There are a lot of things to like about Disney's latest hit Frozen: the major relationship in the film concerns two sisters, it doesn't chase happily ever after in the traditional sense, and it also takes actual screen time to mock the whole idea of love at first sight as a reliable marker of future happiness. But the real SPOILER kicker: The prince in the film — Hans — is a Grade-A classic dickweasel.
Frozen, as you may know, is adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Some of the choices in the adaptation have raised feminist eyebrows — namely, that the original involves a girl saving a boy and Frozen instead has a girl saving a girl (and who can forget that gaffe about how hard it is to animate women because of their emotions).
The basic plot involves sisters Anna and Elsa. Elsa, the eldest, has magical wintry powers to freeze stuff, like the icy version of King Midas or, say, Firestarter. Basically, when she gets a case of the feels, shit gets real frosty, real fast. Because Elsa once nearly offed Anna with those powers, the 'rents instruct Elsa in the fine art of icy repression. She wears gloves and hangs out in her room alone her entire young life, probably filling up a LiveJournal (this take equates that repression, isolation, and fear of Elsa's growing powers, and that there is no love interest for her character, as a metaphor for female and/or queer sexuality, and it's worth a read). As a result, the sisters are not buds, and then the parents die, yadda yadda, now it's time for Elsa's coronation as queen.
This opening of the palace doors and inviting in of the commoners for this event is terrifying for Elsa, who is sure she'll go frosty-ruinous the moment she has to take the gloves off, and exciting for Anna, who, via a little diddy called "For the First Time in Forever," waxes ecstatic about whether she's gassy or not, talks about how much she wants to eat some chocolate, and then wonders if maybe she'll "meet the one." (It's just clichéd enough, and awkwardly so, that I suspect the lyrics are part of the subversion the movie pulls off.)
And coincidentally, that very night, she does meet a guy! Enter Hans. Perfect dude. Gets all the jokes. Finishes all the sentences. Sweet, attentive, lovely, and seemingly in love with her. Also, like Anna, he too loves sandwiches, a shared passion we should never discount. It's a wham-bam-thank-you-maam sitch, and before you know it, by nightfall, they are engaged.
You'd have no reason to even register a shock at this moment in the film, since the whole, one-dance-one-song-and-now-we-love-each-other thing in Disney movies (Cinderella, obvs) is de rigueur. So it's kinda funny that what comes next DOES seem weird in context. Anna excitedly tells her sister the good news, and Elsa is like, the fuck you are getting married. She flips out and freezes everything, then bails for her ice palace in the snowy mountains (which, as has been noted, is exactly what you'd picture a Celine Dion Vegas set would look like, coincidentally).
Anna heads out to bring her back, and later, when she tells her travel guide Kristoff, basically, the other dude in the movie, about her new beau, Hans, he, too is all, what the fuck is wrong with you, getting engaged in one day?
But in Anna's defense, he did seem like a standup guy. We're all just as snowed as she is, BTW. Anna leaves Hans in charge of the kingdom he will ostensibly inherit with her while she chases after her sister, and he's super good at it. He is nice and kind to people, and helps the poor shivering plebes trapped in this new winter hellscape, and all-around leads like a leader-person. We see him as good and worthy. Meanwhile, Elsa battles with Anna and injures her gravely, and whaddya know, the only cure is true love. Believing this will come from beefcake Hans, Anna returns to her well-kept kingdom to find that the jig is up.
This take at The Atlantic, which argues that this twist is "cynical" and "needlessly jarring," puts it thusly:
But just when he should be saving the princess, the male lead reveals himself to be a greedy, throne-usurping would-be killer: Hans leans in, supposedly about to give her that kiss ... then sneers, "Oh, Anna, if only there were someone who loved you."
Ouch. That moment would have wrecked me if I'd seen it as a child, and the makers of Frozen couldn't have picked a more surefire way to unsettle its young audience members.
Anecdotally, my 3.5 year old was only scared of the snow monster and didn't seem to register this betrayal, but that doesn't mean other kids wouldn't. But yes, the moment was disconcerting. Unexpected. But also pretty awesome, and not because girls should be taught that men who really dig them up front are innately tricksters, just the first guy that likes you a lot. No really, learning that some degree of skepticism about fast moves in relationships is valid for a reason, and of course, all the other movies paint this sort of perfect dudeness/love forever as beyond reproach, so they kinda need to hear otherwise.
This Hans-as-Dick thing undoes the very cherished tropes of the other films, which most of these girls have no doubt seen by now — The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. It is a counter to the steady diet of falsehoods, and, frankly, it's high fucking time.
Also, I think the shock is probably weirder for the parents, who are kindly oblivious to how inured they are to those shitty old tropes. At these unexpected moments in the film — when everyone gives Anna shit for getting engaged too fast, when Hans is a mega-schlong — it almost makes you feel embarrassed and gullible for being surprised by those reactions. I mean, really: Are we so well trained to swallow that bullshit that actually seeing the more logical emotional response to love at first sight and instant engagements is actually weirder?! YES, the answer is YES. We have it backwards, is my point.
The Frozen Wikia page for Hans says that because both Anna and the audience are convinced of Hans's goodness for so long in the movie (about an hour), this twist makes him "one of the sneakiest and most sinister Disney villains."
Well, it definitely makes him hotter (KIDDING) but The Atlantic writer points out that if it were an adult movie, it might be hailed as sophisticated and smart for pulling off all this subversion, only young children aren't sophisticated and so it's shitty.
To me, that young children aren't sophisticated means they probably won't parse this out on the same level, but also that Disney has already fed them tragedy, villainous cruelty and terrible gargoyle people on the daily since birth. Hell, the way Cinderella's sisters and stepmother act toward her guts me almost as much as how little she does to save her own ass.
But very young Disney audiences have already seen seen parents die, cute animals killed, terrible evil people get their way. That most Disney films make it super obvious who is batting for which team is logical for very young children, but part of being alive in the world is a gradual exposure to the nuance of the forms shitty people can take.
What's more interesting to me is imagining what a lifetime of Disney movies with Dick-Hanses would have been like for all of us. Frozen already offers a lot more nuance than ever on the realities of relationships, sisterly and otherwise (hell, there's a whole tribute in there to the merits of picking the schlubby guy, too), and it's still serving it up with that requisite spoonful of sugar. As slow-going as it may be, it's no doubt the direction we should be headed, rather than risking over-romanticizing the very flawed past.