk about how good and progressive and positive personal empowerment is. But not many are saying to these people that power is not a right or a privilege, but a sacred charge, to be used for doing and becoming good.
Thank God that we have in Elsa a wonderfully compelling character who perfectly combines all these points. And thank you Disney, for bringing us a beautiful song, a superb character, and an excellent film.
You may next want to read:
A systematic mythology of the "Frozen" universe
The dividing moment - a short alternate ending to "Frozen" that I wrote to illustrate just how close Elsa came to desolation and perdition. Beware; it's dark, tragic, and graphic.
Elsa's facial expressions during "Let It Go", in Disney's "Frozen"
The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen"
The Gospel according to Disney's "Tangled"
Another post, from the table of contents
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Thanks! It really does feel satisfying to know I wrote all that and someone else liked it.
Hello from TV Tropes! Anyway, one more layer in all of this is something that I think Frozen did really well throughout. When I saw this in theaters, most of the people there were either little kids or adults with those little kids (I was one of the few people who was neither). I think this song has kind of a double meaning to each of those groups - the little kids seeing it as a pure empowerment message, because the world is much more black and white, with the adults getting all that deeper meaning you mentioned. That's what I loved about Frozen - It can be viewed as simple enough for kids to enjoy, but delve deeper into it and there is so much characterization and deeper meaning. This is how to properly do a 'kids' movie. Great analysis.
Just popping in to say this is an excellent analysis and explains for me exactly what bothered me about many of my friends claiming this as an "eff it all" kind of positive anthem. I just didn't feel that at all. I enjoyed Frozen, though I think it could have used a lot more polishing and better connection in its music and better art direction over all. But it had some very good characters with some wonderful themes. I really love this song, I just wish the animation complimented it as well as it should have.
But yes. It's a villian song. Every musical disney movie has a villian song. This is no different. Thank you for the excellent job!
Totally agree - great works of art nearly always can be understood on multiple levels by different people and I think "Frozen" is a good example of that.
What I especially like about "Let It Go" is that the multiple levels are all present fully: they didn't write a song that's 33% empowerment and 33% tragedy and 33% villainy, they somehow managed to write one that is 100% all three.
I saw it with a friend's extended family - age ranging from 3 to 70 - and we all loved it. This is indeed how to do a 'kids' movie.
Thank you! I agree "Frozen" isn't perfect; I left the theater feeling like it was very good but feeling a little sad that it wasn't better. In particular, pertaining to Elsa, I thought her gaining control of her powers at the very end was a little too easy, as if she just needed an attitude adjustment to what had been a very serious problem up to that point.
But even in this imperfect movie, I really can't find any flaws with "Let It Go". I'm not exactly objective on this - some may say that I'm obsessed to the point of needing help - but I did know that the song was rich with meaning and that I loved it when I first heard it. Thanks for contributing your thoughts!
Incredible job in this analysis, really. You picked up details that really matter and I had no idea they were there, but I kind of disagree with you in some parts and I'd like to discuss it.
The part about her facial expressions during the song: I just watched the whole thing slowed down and it really seems that she's fooling herself effectively. She does believe that she's free. There's one emotion though that is absolutely in every scene where Elsa appears (before the happy ending, of course): Fear. Fear is even the main reason why they got Idina to do it. Specially when she says "I'm never going back, the past is in the past", it seems that she's wondering how it would be if she had to go back. But then she convinces herself that she's fine out there all alone (and the epic hair moment comes).
The biggest thing that I can see that bothers her is being alone. In the scene where Anna enters the castle and sees Elsa as the awesome Snow Queen she is, look how proud Elsa is. She's really relieved. But then Anna starts climbing the stairs and Elsa gets instantly concerned and clearly keeps her distance. Then she explains saying "Anna, I belong here. Alone. Where I can be who I am without hurting anybody". You don't even need to slow it down, it's right there. When she says "alone", she looks at Anna and kind of laughs like "What else can I do?". Pretty sad line.
Only then comes For The First Time In Forever (Reprise) and she learns that she doomed Arendelle big time. Only then she says "I'm such a fool, I can't be free" and everything else meaning that she can't prevent herself from hurting people. I even think that she only throws that magic on Anna's heart because she's devastated of realizing how she fooled herself, instead of simply freaking out because Anna's pressing her.
So that's it. I think that at least during Let It Go, what bothers Elsa the most is having to be alone. Calling herself the queen of a kingdom of isolation is a good way to represent that. About every other aspect of your analysis, I completely agree with you. Incredible film, incredible character. Elsa might be my favorite Disney character too. I like to compare her amount of depth with Frollo's, which is another very interesting character and also one that's very hard to believe that was approved. I mean, a powerful religious man wanting burn her desired one in hell fire? Almost as impossible as a disney princess who's almost a villain.
Anyway, again, great analysis!
I feel as if your stipulations could be even further supported with a deeper analysis of the animation. Elsa's final confident swagger onto her balcony is almost irrefutably animated to be reminiscent of the 'disney villian', as she has empowered and diluded herself into indifference toward the outside world. This is skin deep and specious, even in her eyes, and we see this in the transition of body language from the beginning of the song to the end; the change is not instant, but flashes between her resentful determination to 'let go' as a coping mechanism in which she finishes the song, and the regretful, hurt and upset Elsa that wishes none of this had ever happened at all that we see walking up the mountain in the first place. There is an irresolution to her attitude that we see in the way she dances, moves and emotes. God, what a great film!
Thanks for writing this analysis, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope to see more in the future.
Thank you for your kind words!
I don't think that our views are all that different. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that she's afraid of being alone and therefore deceived herself into thinking that she's free in being alone. That's more detail than I went into in terms of her exact thought process, but I do think that's basically what's going on. She fears the consequences of what happened at her coronation, is happy about not having to answer to anyone as she uses her powers, and so decides (by deceiving herself) that it's best if she never went back while being free to use her powers. Did I get your idea correct?
But this mixture of empowerment, isolation, fear, and hopelessness is dangerous, and Elsa has to navigate that treacherous combination to reach her happy ending. Things get worse before they get better, and as you mentioned Elsa still does things that only make it seem more likely she'll fall in one way or another, such as freezing Anna's heart.
I also like Frollo's "Hellfire" a lot too! In fact the comparison between "Let It Go" and "Hellfire" was the first thing that came to mind when I started thinking analytically about how much I liked "Let It Go". I think "Let It Go" tries to be more things and actually succeeds, including at the very difficult task of making us like Elsa but also be wary of her. But "Hellfire" is a much more intense song.
Oh, and since you brought up looking at Elsa's facial expressions during the song, I just want to point out two expressions that I think many people miss and where the 0.25 slowdown helps a lot. The first is when Elsa sings "Here I stand, and here I'll stay", as she stamps her feet down to make the giant snowflake. Her expression is hard to catch because the camera quickly pans down to show us her feet and the snowflake, but if you slow it down and pause it at the right time you can clearly see that she's very sad and miserable, during what should be a very confident, uplifting action. As you say she's still dominated by fear that she has to be away from everyone, even at this moment of the release of her power for its greatest work.
The other expression, as you mentioned, is right before she lets her hair down, as she sings "I'm never going back, the past is in the past / Let it go, let it go". Again, if you pause at the right moment with the aid of slow motion, you can see that for a single frame, Elsa's face is totally scrunched up, and she's gritting her teeth hard. She looks like she's being punched in the face. It just goes to show how much pain she's enduring - almost as if the emotional pain actually becomes physical. This is the pain that drives her to transform into the Ice Queen, starting with her letting down her hair. The whole sequence is very interesting with a half dozen different expressions on her face in maybe five seconds, but this one frame of pain is easy to miss while being very significant.
Let me know if this was what you were looking for!
Thanks for pointing that out! I didn't pay attention to body language - it's not one of my strong points in observation - so I didn't look for a connecting theme specifically involving body language, beyond how it expressed her mood at any particular point in the song. I can kinda see it now - but I think I need more practice with body language and dance interpretation before I can see it for sure. Again, thanks for pointing out what I couldn't!
Very well done, great read. Loved everything about the film - the characters, the plot, the setting, far more than just the gorgeous animation.
You literally summarized what i noticed! Excellent. Through the whole movie, and especially this song, i noticed so many facial expressions that reflected so much about Elsa and the rest of the characters. I am in total awe of the animators work with this film!
Beautiful analysis. I wish you would have touched on the line where she states "the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all" though, because that is a complete lie since her fear is still forcing her into isolation--I suppose the fear she might injure someone or that she must control her powers is gone, since she is using them freely, but unknowingly still at the expense of others.
Okay, anyway, I actually looked up analysis of this song because I, too, heard all the great empowering messages on the surface level, but stayed up 2 nights in a row analyzing the lyrics and how many were lies or negated in later moments, and I wanted to see if anyone else was doing this same thing or if anyone had written on this yet.
I'd like to point out with all due respect, though, that with the line, "let the storm rage on" that saying she has a stormy heart, mind is not extremely helpful of an explanation for those lacking the ability to analyze thoroughly because they might be thinking, "okay, so what is the 'storm'?" I would say that in this line she means all the conflicts and tensions within her are free from being kept inside (i.e. she no longer has to continue controlling the power and can unleash it relieving that burden which created a storm inside her, or so she thinks). When she takes it back and says "no escape from the storm inside," I hear this as being more of a line showing her agony over having to pull back her powers and try to contain them within her again, thus she can't let her "storm rage on" and is forced to suffer through holding it all in again. If you want to apply this to "real life" then you could say the storm is figuratively meaning any burdens or emotions being locked inside and allowing those to come forward and embracing them. However, allowing yourself to embrace them can come with negative consequences, which is what I believe she is saying when she continues with, "the cold never bothered me anyway." She is admitting there that she is letting it rage on, but with a consequence that doesn't bother her, though it will impact others. In the most literal sense, she means the actual cold, but in a figurative sense, I believe when she says the cold she means more of a cold shoulder, which reiterates the isolation she will have to continue to endure.
Okay, I could go on and on....sorry!
I agree with this. In fact, because of the body language, I was a little disgruntled and felt the song made my analysis confusing since Disney seemed confused on who Elsa truly was. .
Thank you! I think we can both go on for quite a while longer if we allowed ourselves to - but we have to stop writing sometime. I did write some more things about her facial expressions during the song, in a new post - look at the link at the top of the page, or just go to:
There's certainly much more to talk about!
Yes, the facial expressions during the song are worth a whole post for themselves - so I wrote it up! Look at the top of this post for the link, or just go to:
I love this analysis and I, too saw the undertones and conflict in this song, which make it so complex and relate-able. You expressed it well. I saw it a touch differently, though. Elsa is going through a phase of rebellion and isolation that many of us go through, to varying degrees, on the way towards maturity and integration of the things that make us "different" from our surroundings, whatever those may be. The step is an extreme one, and it's not the desired end outcome, but it's probably necessary. Later on in life we find our centers, balance ourselves out, and gradually get back in tune with reality and those we love.
I found that movie uplifting because Elsa was ignoring a _small minded view_ of what was "Good". Her parents' mantra of "conceal it, don't feel it" in this case. A "if you'd only act like everyone else does then they'll accept you" is much more dangerous in my view than Elsa's empowerment upon the realization that those who do not accept her _as she is_ are not worth her time or attention.
If Elsa *knew* she had caused an "eternal winter" (which is a plot hole caused by the removal of the prophecy, since "eternity" is _no_ one day...), I don't believe she ever would have sung this song and fear would have won out. But Else's "evil" acts are self-preservation. The men were trying to kill her, so she defended herself, and she did manage to hold back from actually killing those who wanted to kill her, as she easily could have by _not_ stopping the ice at one one man's throat as she did.
You are phenomenal and you explained to me what I was trying to figure all along. When I first saw the movie I noticed how the events the took place after Le It Go undermined the song in general. I was trying to figure out how I felt about Elsa being all emotionally wrecked in her ice castle, but that is the whole point Let It Go is essentially a big lie and I think this goes back to how the whole Hans thing had people fooled. The people behind this movie are great at distractions because after we saw Let It Go for the first time we thought Elsa had solved all her problems.
Yes, I think that, if you lift the message of the song above the narrative, and ask "what does it mean in real life?", then you hit the idea on the head. There has been all sorts of interpretation for whom Elsa represents - from people going through puberty, to LGBT people coming out of the closet, to mental illness and anxiety and depression. But I think all of those can be summed up in your idea of growing up to our maturity without being destroyed by our differences and isolation.
When I first saw the movie, the my first thoughts on the two classes of people represented by Elsa were:
1. Someone blessed with sublime beauty, which ties in with the sexual examples in the common interpretations. It's conventional wisdom that someone who's very beautiful can use his or her beauty for good or for evil, and that beauty can be an isolating trait.
2. Someone blessed with a vast intellect. Intelligence can also be isolating, and it's also a trait given commonly to both heroes and villains, and can be used for good or evil.
Both classes of people have that kind of gift, which can be awesome but dangerous. I think Elsa represents people like that - people who are different somehow, and who are at the brink of making a choice about that difference which will henceforth affect their very identity. As you say, coming to maturity and balance is essentially story of how we successfully incorporate such differences as parts of ourselves to be a whole person.
Thanks for your enlightening comments, and I'm glad you enjoyed my analysis!
Thank you! I'm glad that I was able to bring more meaning to this great movie and character for you. I think "Let It Go" is a great song for that, because in the moment it might appear that Elsa had solved all her problems, and we as the audience can buy into that and feel for the character. But at the end of the story, we also see both how true and how false the message of "Let It Go" was, and it gives us a new appreciation for the development of her character.
Also I think a reprise of "Let It Go" needed to be seen in the end. The resolution was too easy. And I think that would have made the plot more interesting, contrasting the first let it go with reprise, where the reprise is literal liberation. Once Elsa's actually ended the winter I expected a big sigh of relief afterwards, maybe even being knocked out from release.
Thank you for pointing out that Elsa was, in fact, not evil at any point in the movie. But in order for that to be a meaningful statement, she had to have an actual potential for evil - otherwise she's just a boring, flat character. I think "Let It Go" was the moment in the movie where Elsa's potentials and the dangers she faces are most clearly set down, and the rest of the movie is about how she makes it past all those dangers to remain a good heroine.
That's what makes her such a compelling character; beneath the simple, surface events of the movie (where Elsa is never evil as you rightly point out), there is great depth to her character in the very probable and realistic ways that she might have been undone. Her myriad possibilities are what make her a deep, realistic character, because that's what real human individuals are like - we have the possibility to do great good or evil, to live in hope or in despair. Unlike so many other characters in fiction, Elsa had a real possibility of falling into villainy or despair - she has true agency - yet she remains good.
So you're right that Elsa is not becoming evil or rejecting genuine goodness during "Let It Go". The song is instead showing that these possibilities exist in a very real way for Elsa, and Elsa is made an even greater heroine at the end because she makes it through this dangerous minefield of possibilities while remaining good.
Thanks again for participating in the discussion, and pointing out that particular point about Elsa never actually becoming evil.
Why so much emphasis on Elsa while leaving out a proper discussion of the true protagonist of the film, Princess Anna?
What Biblical character(s) are most like Anna and Elsa?
Although I don't pay much attention to deeper meaning of the song (way too distracted by that awesome ice castle she build) I remember my reaction when she sang "No right, no wrong, no rules for me" line was, "OH SHIT THAT WAS START OF DARKNESS!" And I can see that she was pretty much drunk with power in that scene.
This analysis really describe what's nagging in the back of my mind about the song and more.
I'm glad you liked it! I'm just amazed that the filmmakers managed to pack in so much meaning into the song. Potentially, it's the start of darkness for Elsa, but at the same time it's awesome (like in the ice castle building) and sad - and all that time Elsa remains piteous and sympathetic.
Well, in terms of the Biblical analogies, I think that Anna a Christ-figure in some sense, while Elsa can be said to represent humanity - created with a beautiful power which can be very bad if misused.
In general, I'd say that while "Frozen" is not an explicitly Christian movie, at its heart the major themes are all Christian ideas. The value of true love, sacrifice as a mark of that true love, the capability of that love to drive out fear and make us whole - all those are explored in the climax of the story.
In the end, every good and perfect gift comes from God; all good stories of love, sacrifice, and redemption tell us about God's love; there is only one very large story being told in the universe, and "Frozen" is a good representation of that one story.
I fully agree with this post! When I first listened to this part in the movie, I hated Elsa while also pitying her in the same wave of feelings. She was running from her problems, once again closing the door on the things that she needed to confront. Though, the moment when she held out a finger and shook it while saying 'Conceal, don't feel." she's simply mimicking what her parents had told her throughout practically her WHOLE entire childhood.
Wonderful analysis of the song, and Elsa's character. You have a terrific insight, and explicated it very well.
One thing that struck me, which you did not comment on, was the line:
"Let it go, let it go,
Turn Away and Slam the door"
Which, of course, was exactly what she does at the end of the song.
So she explicitly called out her plan to completely isolate herself.
One other thought I had concerning the lines:
"And the fears that once controlled me,
Can't get to me at all."
Her fears of hurting Anna were a big part of her wish for isolation, and yet, Anna DID find her way to Elsa's castle in spite of everything Elsa did to run away from it.
Yes, I think one of the strongest points of "Let It Go" is that it can make you feel many different feelings, any one of which would be enough to make any other song a powerful one.
Thanks for pointing these out; I never thought about the "can't get to me at all" line that way before! There's so much in the song that I feel I haven't nearly covered everything in my analysis.
Please go into greater depth regarding how the Let It Go song and corresponding Let It Go imagery opposes Anna's Christ-like love.
I agree with your analysis, it's really deep!
Many people think that "Let the storm rage on" is a reference to Elsa's originally evil nature, later modified by the authors of the movie. And so, it's like if she'd be willingly cursing the valley by "leaving the storm rage on" and hit all the inhabitants.
I do not really like this pespective. I prefer connecting the sentences "I don't care what they're gonna say: let the storm rage on" - the "storm" is all the fuss made up by the royals invited to her incoronation; the confusion, the fact they fear her, see her as a monster and act like they're going to marginalize her.
Thank you! I agree that there is something in Elsa's distress that's acting up against the fuss of the coronation. The songwriters say pretty much exactly that in the article that I linked at the bottom of the post. But I think that that the most direct interpretation of "Let the storm rage on" comes from Elsa's own songs: Near the beginning of "Let It Go", she says "The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside / Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried". In "For The First Time In Forever (Reprise)", she sings "I'm such a fool, I can't be free / No escape from this storm inside of me". From those lyrics, we see that the storm refers obliquely to Elsa's uncontrollable powers, but more directly to the turmoil in her heart and mind which is causing her power to go out of control.
Please go into greater depth regarding how the Let It Go song and Let It Go imagery opposes Anna's Christ-like love.
I think I'll perhaps go more into the relationship between Christianity and "Frozen" in a separate post.
Thank you very much for your enlightening post! You are truly a gifted analysist of body language! Reading your post makes me want to watch the movie again to observe aspects I have overlooked. By the way, I think you must have heard about Disney's decision to go against their norm by producing Frozen's sequel. In your opinion, how do you think Disney should develop the plot and characters in the sequel?
That was a great analysis, and so was the post about facial expressions. I'm almost embarrassed at just how little of this I picked up watching the song, I think the first time it just felt really uplifting and that feeling stuck on further viewings. Next time I watch the film I'll try and look out for all of these "hidden" meanings.
There is one thing I noticed which I don't think has been covered here, in the later scene where Elsa is defending herself from the invaders of her ice castle. Just as Hans stops Elsa from pushing one of the "bad guys" off the balcony, her facial expression is extremely angry, almost like she wants to kill the guy. He says something like "don't be the monster they presume you are". I find it strange that it's Hans who stopped her, considering he turns out to be the villain. If Elsa was allowed to kill one (or both?) of those soldiers surely that would have been the moral event horizon you mentioned - she would have become the Snow Queen from the original story. I guess Hans just needed to stop the winter, he could care less what happened to Elsa in the end.
Thank you, I'm glad you liked it! I think "Frozen" will get a sequel - in fact I think it should be a trilogy. Disney simply has too much money to make in doing a sequel. I would like to see Elsa come to terms with the responsibility of being a person of mass destruction, as well has having some potential suitors for Elsa introduced.
Thank you! I've spent a lot of time (too much, really) watching and thinking about Frozen and "Let It Go". I hope SOMETHING stuck after all that time, otherwise I'm really in trouble!
The attack on Elsa's ice castle is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. And I think you're right, she was getting closer to villain territory there and her expressions tell us that she was close to letting her fear and anger get the better of her. So Hans did something useful!
Please describe the Christian aspects of the song.
please describe the Christian aspect of the song.
Thank you for this analysis. You've articulated exactly what I've been feeling when people dismiss Frozen as a "kid's movie," implying that it lacks depth or thematic value. In response to this comment, though, I have some things to say about Hans (in two parts, due to length).
When Hans deflates Elsa's imminently-murderous fury by appealing to her better nature, I think it shows some very interesting things about _his_ character. As you've both pointed out, Hans here truly saves Elsa from jumping off the slippery slope, which is one of the key moments allowing for a happy ending. Regardless of his intentions, I'd say that talking Elsa down was a strongly good act, and not simply by chance. It's also overwhelmingly in Hans's self-interest.
First of all, at this point in the story Hans is still playing the role of heroic and valiant prince. This means that, for PR purposes, he'd much rather bring Elsa back alive (preferably willing), and without having caused any blood to be spilled. If the attempt turned deadly, he'd have to tone down the triumph of his return, for the appearance of lamenting the loss of life. I'm sure Anna would also be very upset about any violence directed at her sister, and things would be easier for Hans if Anna remained happy and carefree.
Secondly: Hans isn't stupid. He had just narrowly escaped death at Marshmallow's hands, and upon entering the room he can see that Elsa has clearly curb-stomped these two elite bodyguards with her bare hands. If he let Elsa proceed to kill those two out of adrenaline and outrage, what would stop her from using deadly force against the rest of the threat she faces? Even with the numerous reinforcements backing Hans, an unfettered and angry Elsa would easily wipe the floor with them and use their blood to dye her snow-porch red. And even if Hans thought his squad was a match for her, he'd be hard-pressed to subdue her in open combat without maiming or killing her -- which, again, would be a failure on several levels.
On the other hand, by piercing through Elsa's anger and prompting her to reflect on her choice, he drastically de-escalates the situation. He's nothing if not perceptive, based on how readily he analyzes the problem and chooses maybe the most effective thing to say to Elsa based on her character. I'm not sure how things would have played out if the pinned bodyguard hadn't felt lucky...but at the worst, I think Hans would have been forced to admit defeat and leave, with all of his men still in one piece. Once Elsa's fight-or-flight response was interrupted, there's no way she would kill any of the soldiers in cold blood; and again, Hans wouldn't be stupid enough to provoke her back to violence.
As for the chandelier...well, the attempt to save Elsa from a bolt to the head is consistent with everything I've just said. In aiming his redirection toward the chandelier (as is implied by his glance upward), he may have predicted the actual outcome -- a moderately off-guard Elsa, incapacitated but not seriously injured. He may have instead hoped that she would be crushed. As I said before, a dead Elsa would be sub-optimal for his immediate quest, but it would also play into his longer-term plan, so no problem there. If her death looked like an accident, or like a case of Hans doing his best to save her but falling just a little short -- his PR fallout would be much more manageable, as would Anna's reaction (probably). In a sense, it was win/win for him.
As unquestionably evil as some of Hans's acts and motivations are, I think all of this is some of the evidence showing that he is neither in it for the evulz, nor an inhuman monster so depraved as to lack an understanding of goodness. That, in turn, makes Hans another complex and real character in my eyes. I'd argue that he is not even a sociopath in the diagnostic sense -- the way he mirrors Anna and seamlessly fills the role of "benevolent ruler" suggests to me that he actually has a rather strong sense of empathy. Likewise, it looks to me as though he has a conscience -- he knows right from wrong perfectly well; he simply _chooses_ to act monstrously when the potential payoff is big enough and safe enough. At all other times, he's perfectly happy to be a superficially-decent guy; even nice. His ambition, bitterness, and whatever other Freudian excuses he maintains are strong enough to let him push aside any genuine pangs of guilt he may feel. And as awful as it sounds, I believe that is a far more common source of evil in the real world than is true sociopathy.
I enjoyed reading your analysis. Very thorough. There is actually so much more to discuss and there are so many other angles to take. There are visual symbolism as well, such as crossing the bridge wish is often used in religion and art as transition and change. This is when she decided to "let it go" for the first time. I analyzed this song as well for a paper and I'd like to send you one paragraph from it:
One of the advantages of using a creative text such as a song is the creative license that comes with it. Language can be made richer with underlying meanings, presenting a deeper understanding of the situation or more vivid descriptions of the event. In “Let It Go,” one literary device that is used to offer more empathy is the use of similes, which is the comparison of two unrelated objects. There are two instances in which this is used. There may be various interpretations for the use of these specific pairings, but I would like to take a closer look at one of those similes, “I'll rise like the break of dawn,” and propose my own insight. The single line’s language is economical in expressing the character’s newfound empowerment and enlightenment, starting off with fear and rejection to hope and embrace. When considering it for further discussion, I would argue that the comparison at once suggests that 1) Elsa’s hopes and potential are only just realized and starting like the beginning of a new day, leaving darkness and fear behind in the night to make room for the excitement of the day ahead and the possibilities of the day anew, 2) the use of her special abilities are as expected as the sunrise and as natural, powerful and even life-bearing like the sun, as evident in her creation of two snowman characters named Olaf and Marshmallow, and finally 3) Elsa’s self-acceptance is an enlightenment similar to the clarity that comes from awaking from sleep in the morning, with the sun’s light viewed as the light of enlightenment.
Absolutely awesome job here of Elsa's character analysis! I thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂
Glad you liked it! I have a few more "Frozen" related content coming up; meanwhile I hope you give the rest of the site a look!
Oh, wow, I totally didn't think about the "crossing the bridge" symbolism in that scene. Just goes to show how much there is to this song, one that's well worth analyzing for a paper as you did. I hope it went well!
Great analysis. I don't think she's quite so tragic though-- I see her as more a survivor of hard times. I think she's been ostracized and experienced great pain from that. So she fights back: Everyone knows so now she does what she can to take back her power: She lets it go FOR HERSELF and no one else. She overcomes her past and is ready to move on, free and real and human. She accepts her humanity including her 'flaws'. To me it's really a song of overcoming the mean sting of ostracization. It drives the potent point that we are all fallible and that sadly, ostracization is common and real. The song shines a big blazing light on the ugliness of that human practice of ostracization. It reveals just how mean/callous/destructive ostracization is. Just like the songwriters said in their oscar acceptance speech...they don't want their daughters to grow up facing shame for being human. I really think the song applies to how women slut-shame other women and aims to bring awareness/hopefully some cessation to that common practice. Although I do think the themes could apply to other aspects of humanity, as well as ostracization perpetrated by both females and males.
You may be pleased to know that I finally got around to writing about the relationship between Christianity and "Frozen". Check it out:
(It's also linked above in the article itself.)
I can't wait to see that post.
Although "Let it Go" can be a villain song (if sang by a villain in certain context), I agree that Elsa is not evil at any point and I can't accept that such a girl can be any evil. She's only a victim of fear/wrong advices from her parents. She fled to the north mountain and isolated herself just to ensure the safety of those she loves (Anna and other citizens) and set herself free, this is reflected when Anna told her "Arendelle is in deep x4 snow".
Even when Elsa was attacked by the duke's thugs, (note here as a royal member, Elsa must not have been threatened. But the thugs nearly killed her with crossbow bolt in the summit siege) it's natural to defend herself (to force the thug not shoot her/push the other thug away from her). Even so, she didn't immediately impale the short thug and push the tall thug down the castle (if she really wanted to kill them, the thugs are immediately dead). Elsa is SOOOOO merciful, even to those who wanted to kill her !
The lines "No right no wrong, no rules for me. I am free!" can be ultimately evil since the singer may be seeking "absolute freedom" which is satanic. BUT here the right or wrong is only whether to conceal or "let them know" and the "rules" only means the questionable rules that her father made for her. So the "right wrong rules" have no link to the universal goodness or the holy law of God.
Elsa never let those she loved go, just let go the restrictions. Let's think about it, a young girl depraved of freedom, parents, sister's love etc., when she suddenly feels free, what should she think? There must be a ecstatic blow of mind overwhelmed all her other thoughts and she would reject all the past with some improper words just to celebrate and praise the FREEDOM.
She is only a tragic victim. she's always been a good girl, always loving those she loves, caring about those she cares. Not even any potential of evil is connected with her.
As you say, I think it's important to note that Elsa was never evil at any point in the movie. She comes close to the edge, but never goes over - which is what allows her to be the sympathetic, tragic victim that you described. But I do think that she did come close, as anyone would be after being pressed as she was pressed. Her expression during the attack at her castle says a lot: it goes from from fear, to anger, to shock at what she almost became when Hans brings her to her senses. But she DOES come to her senses, her actions up to that point remain reasonable, and she passes the test without falling into evil.
For what it's worth, to me 'Let it Go' is something that Elsa sings when she's in the middle of a full-blown psychotic breakdown. She barely knows what she's thinking or what she's feeling. She angry, scared, bitter, paranoid and regretful. She's almost never actually 'happy'; at most she's got a sort of manic hysteria underway as she progressively loses touch with her identity and sanity.
It would have been very, very easy for Elsa to slip entirely into Dark Queen territory at that moment. Her upbringing had succeed in making her half-believe that she is some kind of monster anyway so, why not act like it? There is something very, very disturbing about the last verse and chorus and REALLY disturbing with Elsa's very aggressive, sensual and mocking body language after her cryokinetic makeover. This IS NOT Queen Elsa; it's someone else, someone with a very, very different moral compass and perspectives who may literally have no restraints whatsoever in her actions. It's emphasised with the last declaration of "Let the storm rage on!" Elsa is literally screaming her anger, her self-loathing and alienation at the world in an act of defiance and terror at what she is afraid she is and always will be - a monster; The Snow Queen.
Ultimately, Elsa never had the coldness of nature to make the transition all the way but, at that moment, she was standing on the precipice. If Anna had never found her or perhaps had taken a little while longer to do so, further isolation and introspection could have sent Elsa over the edge never to find her way back.
Very much agreed! I've sometimes wondered exactly how far they could have pushed Elsa this way, and still have her remain sympathetic. I sometimes wish they had pushed her a little harder into the "villain" territory, but I'm so very happy with the character as she turned out in the end that I can't complain.
I agree that Elsa had been though a lot, and that she's reacting to that - but just as in real life, to fight back doesn't make it automatically right, and she who fights monsters must take care in order to not become one herself. Elsa comes close. In fact, Elsa's path to her happy ending means that she'll endure even harder things than she had up until "Let It Go", but she does overcome in the end and becomes "that perfect girl" that she had given up on.
I've read your "The Dividing Moment" in Fanfiction.net and left a comment, but things aren't over, this tragedy is slowly Killing me! What a tragedy for Elsa and Anna. It is like the eternal punishment in hell! I'll die if not cured. Please, I beg you, give me the ANTIDOTE!
Oh... Well, the movie itself is suppose to be the antidote to that fic. It was an exploration of what things might have turned out to be like if Elsa did end up going wrong. I'm sorry that I have no plans to continue that fic, although I suppose anything could happen in the future. In the meantime, you can watch "Frozen" again and better appreciate its happy ending!
This movie only contains the good ending and positive story, but the answer to the question "why is this tragedy so tragic that pierced my soul", I think, is contained in the Bible.
The most tragic part of this fic is that Elsa is tortured for eternity, searching in vain for the comfort of love that was gone forever. There are several points:
1. **Matthew 4:4, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”**
Elsa definitely live on love, the only thing that can comfort her, the only thing that she needs.
2. **Job 19:25, I know that my redeemer lives, & 1 Corinthians 15 whole chapter**
In the settings of your fan fic, not only love is destroyed, but also has all hope vanished. The biggest, last hope, the hope for eternal life even does not exist. It's like that the redeemer died meaningless and is gone forever, without a trace. and left the living one doomed to eternal suffering.
It is why this fic is so heartbreaking and how it pierces my soul. A pagan can be doomed this way, but it's neither Arendelle's fate nor ours. This sort of tragedy can only happen outside Christendom.
Many thanks for this great fan fiction, gives me a special angle of view on "Frozen", on life and belief. I'll recommend your fic to my friends.
Great analysis! I am embarrassed to say I missed some of this and you've done an excellent job of setting up the meaning of the song in terms of Elsa's character development and in the context of the story. Great work!
Thank you! No shame in not being completely obsessed with this song like I am. In fact you may say that it's me that needs to lay off. I hope you enjoy the other "Frozen" related articles, and the rest of my site!
Well, as C.S. Lewis said, "If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. If the
happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that
surrender but himself... and he may refuse." But I think that the realization of what Elsa (who represents us) is saved from only makes the ending more meaningful.
Pietro you nailed it
Not sure what Disney had in mind but as a person who has experienced multiple traumas and dealt with fight flight and freeze with freeze being the prevalent emotion the shame is soul crushing. The feelings we need to feel in order to heal are judged as destructive....ergo our isolation...yes sad
Thank you so much for this. I could see that Let it Go was much more than it seemed, but I didn't really understand what it meant. It gave me a lot to think about and a good excuse to rewatch Frozen. Thank you!
Glad you liked it! Wow, it's been nearly a year since "Frozen" was released. I gotta re-watch it myself sometime soon.
Definitely; Hans is the kind of villain that I would be afraid of in real life, not like the... well, cartoon villains such as the duke of Weselton.
Thank you so much for this! I was struggling to make sense of some of the movie and you clarified it quite nicely. After reading all these comments I realized there was something important that was missed....when she accidentally hurt her sister her parents isolated her. She had so much guilt and shame from what she did that when her parents locked her away it was as if she were a bad girl...so she spent her life trying to be good but always feeling that something was wrong with her...and therefore never truly experiencing the forgiveness she needed to offer herself for the accident. She kind of adopts the attitude that she is a person who hurts people...that's why when Hans stops her it is so powerful, because at that moment she has to ask herself if she believes that about herself or if she will take what others thought about her and just let it go...when she offers herself that forgiveness Anna is there to show that she also forgives her and loves her so much that she would give her life for her...this really drives home the fact that she was always the good girl she wanted to be all along, it was her unforgiveness toward herself that was so destructive...what a great message for us all.
The phrase "Let it go" is synonymous with "Give up." Elsa is giving up on her family, her place of power, her society, her happiness, and her hope. So "Let it Go," far from being just a positive empowerment song, is actually a sad, lonely song about self-abandonment.
I love your analysis 🙂
But I sort of got mixed up,could you please tell me the real meaning of the song as you've described it here,please?
I guess the one-line summary is that "Let It Go" is not necessarily a happy song. Elsa is facing a great danger during that song, and that serves to only make her a more awesome character overall.
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I really enjoyed this article, as it really gave some depth and perspective to the ongoing debate about the meaning of "Let It Go." I myself really appreciated the artistry of the song from the first time I heard it, even though the lyrics were not something I could fully get behind. But you have laid it out so well here, and really explained the importance of the song, not as a triumphalistic ode to relativism, but as a turning point moment...in which the ending could have been all too different.
As the editor of The Fellowship of The King Magazine (www.thefellowshipoftheking.wordpress.com), I would like to ask if I might please republish you're article in our fantasy/sci-fi issue. If you'd be interested, please do respond via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pearl of Tyburn/Rosaria Marie
Finally! I always thought these things, and nobody understood them. Perfect analysis.
Great analysis! Thank you for writing this.
I almost totally agree with you, however, one thing I interpreted differently is the meaning of the word "perfect" to Elsa.
'She sings "That perfect girl is gone", but in the end, she does in fact become the perfect girl she always wanted to be '
In the line above, "perfect" means to control her power, right?
I think "perfect" to her actually refers to be able to perfectly hide her power,because her parents have been told her to do so forever! Due to that, she might get to take her power itself as a bad thing. Her parents never told her that her power itself is just beautiful,innocent and she just should learn how to control her power. As a result, they unintentionally oppressed her. What your parents told you affects you forever, better or worse. Elsa might not consider "perfect" as controling well, but she learned that it's ok to be not perfect by mastering that. The film could be also about Elsa being freed form her parents' oppression.
By the way, in my country, the translation of this song is overly positive and I have hated that for a very long time,because it feels like toxic positivity(and self deception in your phrase). I have been thinking that the gap between English version and the translated one and only people of my country do not correctly understand the real message of this song. However, I got surprised to find that was not true and even many English speakers took it as a simple empowermenting, positive one by reading your article. I now suppose that the phrase "let it go" is not as negative one as I have expected as an English learner.
Anyways, thank you again for this great analysis!
Is it ok to share this article on my twitter? I want my friends to read this.