Why Frozen makes no sense from a legal perspective

August 10, 2015

Pop Culture & the LawWith two young children in my house, I have seen more than my share of kid’s movies and TV shows.

Over the course of my many hours of watching them, I’ve noticed that films aimed at children often contain factual inconsistencies in their respective plots, but adults are generally expected to suspend their disbelief due the often unrealistic nature of the film itself.  And although I can typically look past a movie’s departure from reality (albeit, not without commenting on it first, much to my wife’s chagrin), there are some children’s films and TV shows with inconsistencies that persist in causing me irritation.

One of these movies is the wildly-popular Disney movie Frozen, the plot holes of which annoy me not only because I’m a lawyer, but also because I’m a fan of Game of Thrones.  Don’t get me wrong: the movie is still quite enjoyable.  But every time I watch it, I’m still nagged by the film’s slipshod disregard for the laws surrounding royalty and succession laws in what is almost certainly 19th century Scandinavia.

First, we have the attitudes of Elsa and Anna’s parents in regards to Elsa’s ice powers – particularly their father, the late king of Arendelle: after young Anna is accidentally injured by Elsa’s powers, the king orders the castle sealed up and the royal family becomes reclusive, purportedly until Elsa is able to control her powers.  However, this newly clandestine attitude adopted by the king doesn’t seem to be for the purpose of protecting the people of Arendelle as much as it does for keeping Elsa’s ice powers a secret.

Unless the Arendelle monarchy was widely unpopular and facing an almost imminent revolution – of which there is no indication in the film – there wouldn’t be any need for the royalty to hide such a fact from the public for fear of threat to the royal family.  Further, since it appears that the existence of trolls isn’t exactly a well-kept secret, a princess with cryokinesis shouldn’t be so shocking to the common folk as to incite rebellion (unless, as already discussed, the monarchy was already on the verge of collapse, which doesn’t seem to be the case).

Next, after Elsa is crowned queen and her powers are exposed to the public, she flees the capitol.  Legally, this makes no sense.  Unless there’s some provision in Arendellian laws that causes a monarch with superhuman powers to lose his or her title to the throne (which doesn’t seem to be the case given how the films ends), Queen Elsa remained the kingdom’s reigning sovereign, regardless of whether the public knew of her powers.

Granted, she obviously had her own emotional reasons for fleeing (and it is a kid’s movie, so one of the main protagonists shouldn’t be too ruthless), but royal heirs such as Elsa would have been groomed from birth to rule, and it’s unlikely that she would have simply fled out of fear of what the commoners thought of her.  Members of Arendelle’s military would still be obligated to obey her or face charges of treason (an effective death sentence), and after the demonstration of Elsa’s god-like powers (e.g., spontaneously changing summer into winter), the monarchy would be even less likely to see challenges to its authority.

But flee she did, and what comes next is even more outlandish – the title to the throne of Arendelle is passed around like a baton.  True, in Elsa’s absence, Anna, as next-in-line to the throne, would have some limited authority to make decisions on Elsa’s behalf, but she would certainly not have the authority to place Prince Hans, a member of a foreign royal family, effectively in charge of the kingdom (and she would have had all of her many advisors repeatedly telling her not to do this).

Naturally, Prince Hans uses this authority to form an armed party to search out Queen Elsa (which, fortunately for the movie’s plot, no one from Arendelle joins with).  Upon finding Elsa, the party subdues her and takes her prisoner in her own kingdom.  This act is effectively tantamount to a coup d’état, and yet, no one in the kingdom seems to care that Prince Hans has all but annexed Arendelle (with help from the Duke of Weselton).  In fact, the Arendellian royal advisors and aides appear to be colluding with Hans.

The reality of this coup violently sets in when Prince Hans sentences Queen Elsa, the rightful monarch of the kingdom, to death for treason – and attempts to carry out the sentence himself (and would have succeeded, had it not been for Anna’s intervention).  At this point, Hans has usurped the throne and is acting as the arbiter and executor of the nation’s laws, but the film makes everyone else completely oblivious to this reality.

In fact, Hans’s entire coup attempt is played down by the film as something akin to child’s mischief, with Hans looking only to face punishment from his older brothers back home in the Southern Isles.  In reality, Hans would have been publicly executed for his coup attempt (as would the Duke of Weselton and his men) by and in Arendelle.  Furthermore, if Hans’s brothers cared about avoiding a potential military conflict with a nation ruled by a queen with the power to completely decimate the Southern Isles by freezing its crops, its sea ports, and generally locking the nation in a perpetual winter, they would disown Hans and offer their sincerest apologies for their late brother’s actions.

Of course, Queen Elsa’s effect on the geopolitical balance of the region may very well be the reason that Elsa and Anna’s father wanted to keep Elsa’s powers secret from the world at large: surrounding nations would likely view her as a living weapon of mass destruction that could be leveraged to advance Arendelle’s national interests (similar to Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan).  After all, aside from Elsa’s ability to bring winter upon a large geographical area on command, she has twice demonstrated the ability to effortlessly create sentient beings made of snow and ice who are virtually impervious to harm.  What nation could repel an invasion of an army of these frost creatures, especially if its climate had been artificially dropped to sub-zero levels?

This interpretation may also explain why both Prince Hans and the Duke of Weselton are so eager to kill Elsa once her ice powers are revealed: if she’s allowed to emotionally stabilize and embrace both her powers and the throne, Arendelle instantly becomes the region’s superpower.  If, however, they are able to snuff out this threat while she is still unstable and unsure of herself, a potential superpower rival becomes a puppet state.

Of course, this is a lot to read into a children’s movie, and it doesn’t even fix all of the film’s inconsistencies, but if you’re anything like me, the movie will be more enjoyable if viewed with this interpretation in mind.