Your Fave is Autistic Part 1: Elsa

Or: Yet ANOTHER Interpretation of Frozen

WARNING: I don’t like Frozen. At all. This article is going to contain some criticism of it. If you absolutely, positively LOVE Frozen and can’t bear to hear anything negative said about it, please don’t read. Feedback is appreciated, but hateful/ableist comments will not be approved. 

For one reason or another, Frozen became a worldwide phenomenon, both in the very best and very worst sense of the word. So even though I wasn’t really excited for it, I decided to see it while it was still out in theaters to get my own opinion of it after reading all sorts of positive and negative opinions.

My thoughts?

Not empowering or feminist. Olaf is cringe-worthy. Hans makes no sense as a villain. The story is not that spectacular. Most of the songs are kind of boring. BUT Elsa really struck a personal cord with me. Throughout the whole thing, I couldn’t help  but think to myself, “holy shit, this is me. I totally relate to this woman”.

Ultimately I’m not alone. Lots of people, especially mentally ill, LGBT+, and disabled people identify with her a lot. They can easily see themselves in her place. At the same time, though, a lot of people were wondering who EXACTLY Elsa was supposed to represent.

Jennifer Lee, the film’s writer and co-director, said that her body language was ‘definitely intentional to show anxiety and depression’.  John Lasseter, the film’s executive producer, said that Elsa was changed from a villain to a hero in part because of his diabetic son.

This is a little confusing. Is Elsa supposed to be a person with diabetes, anxiety, AND depression? Was she originally just meant to be a metaphor for diabetes and Jennifer Lee added in the anxiety and depression? Or is she meant to be none of the above, and was merely INSPIRED by people with these disorders?

I guess, ultimately, Elsa is meant to inspire people of all sorts of disabilities, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. So I suppose it’s fair that I have my own interpretation of the film. While I’m not going to confirm or dispute the anxiety and depression part (I have anxiety and have had bouts of depression), I will say this: as I watched the movie (and whenever I watch snippets of the movie with Elsa), I read Elsa as being autistic.

For starters, Elsa’s ice powers can very easily be read as a metaphor for stimming and other behaviours common for autistic people. And when Elsa is shown to be locked away and forced to suppress her powers and be told that she’s ‘dangerous’ and not ‘normal’ can easily be seen as a form of the very abusive anti-autistic Applied Behaviour Analsyis. Fast forward and now Elsa is still reeling from not getting any support for her autism and getting no proper social skills and being told she’s not allowed to express herself. You have a woman who is told ‘conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show’ and repeats it to herself, wears gloves, and acts very stiff around her sister and pushes her away, not knowing how to properly interact with her.

Then, her powers are revealed and she becomes overwhelmed, and retreats from the situation/shuts out. She hides away to a quiet place where nobody else is around. And suddenly, she is able to revel in her powers. In other words…she is finally able to stim.

Look at this screenshot:

only good scene in Frozen

This is the best scene in the movie. It shows how truly happy she is to just fully express herself without fear of judgement and discipline.

Unfortunately, Elsa’s character after this point isn’t very consistent. She fluctuates between wanting to be free and on her own, wanting to protect her kingdom/thinking she’s too dangerous, having good control of her powers to not knowing how to use them, and from being only mildly concerned to overly concerned for her sister’s wellbeing (she accidentally freezes Anna’s heart, looks shocked but doesn’t try to help, chases her out with an ice monster…and then in the third act is devastated when she thinks she’s killed her. Huh?). I think the BEST interpretation is that she’s just so broken from all those years of isolation and abuse that her senses of right and wrong and how to react properly are moot. The worst interpretation is that, since she was indeed supposed to be the villain in the original draft and they changed the story late into production, remnants of her more evil side found its way back into the story.

What really upsets me most is the ending. At the end of the story, she’s pretty much dragged home against her will, is encouraged to stay home in the name of love, and while she is accepted by her citizens, she’s only really shown to be allowed to do the most benign, lackluster things with her ice powers. I really think she should have stayed in the ice palace, let a support team come visit her to help her get a better grip on her powers and her wellbeing, have friends and family visit, and let Anna be the queen. The movie demonstrates that while she certainly LOOKS the part of the queen, she doesn’t really ACT or is ready for the ROLE of the queen.

The reason why I don’t like this movie is because you have a character that I definitely see myself in and isn’t really written to her fullest potential. I would have LOVED to see Elsa as the hero of the story, gaining lots of friends and support, saving her kingdom and her sister, and going through a lot of character development. The most we get is when, at the climax, she’s like ‘love, that’s it!’ and unfreezes her kingdom.

That said, part of me will still like Elsa and I would love to see her explored more and allowed to develop and grow.

That was my first entry in the “Your Fave is Autistic” series! Hope you enjoyed! The other entries will be more positive and longer. 


Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a recent graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I'm on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) and I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.