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Elsa's metaphorical queerness will remain metaphorical in Frozen II
Back in September, I was invited, alongside other journalists, to visit behind the scenes of Disney Animation and get a sneak peek at some of the things we'd see in the upcoming Frozen II.
We got to meet some of the new characters that are debuting in the highly anticipated sequel, and learn about the way the characters have changed. We even got to see two musical numbers in their entirety. But something we also learned very early on in the day, after a very strategic question asked during the first Q&A segment, is that while Anna's relationship with Kristoff will continue to feature in the plot, Elsa will again have no romantic story — that her story will be too epic in scale, too inwardly focused, for there to be room for a love interest in the narrative.
To say that I'm feeling conflicted about this is an understatement. On one hand, I adore Disney's recent trend of stories that are not ultimately driven by falling in love. It's a lesson that the younger audiences of these movies really deserve to keep hearing. I love that Elsa has such a vibrant and realized inner life that it takes up too much script real estate to make room for a romantic partner, of any gender. But it also confirms something that really should come as no surprise — that no matter how hard a very vocal part of queer lady internet may have wished for it (and tweeted about it), of course, one of the leads of Disney's current biggest animated franchise is not going to be a canonical lesbian.
I know all the arguments of why this was never likely to happen. I know the points raised about how blockbuster movies need to sell in foreign markets that won't accept LGBTQ+ content. Likewise, I lived through the outrage at the "exclusively gay moment" in the live-action Beauty and the Beast adaptation which ultimately amounted to little more than some raised eyebrows and knowing looks. But foolishly I came out of that situation feeling like, ultimately, the furor had little impact on the film's bottom line, that the subject faded quickly, and criticism of that movie landed more on things like the use of autotune. Surely, I convinced myself, this can mean good things for Frozen. If there's any franchise that feels like it's big enough to weather the storm of backlash to a lead character being gay, it's Frozen. Right? Wrong.
What bothers me most about Elsa's lack of queerness is the sheer inevitability of it. The fact that no matter how many so-called inside scoops, hopeful tweets, and even comments from the creators themselves I saw on the subject, I knew that this would be where we ended up. The truth is that I'm not even mad at Disney. I'm mad at myself for having even entertained the glimmer of hope. For having indulged the voice in my head that whispered: "But maybe?" What I hate is that feeling in the pit of my stomach that knows just how awful the backlash would have been. What I resent is that little bit of me that is actually relieved I won't be seeing that ugliness and hatred rip apart a character that matters so much to me.
I never had a Disney Princess that was mine until Elsa. When the concept of princesses as a marketing strategy first served up the proto-Sorting Hat concept of self-identifying as an Ariel, Jasmine, or Bell, I grew up resting comfortably in the camp of the villains having the better songs anyway. But "Let It Go" changed that for me.
I saw Frozen on a plane years after having last sat down to watch a non-Pixar animated movie from Disney, mostly out of mild curiosity about what the fuss was all about. I never expected that within it I would find a song that so intensely spoke to the experiences of being closeted and coming out. That suddenly, as a woman in her 30s, I would have a Disney Princess, nay, a Queen, of her own the way I do in Elsa. And I felt like if she could matter so much to me, imagine how much more she could matter to a younger version of me, the same kind of kid who always saw herself relating more to the villains because none of the heroes spoke in her voice.
That was why it was so easy to believe that Elsa could actually be a lesbian in a Frozen movie, because it feels so organic to the character that certainly it would be an incredibly easy sell. The naivete that I felt was in the projection of, of course, Elsa will be a lesbian in Frozen II because Elsa already is a lesbian. I fell into the inadvertent trap of having too intense a headcanon: convincing yourself that it's actual canon. Ultimately the positive takeaway is that by continuing to not give Elsa a love interest, the filmmakers have at least shown a nod to those of us who care so much about this topic. They haven't made Elsa explicitly queer, but they also aren't making her explicitly straight.
I kept coming back to that idea of Frozen being the franchise that was so big it could weather the storm. But the truth is paradoxically the opposite. Frozen is so big that it symbolizes far too much to lose. I do believe that we are on the precipice of an era where LGBTQ+ characters will become more and more common in family-friendly animated works, when isolated queer kids may actually be able to see themselves at last. It's happening already. From Steven Universe to Rocko's Modern Life to the short film In a Heartbeat, the road is being paved. But perhaps it was hoping too much for something so groundbreaking from a franchise that is literally breaking ground on expensive theme park attractions modeled after its fictional setting.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.