Frozen 2 is now in theaters, delighting audiences with a fresh adventure, new songs, cute characters, and the reunion of Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Idina Menzel. On all these points, Disney is thrilling fans of Anna and Elsa. But did the studio dare deliver on the demand that’s been lighting up social media for years? Did Disney give Elsa a girlfriend?
It turns out that question isn’t an easy yes or no. So let’s begin with how the “Give Elsa A Girlfriend” campaign began.
SPOILERS BELOW FOR FROZEN 2!!!!
In the spring of 2016, Frozen 2 was in the works when one fan offered Disney a suggestion on Twitter:
Frozen gave Anna her “prince” in the form of a rugged but loving Kristoff. Why not have Frozen 2 present Elsa a princess to share her life, her throne, and her heart? The idea soon gathered steam and the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend caught on, spurring a petition as well as plenty of fan art of a proposed partner for the ice queen, like a princess of color with fire powers!
But why now and why Elsa?
Well, Disney had been dinged by GLAAD for a 2015 release slate that offered 11 feature films and not a single LGBTQA+ character. That’s an F- minus for queer representation and Disney fans were taking notice. On top of that, many Frozen fans noticed how Elsa’s arc in the hit animated musical seemed to speak to the journey of coming out as LGBTQA+.
In Frozen, Elsa has something inside her that her parents don’t understand, so they tell her to keep it a secret. (“Conceal. Don’t feel!”) She’s encouraged to hide her true self, but ultimately can’t. When her truth comes out, she’s rejected by a society that fears her difference. In this reading, her big song “Let It Go” is a proclamation of her queer identity, a coming-out anthem that says of those who would judge her, “I don’t care/ What they’re going to say/ Let the storm rage on!/ The cold never bothered me anyway!”
However, this is all subtext. Though she may be arguably coded queer, Frozen does not make clear Elsa’s sexual orientation. She is not shown having any romantic or sexual interest in anyone. With the social media for #GiveElsaAGirlfriend out there, Disney couldn’t just ignore the question of Elsa’s sexuality, could they? Would Disney risk outraging conservative, toy-buying parents by bringing queer representation to one of the studio’s most sacred (read: lucrative) brands, the Disney princess? Or would they risk infuriating liberal audiences by turning this fierce queen canonically straight?
Frozen 2 offered a chance to confirm Elsa’s sexuality, but the filmmakers opted out. In this much-anticipated sequel, Elsa is given no girlfriend, or boyfriend for that matter. Instead of a romantic quest to find a partner, her arc is about her finding satisfaction in her vocation, much like self-partnered Disney princess Moana. Still, there are scraps in this sequel that hint at a queer coding.
In the film, a mysterious voice calls to Elsa from an unknown destination, entreating her to leave her kingdom behind for a magical quest. Her big song this time is “Into The Unknown,” which sings of her fascination with this beckoning (and notably female) voice. On the surface, the song is about the fear of moving into the unknown, but the sense of temptation and phrases like “secret siren” give it a sexual verve.
Everyone I’ve ever loved is here within these walls.
I’m sorry secret siren but I’m blocking out your calls.
I’ve had my adventure. I don’t need something new.
I am afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you.
Now, consider this verse, where Elsa talks about how she’s still repressing something about her identity, and searches for someone who might relate.
Or are you someone out there who’s a little bit like me?
Who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be.
Every day’s a little harder as I feel my power grow.
Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to go?
If Frozen was about Elsa’s coming out, then Frozen 2 is about her finding her community. She hears a call that pulls her out of the world she knows, into the unknown. There, she meets elemental spirits of fire, water, earth, and air, as well as the Northuldra, a tribe who lives in an enchanted forest. Elsa’s understanding of herself grows as she meets others who understand her. This includes Honeymaren, a Northuldran maiden who shares a couple of brief conversations with Elsa, most crucially inviting her to live with her (and the tribe). Honeymaren doesn’t have fire powers, but she is a woman of color who instantly warms to Elsa. Could she be Disney’s answer to the fan petition?
If you squint, you could call Honeymaren the girlfriend for which fans advocated. However, there’s little evidence in the film for this. There’s no pronounced romance between the two. Unlike Anna and Kristoff, they will not speak of love, kiss, or sing love songs. Plus, audiences might well assume Honeymaren is coupled up with Ryder, a male Northuldran who is often by her side. For the record, the Frozen 2 press kit identifies the pair as siblings, not spouses.
Evidence against this being a lesbian relationship could be in what we don’t see. In the sequel’s opening sequence, young Elsa scoffs at the idea of romance. As in the first film, her independence and cynicism toward romance is a major element of her character. If Elsa were to change her mind in such a dramatic manner, there’d likely be a big moment (and maybe song) and not a squint-hard-or-you’ll miss it suggestion.
However, while Frozen 2 fails to confirm for fans Elsa’s potential queerness, it also does not squash the hopes of queer fans by giving her some no-homo love interest. (Looking at you, Sharon Carter.) Then, Elsa’s arc of finding her tribe could be viewed as a queer narrative of finding her chosen family. Plus, the film does introduce a girl friend, and one with whom Elsa moves in very quickly! Then, there’s Oaken.
Remember the jolly outpost owner in Frozen? When the movie came out, a curious cutaway sparked speculation that this mutton-chopped charmer was gay.
When Oaken speaks of his sauna, he chirps to its visitors “Hello, Family!” They wave in response. Four of these people look similar, with round heads, and dark hair. Then there’s the strapping blonde man at their center. Fan theory suggested that this man is Oaken’s husband, while the rest are their children. Could this sequel at least confirm that this minor character is queer?
In Frozen 2, Oaken pops up twice more. Once, he is giving spa treatments to Kristoff out of his Arendelle pop-up shop. Later, when Elsa stops the wall of water from wiping away the kingdom, we see him once more. Perched safely on a cliff, he rejoices by bear-hugging a strapping young man in dressy attire, lifting the bloke off the ground in his excitement. And that’s it. It’s as brief and ambiguous as the supposedly lesbian couples in Finding Dory and Toy Story 4, both of the blink-and-you’ll miss it variety.
That’s it: all the arguably queer content of Frozen 2. Disney tried to have it both ways, giving scraps so small they might satisfy LGBTA+ audiences and allies used to getting the very least, but not so big that it might incur the wrath of homophobic groups like the misnomered One Million Moms or censorship of China, where Frozen pulled in $48 million.
So here we are again, Disney is releasing a movie whose brand is so big and beloved it cannot fail. The Frozen franchise already boasts two films, a Broadway show, and countless merchandising yet Disney won’t dare to give queer representation in any meaningful way. Sure, they’ll wedge in a pathetic “exclusively gay moment” here or a back-patting “historic” gay character there. But a gay Disney princess—or even a definitely gay Oaken—is a bridge too far. But that doesn’t mean we’ll let it go.
The campaign begins here for #GiveElsaAGirlfriendAlready
Header Image Source: Disney