Shelby Harper, Queens University.
Inspired, empowered, and dazzled. Those are just a few words to describe what I was feeling as I walked out of the theatre of Disney’s Frozen II. Not only was this movie a smashing hit in terms of music, visuals, and character development, but it also discussed the impact of colonialism in a way that let children in the theatre understand, and recognize. And for that, I was truly amazed.
But there was a sense of frustration at the end of the movie: where is seems right as the pasts’ wrongs have been mended, at the last minute the settler kingdom, which the audience perceives to be sacrificed for reconciliation, is spared. And while I loved Frozen II, I couldn’t help but think that this was a simple solution, leaving the earlier themes of reconciliation and despair to fall flat.
Disclaimer: Be warned, this article is going to reveal a lot of spoilers for the movie. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch it first.
Frozen II, for those who have seen it, focuses on lovable characters Queen Elsa and her sister Princess Anna, as they travel on an unknown adventure to an enchanted forest outside of Arendale, their kingdom. Upon entering the enchanted forest alongside their trusty companions Kristoff, Sven the reindeer, and the talking snowman Olaf, they quickly discover why the forest has been impossible to pass through: Elsa and Anna’s grandfather initiated violence against the Northundra tribe, and, enraged by the broken peace, the spirits blocked off the enchanted forest from entry. Thus, trapping some Arendellian soldiers with the Northundra tribe inside.
They learn that the only way that the forest can be saved is if peace is restored: and the dam that their grandfather built as a way to control the Northundra tribe fell, destroying Arendale in the process.
The colonial themes in this plot are quite apparent: the settlers in Arendale use the dam to at first appear like a peaceful offering to the tribe, but later is discovered to be a tool to control them. The Northundra tribe are betrayed by the settler King, as he attacks the chief unprovoked. This is not unfamiliar to many stories of colonization: settlers at first appearing invested in Indigenous culture, before betraying them for the sake of their own progress, power and control.
Along the way, Elsa and Anna also discover the truth about their heritage: that their mother is actually Northundran, and that she saved their fathers life in the midst of the battle. It becomes Anna and Elsa’s job as the bridge between the Arendalians and the Northundra to reconcile with these crimes, and restore balance to the enchanted forest and all the Northundran people in the process.
This is reminiscent of the feeling over powerlessness that many Indigenous people feel about the modern idea of reconciliation. To quote Joanne Mills, the executive director of the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Surrey: “[Reconciliation] is more about the acknowledgement that there were wrongs, but there isn’t a lot of action attached to it,”. It is not simply enough to acknowledge past trauma. In order for reconciliation to occur, there needs to be a balance of power between two parties in order to commit to peace between two parties. This is obviously very difficult, because currently true reconciliation cannot fully occur because of this power imbalance in the social and political structures of modern society.
After generations of terror that has been associated with colonialism, it’s quite incredible that Frozen II would demonstrate the burden the next generation of Indigenous people face as the wade through the uncertain waters that is reconciliation. It’s a thick mess of bodies, trauma, and mistakes, and one that is not forgotten easily. It can seem very difficult to do the right thing: not out of anger for the past, but simply to right what has been wrong and create a more prosperous future for all parties involved.
And, to the audience’s amazement, the next generation of settlers do not hesitate from doing what they know is right to reconcile and restore peace. Anna, after receiving a heartfelt message from her sister who has sacrificed her life for the truth, rushes to do the “next right thing” and destroy the dam.
A tear-jerking moment where Anna does the right thing is quickly resolved. As the now revived Elsa storms down the rushing water on her tamed water spirit horse Nook, and waves her hand, stopping the dangerous waves from crashing into the evacuated Arendale, sparing the castle and the kingdom.
This is the moment where I was lost. Disney made the choice to be as accurate as possible when portraying the Indigenous tribe the Northundra are modeled after, the Scandinavian Sami tribe. In fact, while developing Frozen 2, an expert board of six Sami Tribe representatives were in direct contact with the animators, which is a nice thing to hear, since Disney in the past has faced controversy about the accuracy of Indigenous representation in movies like Pocahontas. So, after going through all that effort to be true to the culture, and the history of oppression by settlers to Indigenous communities, why take back Anna’s sacrifice for a quick resolution?
For the most part, I’m quite impressed with the creator’s ambitions to delve into a plot carrying as much weight as the conversation about reconciliation, I do wish the plot had not been so quickly absolved.
I understand this is a Disney movie, but if Frozen II is going to stick with the idea of using colonialism as a main theme, and discussing the importance of reconciliation, it feels slightly irresponsible to allow the big sacrifice Anna makes to be taken back. While the spirits may have wanted to spare the evacuated Arendale, Indigenous viewers watching this scene may feel cheated. The kingdom had been evacuated, and nobody would have been hurt had the water crashed into the castle. It could have been a beautiful moment to end the movie by rebuilding: as many Indigenous communities have had to do historically after horrific events caused by colonialism.
Likewise, by ending the movie in a different fashion, and using the rebuilding as a way to display colonialism to young viewers, it could have given children the opportunity to see what reconciliation actually means. Making a sacrifice, however hard, for the greater good. To display the devastating effects of having to rebuild a home that has been taken from you, but the hope that also is built in the process.
After all the despair Anna deals with at the discovery of the true, she still has the desire to do the right thing, even if it would result in making a sacrifice. To be clear, I am not trying to bash the creative team of Frozen 2. I thought that the movie was very inspiring. I left the theatre having a great respect for both Anna and Elsa, who made sacrifices to set things right.
But her big choice, and her big moment of proving her passion for making things right, was diminished the second the castle was spared.
Gloria Allred once said: “there is no change without sacrifice”. By choosing to spare the empty kingdom, the powerful moment of making a hard choice for the good of reconciling the past is forgotten.
Kang, Inkoo. “Frozen 2’s Bizarre Storyline About Reparations, Explained.” Slate (2019).
Nikel, David. “Disney’s Upcoming ‘Frozen 2’ Inspired By The Scandinavian Sami.” Life in Norway (2019).
Pewewardy, Cornel. “The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators.” School of Education University of Kansas (n.d.).
Sterritt, Angela. “What does reconciliation mean to Indigenous people?” CBC (2019).