Movie Legends: Were Frozen's Anna And Elsa Originally Not Sisters?

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Elsa and Anna were originally not sisters in Frozen.

As you may or may not know by now, Disney's blockbuster film, Frozen, went through a lot more changes than most animated films go through.

In a fascinating example of a single song changing the entire picture, the song "Let It Go" ended up shifting the whole approach to Elsa in the movie. As I noted in this old Movie Legends Revealed, Elsa was an outright villain until Let It Go humanized her to such an extent that the filmmakers decided to reframe her as a misunderstood outcast struggling with her powers.

The evil version of Elsa lasted so long into production that they had scenes with Idina Menzel performing as the evil version of the character...

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Anyhow, even in the evil versions of Elsa, the hook of the movie was that her sister, Anna, would ultimately redeem her sister. The whole "frozen heart" part of the movie was there, it was just that Elsa INTENTIONALLY froze her sister's heart instead of accidentally. So the same deal with the sisters' love for each other melting the frozen heart was part of the movie. The sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna is really what the whole movie revolves around.

And yet...initially, they weren't even sisters!

In a great Entertainment Weekly interview, Peter Del Vecho, a producer on the film, explained their original plans for the film: “So when we started off, Anna and Elsa were not sisters. They weren’t even royal. So Anna was not a princess. Elsa was a self-proclaimed Snow Queen, but she was a villain and pure evil — much more like the Hans Christian Andersen tale. We started out with an evil female villain and an innocent female heroine and the ending involved a big epic battle with snow monsters that Elsa had created as her army…”

In this version of the story, Elsa was spurned at her wedding and thus she turned evil after freezing her own heart. In the end, though, Anna figures out that the true villain was Prince Hans, and so Anna actually convinces Elsa to team up with her to stop Hans.

The problem that the filmmakers had is that they didn't feel as though Elsa was all that developed. They didn't think that we actually got to know her all that much through this version of the film. She was a villain throughout the movie and then suddenly we're asked to care about her. That, then, is when they came upon the idea of making the two main characters sisters.

Del Vecho continued, “Making them related led us to the idea of her living in fear of her powers. What if she’s afraid of who she is? And afraid of hurting the ones she loves? Now we had a character in Anna who was all about love and Elsa who was all about fear. That led to making Elsa a much more dimensional sympathetic character, and instead of the traditional good vs. evil theme we had one that we felt was more relatable: Love vs. fear, and the premise of the movie became that love is stronger than fear.”

The co-director of the film, Chris Buck, was really the one who came up with the idea that it was sisterly love that thawed out the frozen heart at the end. Del Vecho explained: “One of the things Chris Buck had in most versions of the film was a moment where Anna’s heart was frozen and needed to be thawed. Chris said, ‘Does it always need to be true love’s kiss that solves that problem? Does it always have to be the man who comes in and rescues the female? Could it be something different?’ and that led to a different ending. Now that they’re related, Elsa had her own fear and it was Anna who would save the day instead of Elsa by rescuing her sister — and it would be that selfless act that thawed Elsa’s heart. Once we landed on that idea for an ending [Disney animation chief] Ed Catmull called in Jen Lee and said, ‘If you can make that ending pay off and if we can really feel it, I think we’ll have a successful film. And if you don’t … we’ll have nothing.’ … So that really put the pressure on her to make that work.”

Obviously, they pulled it off and they gave Disney not one, but two major new heroines.

The legend is...


Thanks to James Hibberd and Peter Del Vecho for the information!

Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film. Click here for more legends specifically about Walt Disney movies!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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