Early drafts of Disney’s Frozen had a very different story that featured an evil Elsa, an ill-tempered Olaf, and an epic snowman battle at the end.
Frozen is one of Disney’s most successful animated features, but their original plan for the film was very different from what audiences saw in 2013. The final version centered around the bond between sisters Anna and Elsa (Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel), the princesses of Arendelle. Their relationship was tested by Elsa’s magical ice powers, which threatened to tear the pair apart. Frozen played with classic Disney tropes like love at first sight and true love’s kiss, setting it apart from other entries in the classic princess catalog. Crucially, it also chose to highlight the complexities of a bond between sisters where the conflict was not simply good versus evil. The refreshing fairy tale not only resonated with Disney fans but audiences who had grown jaded with boy-meets-girl stories and one-dimensional villains from the company.
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While Frozen‘s story and songs are now iconic, the film went through decades of development hell before finally being released. Disney had attempted to adapt The Snow Queen, the fairy tale Frozen is based on, since 1937, when Walt Disney himself sought to make a biopic of its author Hans Christen Andersen. It would combine live-action and animated segments of Andersen’s most well-known stories, including The Snow Queen. Adapting the story proved particularly difficult for Disney, as the story’s structure did not lend itself to American sensibilities or the typical caveats of animated storytelling. Efforts to make a Snow Queen movie picked up again in the 1990s when the Disney Renaissance revitalized the company’s animation department, but even after multiple successful Disney directors pitched their own adaptations, the project remained shelved until the release of Tangled in 2011. The film’s success kickstarted production on what would become Frozen, but its development remained bumpy, with numerous rewrites that completely changed the film’s premise and message.
Early drafts of Frozen bore little resemblance to the tale of sisterly love that the film became. Disney’s plans wavered in how true it would be to the original story of The Snow Queen. Hans Christen Andersen’s narrative told the story of Gerda, an ordinary girl who would become Anna, as she rescued her playmate Kai from the clutches of the titular Snow Queen, who was adapted into Elsa in the Disney version. Though it includes familiar elements such as troll magic and living snow guards, the story uses deep symbolism and metaphors that would be hard to digest in an animated film. Disney’s adaptation evolved from a simple translation of The Snow Queen into the typical Disney fairy tale structure, then a sharp diversion from the company’s tropes that would turn Frozen into to its final form.
Elsa Was Originally Frozen’s Villain
Although Elsa was a complex, but ultimately good-intentioned character in Frozen, she was originally developed as a traditional villain. Early concept art showed the Snow Queen looking tall, elegant, and imposing, though other drawings depict her as short and charismatic. Later development showcased an Elsa who looked more like her final self, but with short, spiked black hair. This version turned to villainy after being jilted at the altar, where she froze her own heart so she could never love again. The evil queen was supposed to interrupt Anna’s wedding to Prince Hans, kidnapping the princess and freezing her heart, but director Chris Buck and writer Jennifer Lee decided that the villainous Elsa’s arc was an unsatisfying a re-tread of previous Disney films. The writing process of “Let It Go” put them in Elsa’s shoes, making them realize that Elsa would be better portrayed as scared, not outright evil. She was rewritten to be relatable and layered, ditching her edgy black hairdo in the process.
Disney’s Original Frozen Plan Didn’t Include Prince Hans
While The Snow Queen includes clear analogs for Anna and Elsa, there is no such character for Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). In fact, the earliest scripts for Frozen did not include him at all. The duplicitous prince was conceived when writers realized the other symbolic Snow Queen characters would not translate to film. His betrayal of Anna, his supposed true love he was supposed to save, was a major breakthrough in the writing process. His falsified charm fooled both Anna and the audience, and the third-act reveal of his true nature made Prince Hans one of Disney’s most twisted villains.
Anna & Elsa’s Relationship In Frozen Was Different
The close sibling bond between Elsa and Anna provided a strong example of female intimacy that had not often been explored in Disney films before, but the two were originally not sisters, and in the earliest drafts, not even true royalty. Elsa was only a self-proclaimed Snow Queen, and Anna was only a common villager, like her Hans Christen Andersen counterpart Gerda. Making Anna and Elsa into related princesses helped Frozen move beyond what would have been a typical good versus evil story. The core push and pull between the sisters became fear versus love, with Elsa’s fear of herself driving her away from Anna’s unfaltering love becoming a much stronger and relatable motive.
Olaf Would Have Been A Mean Character In Frozen’s Original Plan
Olaf the snowman is known for his comedic love of summer, his childlike innocence, and ever-cheerful demeanor. However, he was originally conceived as one of the evil Elsa’s snowman guards, with an attitude befitting an evil minion. He would have had a rude sense of humor, and was even imagined to be voiced by now-controversial comedian Louis C.K. This version of Olaf proved difficult for Buck and Lee to work with, and was changed to better fit what a child’s idea of a living snowman would act like. He became Anna’s sidekick instead of Elsa’s, and when the two princesses became sisters, Olaf stayed as a symbol of the love between them.
How Frozen’s Ending Was Originally Different
Frozen originally centered around a prophecy that “A ruler with a frozen heart will destroy Arendelle.” The viewer was led to believe that Elsa was that ruler, and in Frozen‘s original ending raised a massive army of snow minions to attack Arendelle, which was left under Prince Hans’ care after Anna was kidnapped. To fight off the horde of snowmen, Prince Hans would trigger an avalanche that would not only crush the opposing forces but Anna and Arendelle itself. His disregard for Anna and the kingdom’s well-being would reveal that he was the ruler in the prophecy, though his heart was only metaphorically frozen. This allowed Anna to unfreeze Elsa’s heart at the movie’s close. The late-term redemption arc was changed for its lack of emotional connection to Elsa, coinciding with the queen’s shift from villainy.
When looking at all the ways Frozen‘s story changed during its production, one can see how influential Elsa’s face-turn was on the film’s trajectory. Ultimately, the alterations became some of its most memorable elements. It is hard to imagine a world where the anthemic “Let It Go” is a villain song, or without the unbreakable bond between sisters that made Frozen so empowering and relatable.
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