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|Created by||Chris Buck|
|Voiced by||Idina Menzel|
Eva Bella (as a child)
Spencer Lacey Ganus (as a teenager)
|Aliases||The Snow Queen|
|Occupation||Princess of Arendelle (formerly)|
Queen of Arendelle (currently)
|Family||Anna (younger sister)|
The King and Queen of Arendelle (parents; deceased)
|Created by||Chris Buck|
|Voiced by||Idina Menzel|
Eva Bella (as a child)
Spencer Lacey Ganus (as a teenager)
|Aliases||The Snow Queen|
|Occupation||Princess of Arendelle (formerly)|
Queen of Arendelle (currently)
|Family||Anna (younger sister)|
The King and Queen of Arendelle (parents; deceased)
Elsa, the "Snow Queen" of Arendelle, is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Animation Studios' 53rd animated film Frozen. She is voiced primarily by Broadway actress and singer Idina Menzel. At the beginning of the film, she is voiced by Eva Bella as a young child and by Spencer Lacey Ganus as a teenager.
Created by director Chris Buck, Elsa is loosely based on the title character of The Snow Queen, a Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. In the Disney film adaption, she is introduced as the princess of the fictional Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle, heiress apparent to the throne, and the elder sister of Princess Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa is scripted as having been born with exceptionally strong cryokinetic powers and inadvertently sends Arendelle into an eternal winter on the evening of her coronation. Throughout the film, she struggles first with controlling and concealing her abilities and then with liberating herself from her fears of unintentionally harming others.
The Snow Queen character, a villain in the original fairytale, proved difficult to adapt to film due to her transparent depiction. Several film executives, including Walt Disney, attempted to build on the character, and a number of scheduled film adaptions were shelved when they could not work out the character. Buck and his co-director, Jennifer Lee, were ultimately able to solve the dilemma by depicting Elsa and Anna as sisters. This led to Elsa being gradually rewritten as a sympathetic, misunderstood character.
Elsa has enjoyed a largely positive reception from reviewers, who praised her complex characterization and vulnerability. Menzel was also widely praised for her vocal performance of Elsa, especially that of her performance of the song "Let It Go", with critics frequently calling her a "powerhouse". Along with Anna, Elsa is set to be inducted into the Disney Princess line-up, becoming the 13th official member.
Attempts were made as early as 1943 by Walt Disney to adapt Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen, into a film. The Snow Queen focuses on two children named Gerda, who served as the basis for Princess Anna, and Kai, who is "cursed with negativity" after his heart is pierced with a shard of glass from an enchanted mirror and is later kidnapped by the Snow Queen. However, Disney struggled with creating a believable, multi-dimensional adaption of the fairy tale's title character, who was intended to be a villain. In the story, she is described as "a woman, dressed in garments of white gauze, which looked like millions of starry snow-flakes linked together. She was fair and beautiful, but made of ice — shining and glittering ice. Still she was alive and her eyes sparkled like bright stars, but there was neither peace nor rest in their glance." Disney was unable to find a way to make the Snow Queen more "real" and eventually abandoned film plans.
Several film executives later made efforts towards the project, including Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi, Dick Zondag, Glen Keane, and Dave Goetz. In 2011, director Chris Buck began work on another attempted adaption and also faced challenges with the Snow Queen character. Producer Peter Del Vecho explained that this was primarily because she was not relatable and too isolated, having no personal connections. As a result, they could not explain her motivations. After several changes were proposed, someone on the writing team suggested making the Snow Queen Anna's sister. "Once we realized that these characters could be siblings and have a relationship, everything changed," Del Vecho relayed.
The Snow Queen, now given the name Elsa, continued to be cast as a villain, and Disney released the following synopsis for Frozen in May 2013:
When Anna is cursed by her estranged sister, the cold-hearted Snow Queen, Anna's only hope of reversing the curse is to survive a perilous but thrilling journey across an icy and unforgiving landscape. Joined by a rugged, thrill-seeking outdoorsman, his one-antlered reindeer and a hapless snowman, Anna must race against time, conquer the elements and battle an army of menacing snowmen if she ever hopes to melt her frozen heart.
Earlier manuscripts included more antagonistic actions by Elsa, such as intentionally cursing Arendelle with an eternal winter. Additionally, she is shown creating an army of snowmen similar to the original Snow Queen's army of snowflakes; the comedic character of Olaf was at the time written as a smaller snowman who was cast out by Elsa for being too unintimidating. Within two months, however, scripts were altered to give emphasis to her lack of control over her powers. Olaf was reduced to the only snowman created by Elsa, and he instead serves as a reminder of the sisters' childhood friendship. In the final version, Elsa creates a single giant snow creature named Marshmallow to act as a guard after being branded as a monster for her powers. According to director Jennifer Lee, the character ultimately became more of a composite of both Kai and the Snow Queen, enhancing her increasingly sympathetic portrayal. Del Vecho added, "There are times when Elsa does villainous things but because you understand where it comes from, from this desire to defend herself, you can always relate to her."
Eva Bella and Spencer Lacey Ganus were cast to portray Elsa as a young child and as a teenager, respectively. Actress and singer Megan Mullally was originally cast to voice an adult Elsa, but she eventually left the project. She was replaced by Idina Menzel, a Broadway actress and singer best known for performing as Elphaba in Wicked. Menzel already knew Kristen Bell, who portrayed Anna, and had previously auditioned for a lead role in the 2010 Walt Disney film Tangled. She was not cast for the part, but the casting director recorded her singing and later showed the recording to Frozen's film executives. Menzel was surprised when she was subsequently asked to audition, and she received the role after reading the script out loud. In interviews, she acknowledged similarities between Elsa, her then-current role, and Elphaba, her previous role. Namely, she said, they were both very powerful and very misunderstood individuals. She further said that she related to the characters, having hidden her singing talent from her peers at school. "I didn't want to alienate anyone," she explained. "If everyone was singing along in the car to a Madonna song, I didn't join in because when we're younger we're afraid of sticking out or showing off, when in fact we should own those things that make us really unique."
Director Chris Buck believed that Menzel's vocals would help in the portrayal of the character, saying, "Idina has a sense of vulnerability in her voice. She plays a very strong character, but someone who lives in fear—so we needed someone who could portray both sides of the character, and Idina was just amazing." Menzel was unaccustomed to working with animated films and being required to portray her character's feelings with her voice alone, though she did not find it particularly challenging. While recording, she was able to "play" with her voice, trying various tones to establish the ranges in Elsa's emotions. For example, Menzel wanted there to be a difference in the way she sounded from when she was being bold and from when she was angry. She would also physically restrict her hands from moving as she recorded the film's early scenes in order to project how her character was "so afraid to move and feel anything that it would come out and hurt people". During production, she and Jonathan Groff, who portrays Kristoff, went to the animation studio to explain to their animators how they were approaching their characters.
Animators asked Menzel questions about her singing and closely watched her breathing in order to make the images of Elsa singing realistic. Her voice supplied inspiration for Elsa's most prominent song, "Let It Go". According to composer Robert Lopez, her vocal range was able to clearly convey Elsa's "low, vulnerable, fragile side" as well as her power and self-realization. Menzel commented that it was "an honor" to have the song and that she enjoyed recording it. "It's a collision of a bunch of forces that are all coming together in the right way," she explained. "The character, what she is singing and what she is experiencing; beautiful lyrics, beautiful melody and a little bit of me." Buck and Lee were also surprised by how compatible Menzel and Kristen Bell's voices were. At one point during a table read, they sang a ballad back and forth to one another with so much sentiment that it reportedly left everyone who was present with tears in their eyes. Subsequently, Lee wanted Menzel and Bell to be in the same room when they were recording the important emotional scenes of the film.
Following the casting of Idina Menzel, Elsa's characterization underwent several alterations. According to Menzel, she was originally scripted as a one-dimensional antagonist but was gradually revised as a more vulnerable, multifaceted figure. Menzel further described her character as "extremely complicated and misunderstood". Director Jennifer Lee stated that Elsa is largely driven by fear throughout the film, while Menzel added that she was also struggling with her potential to be "a strong, powerful, extraordinary woman". Executive producer and animator John Lasseter became very "protective of Elsa" and was adamant about portraying her in a more favorable, sympathetic light. In July 2013, Disney released images of the film's main characters along with outlines of their roles in the story. Elsa received the following description:
From the outside, Elsa looks poised, regal and reserved, but in reality, she lives in fear as she wrestles with a mighty secret—she was born with the power to create ice and snow. It's a beautiful ability, but also extremely dangerous. Haunted by the moment her magic nearly killed her younger sister Anna, Elsa has isolated herself, spending every waking minute trying to suppress her growing powers. Her mounting emotions trigger the magic, accidentally setting off an eternal winter that she can't stop. She fears she's becoming a monster and that no one, not even her sister, can help her.
Producers identified the scene in which Elsa sings "Let It Go" as a pivotal point in the character's development. The scene depicts her choice to "let go" of her fear of using her powers. Character design supervisor Bill Schwab said, "Before 'Let It Go,' Elsa is really buttoned up, her hair is up—everything is perfect. During the song, she gives herself permission to be who she is and everything changes—her hair is more wild, her gown is magical. She's finally free—even if she is all alone." Animators designed Elsa's appearance to reflect her metamorphosis; in the beginning, she is shown primarily in restrictive and confining outfits. Menzel said that, after accepting her abilities, Elsa's appearance becomes "very vampy", continuing, "She's quite sexy for Disney, I have to say — they're pushing the limits there a little bit! But there's a gleam in her eye and a supermodel walk that goes with it and, for me, it was fun to be a blonde because I'm not in real life."
|"We imagined what it would be like to be chased out of the kingdom. To have to let go of everything you know and all the people you love. And yet the incredible release you'd have to finally let go of everything you've holding back your entire life."|
|— Kristen Anderson-Lopez on writing Elsa's song, "Let It Go", and the choice to make her a protagonist rather than a villain.|
The scene was also a pivotal point in the development of Elsa's character and was initially planned to depict her becoming evil. Robert Lopez, who composed the song with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, explained, "Elsa was going to go from being this perfect princess that had tried to keep her personality down her whole life to saying, 'Screw it. I'm gonna be me.'" They had wanted to use the song as a way to gain a better understanding of the character and what she would be like if she was no longer living in fear, which ultimately resulted in her becoming much more complex. The final lyrics and Menzel's "ability to be so fragile and vulnerable and then break into this powerhouse voice" turned the plot around and led to Elsa being revised as a "good" character. She initially attempts to suppress her powers in order to avoid hurting others, particularly Anna, and when she is no longer able to do so, she banishes herself from the kingdom to protect those around her. Lead writer Paul Briggs said that Anna's support is what Elsa needs most when her secret is exposed. "The strength of the family bond is what makes this story so powerful," he explained, "because it's her sibling who's willing to look beyond her powers and stand between her and the world if that's what it takes."
Elsa's appearance had to be redesigned following her transition from antagonist to protagonist. She was originally drawn in a style similar to typical Disney villains, with blue skin and spiky black hair. Lasseter reportedly influenced the creation of the character's much softer final appearance, particularly in regards to her very thick blonde hair, which animators found difficult to design. Art director Michael Giaimo said that while a number of strategies were proposed for Elsa's hair, Lasseter would push the animation team to continue making improvements, saying, "It's not aspirational enough. We want people to feel like this hair is a beautiful statement." A new animation program called Tonic was invented to assist with the task, and the character's hair ultimately required 400,000 CGI threads. By contrast, Rapunzel from Tangled had only required 27,000 CGI threads for her hair.
Since Elsa is introduced as a young child at the beginning of the film, animators wanted the first glimpse of her powers to reflect her innocent and fanciful state of mind at the time. This included giving her first snowflakes a simple design. Her snow and ice patterns later become more intricate and complex when she is an adult. Co-effects supervisor Marlon West elaborated, "When Elsa finally lets go and really starts owning her magic, we wanted the ice and snow that she conjures up to get across the idea that Elsa has now grown up and become this beautiful, elegant, confident and powerful young woman."
Her ice palace, which she creates while singing "Let It Go", was designed to illustrate the maturing of her powers as well as to be "a manifestation of her feelings to the world". The palace is initially beautiful; however, after she is made aware of the destruction she has inadvertently caused, and as she is increasingly vilified and hunted by others, it becomes darker and more distorted, with jagged icicles forming on the walls. The film's design team was uncertain about how it should look and drew out designs for various magical castles filled with snow. Lasseter suggested basing the structure and patterns on snowflakes. For example, an enormous snowflake would serve as the foundation, and the palace would be hexagon-shaped. Lasseter also wanted snowflake patterns to influence the manner in which Elsa creates the palace. "Snowflakes are these tiny little ice crystals that form in mid-air. And when there are changes in temperature and humidity, these snowflakes start growing in a pattern that's known as branching and plating," said co-effects supervisor Dale Mayeda. "[Lasseter] said 'You know, when Elsa builds her ice palace, it would be so amazing if — every step of the way as this castle forms out of thin air — it's just branching and plating, branching and plating all along the way."
Fifty animators worked on the scene in which the castle is built, and one frame required 30 hours to render. They later extended similar techniques to Elsa's clothing. While the traditional Norwegian rosemaling was the inspiration for her costuming early in the film, her ice gown was designed similarly to her palace, with snowflakes heavily influencing the style. Her cape itself is a large snowflake.
Elsa, crown princess of Arendelle, is born with the elemental ability to create and control ice and snow. As a child, she uses her cryokinetic abilities to create a winter wonderland to play in with her younger sister and best friend, Princess Anna. One early morning, as they finish building a snowman they name him Olaf, Elsa accidentally harms Anna with her powers. The king and queen of Arendelle hurriedly take Anna to a tribe of mountain trolls to be healed. While healing Anna, the trolls' leader Pabbie informs the royal party that Elsa had frozen Anna's head and that had her heart been affected, the condition would have been fatal. Pabbie also warns Elsa that her abilities, while beautiful, are very dangerous and must be controlled. While the trolls erase Anna's memory of the incident and of her elder sister's powers in general, Elsa is nonetheless traumatised by the event. The king and queen begin taking measures to control and hide Elsa's cryokinetic abilities: the castle gates are locked, and Elsa is shut away in her bedroom for most of the time. She is given gloves to help suppress her powers and is told to suppress her emotions as well, but her powers continue to grow even stronger and she becomes constantly fearful of harming those she cares about most. Meanwhile, Anna is hurt and confused by the sudden loss of contact with her elder sister and tries without success to coax her out of her room. Their parents, the king and queen, are later killed in a shipwreck when the sisters are teenagers, leaving both feeling even more isolated.
As Elsa becomes a young adult, she is set to formally succeed her late father and be crowned Queen. Though she is afraid of opening the castle to the large crowds, the coronation goes on relatively peacefully. However, at the reception, Anna asks for Elsa's blessing to marry Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, whom she had met earlier that day. Elsa refuses to condone Anna's engagement to someone she barely knows, triggering an argument between the two. As Elsa becomes upset, she accidentally exposes her abilities. Upon the guests' horrified reactions and being accused of sorcery and called a monster by the Duke of Weselton, Elsa flees the castle and retreats into the icy mountains. In the process, her emotions unleash an eternal winter throughout Arendelle. While there, she decides to finally embrace her powers and builds an enormous ice palace where she believes she can live freely without fear of hurting others. She also reconstructs her childhood snowman, Olaf, and unknowingly brings him to life.
Anna, determined to find Elsa and bring her back, travels through the mountains, encountering Olaf and a mountain man named Kristoff. They reach the ice palace, and Anna attempts to persuade Elsa to return home and mend their relationship. When Elsa resists, Anna tells her about the state Arendelle was left in. Horrified, Elsa accidentally lashes out and freezes Anna's heart. As Olaf and Kristoff rush to Anna's aid, Elsa demands that she be left alone, creating a giant snow creature named Marshmallow to force them out of the palace. Marshmallow subsequently becomes Elsa's official guard as she has been branded as a monster for cursing Arendelle in solid ice and snow. The ice castle becomes darker and more grotesque, reflecting Elsa's torment and reignited fears. Meanwhile, Anna becomes increasingly weaker, and Kristoff takes her to Pabbie, who tells her that only an act of true love can save her life.
Hans and a group of soldiers ambush the ice palace. Marshmallow attempts to defend it but is apparently killed in the process. Elsa defends herself when two soldiers attempt to murder her on the Duke's orders, but as she is about to kill them, Hans convinces her to spare them and thus prove that she is not a monster. However, shortly afterwards she is knocked unconscious and taken to the kingdom's dungeon. Hans visits her and urges her to end the winter, but she admits that she does not know how to. After he leaves, she is able to break free from her chains by freezing them and escapes the cell, though her fears trigger a massive blizzard. Meanwhile, Anna returns to the castle, believing that a romantic kiss from Hans will save her. Instead, he informs her that their engagement had been a ploy to get closer to the throne; he had been planning to marry Anna, murder Elsa, and then seize the crown of Arendelle. Olaf tells Anna that Kristoff is in love with her, and she believes that he is the one she needs to kiss in order to be cured. As she and Olaf rush to find Kristoff, Hans confronts Elsa nearby and tells her that she has killed Anna. Devastated, Elsa collapses and the blizzard stops suddenly. Hans approaches her from behind, ready to kill her. However, Anna sees and throws herself between Elsa and the sword, freezing solid and blocking the blow.
Moments later, Anna begins to thaw, as her choice to save her sister rather than herself constituted an "act of true love". Elsa realizes that love is the key to controlling her cryokinetic powers, and ends Arendelle's eternal winter. Summer returns to Arendelle, Elsa regains the throne and is able to use and safely control her powers, while the sisters' bond is restored.
Along with Anna, Elsa is set to be officially inducted into the Disney Princess line-up, a marketing franchise aimed primarily at young girls that manufactures and releases products such as toys, video and audio recordings, clothing, and video games. In December 2013, Disney began releasing "Musical Magic Elsa and Anna Dolls", which played their signature songs that appear in the film. Additionally, simplified versions of the film were adapted to children's storybooks, including one with voice audio and another called A Sister More Like Me that was illustrated by Brittney Lee. Elsa and Anna also both appear as playable characters in Disney Infinity through the use of their corresponding figurines.
In November, before the release of Frozen, Anna and Elsa began making appearances at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Florida and California, USA through meet and greets. In Walt Disney World, the attractions were set up in the Norway Pavilion of Epcot in recognition of the Norwegian cultural elements that went into the film's design. In Disneyland, a winter-themed cottage was set up in the Fantasyland section, with an audio-animatronic Olaf sitting on the cottage roof. Additionally, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf were given a Frozen-themed float for Disneyland Paris' Disney Magic on Parade.
Elsa's performance of "Let It Go" became the central feature in Disney California Adventure's Winter Dreams, a 30-minute, winter-themed adaption of the nighttime show World of Color, which showcases scenes from Disney films. Disneyland Paris' nighttime spectacular, Disney Dreams!, also added Elsa's performance of "Let It Go" to their attractions, and she was given a similar role during the Magic Kingdom show, Celebrate the Magic, with her singing interspersed with scenes from the movie.
|"Not content to merely turn True Love into a cautionary tale, [the writers] doubled down and made Elsa into [a] flawed hero warped by her upbringing and parents' heartfelt but damaging desire to keep their children safe...Elsa is aloof. And scared. And over-protective. And insecure. And full of guilt. Because people — even animated people — are the sum total of their personalities combined with their experiences. Which is something even live action films forget at least 63% of the time."|
|— Donna Dickens, entertainment editor.|
ABS-CBN writer Fred Hawson described Elsa as "an incredible character with a unique and interesting predicament because of the powers she possessed" and expressed the opinion that Frozen should have focused more on her rather than Anna. Matt Goldberg of Collider.com commented that Elsa was "an incredibly sympathetic character" while Deepanjana Pal of First Post (India) praised the decision to rewrite her as a protagonist and said, "Elsa is no evil, frosty vision of twisted and toxic maternity like the original Snow Queen. She's a young woman in difficult circumstances, frightened, trying to understand her abilities and burdened by expectation and convention. It's easy to sympathise with her and marvel at her ability when she builds her spectacular palace in the mountains. Next to her, Anna is very much a child who needs to grow up and she does in the course of the film." Stuff.co.nz's James Croot compared her "humiliation and exile" to that of Simba in The Lion King. Katherine Webb, a reviewer for Wall St. Cheat Sheet, said that the scenes depicting Elsa gaining confidence and individuality delivered "an exciting message to send to young girls looking for a new princess role model".
Travis Bean of Cedar Falls Times suggested that Elsa's ice powers, a "personal oddity" that made her self-conscious, as well as her selflessness in withdrawing into isolation in order to avoid hurting others allowed children to connect more with the plot of Frozen. Laurie Levy from Chicago Now wrote that her young grandchildren "admired Elsa for being smart, strong, magical, and powerful" and did not care that she had no romantic subplot. Magdalena Lachowicz, a film critic for The Heights, opinionated that Elsa's relationship with Anna was the most important part of the movie, and Stephen Holden of The New York Times liked that, in departure from traditional Disney formula, it was a sibling's love rather than romantic love that was able to "thaw the icy heart of the frightened Elsa". Tony Hicks of San Jose Mercury News wrote, "[Anna's] confusion and Elsa's anguish as she shuts herself away from the world — and her sister — is palatable." Emma Koonse of Christian Post opined that together the sisters were Disney's "most lovable and charismatic characters yet", and Debbie Lynn Elias of Culver City Observer commented, "Elsa and Anna are like two sides of a coin, both strong, albeit one through power and confidence and the other through clumsy sticktuitiveness and love."
The character was not void of criticism. Charlotte O'Sullivan from the London Evening Standard gave a more negative assessment of Elsa, saying that she "resembles one of those brittle mentors on The X Factor. Purple eyeshadow, tiny waist, kitten heels". Anna Smith of The Guardian disliked that both Elsa and Anna were drawn with slender figures and large eyes as is typical of Disney princesses.
Idina Menzel also received praise for her singing, with Amon Warmann of Cine Vue saying her voice "positively soars in these musical ballads". Reviewers frequently focused on her performance of "Let It Go", described by Entertainment Weekly's Marc Snetiker as "an incredible anthem of liberation" in which Elsa decides to no longer fear her powers. Various critics said that Menzel had been a "powerhouse" during the scene; Linda Barnard from The Star commented that Menzel "can shatter icicles with her powerful voice".
Matt DeTruck of The Rochester City Newspaper wrote, "Menzel should be credited for providing as much power and passion to this performance as she did in her most famous role." Donald Clark of Irish Times added, "Elsa's flight to the glaciers triggers a song that, in its defiant paean to self-reliance, could play comfortably beside camp showtune anthems such as I Am What I Am and Don't Rain on My Parade. The opening and closing choruses of Let It Go end with a sly, spat-out refrain: 'The cold never bothered me anyway!' You go, girl." Nasim Asl of The Oxford Student continued, "Menzel, especially, steals the show with her performance of 'Let It Go'. Her Wicked-esque belting out works perfectly with such an incredible animated sequence – the building of the ice castle really demonstrates the prowess of Disney animation, and results in, arguably, one of the most spectacular power ballads seen by any animated character, ever."
In December 2013, Elsa and Anna were both nominated for Best Animated Female by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, with only Anna winning the award, a few weeks later. Elsa's signature song, "Let It Go", won Best Original Song at the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award and the Critics' Choice Awards, and also received Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, the Satellite Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, and the Houston Film Critics Society Award nominations.