'Frozen 2' admirably attempts to address colonialism, but ultimately just dips a toe into its complex waters
The story of the Northuldra tribe, and how their freedom was taken from them, is an important allegory for colonialism that Disney stops just shy of fully committing to.
Spoiler alert for ‘Frozen 2’
You can tell how dedicated the ‘Frozen’ franchise is to empowering its female leads, as it is the only Disney movie so far to give us not just Disney Princesses, but Queens (evil ones don’t count). With that title, however, comes responsibilities for both the kingdom, and for the sins of generations past. It’s an important topic for Disney to cover - even if it does stop short of anyone having to deal with consequences.
‘Frozen 2’ introduces the Northuldra tribe, who are obvious stand-ins for every indigenous people who have been wronged by a more structurally advanced nation - in this case, the kingdom of Arendelle. The Northuldra tribe has a strong connection to their land, a faith that is foreign to the people of Arendelle, and a wealth of unique natural resources (elemental magic) - all recognizable identifying factors.
On the other side, we have forces Arendelle, led by Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna’s ( Kristen Bell) grandfather, King Runeard (Jeremy Sisto). Through the course of the movie, we’re shown that while the Northuldra tribe was peaceful, King Runeard did not trust them, nor their ways. He gave them the “gift” of the dam as a way of weakening them, then began a war, convincing his people that it was the tribe who’d attacked, instead of the other way around. Everything King Runeard did was about the complete control of another population that was extraneous to the kingdom of Arendelle, a difficult legacy for his granddaughters to have to face.
It’s left to Anna to bear the weight of this truth, as discovering the truth encased Elsa in enchanted ice. Anna is overwhelmed, at first, but not because she does not know what to do with this information: It’s because she knows exactly what she must do. The only way to save the forest, and restore literal freedom to the Northuldra tribe is to destroy the dam, which would flood Arendelle. What’s remarkable is the lack of hesitation Anna has in making this choice. There’s no moralizing, no trying to find a better way. Anna immediately recognizes that the only way to make things right is for her kingdom to make a serious sacrifice.
The movie simplifies a much more complicated concept, but it boils the concepts of colonization, and the material sacrifice that comes with reparations, down to their barest essences. Anna, and the people of Arendelle, are two generations removed from the one that wrong Northuldra — none of them were, technically, the wrongdoers. Nevertheless, Anna, as a member of the royal family, recognizes that the responsibility is still on her shoulders — and she lives up to it, springing into action after a rousing song about the “Next Right Thing.”
The destruction of the dam is a brave, and profound sacrifice, one that’s undone almost immediately as Elsa magically stops the flood from harming Arendelle. What could have been a truly powerful story about the complexities of consequence, responsibility and reparation was dissipated as harmlessly as the flood itself.
‘Frozen 2’ covers a lot of different narrative threads, and not all of them get to be fully realized. Even so, it should be recognized that as far as Anna knew, she was sacrificing her kingdom to make things right. Disney made the issue a central part of the storyline for ‘Frozen 2,’ and while it stopped just short of having that thread make a significant impact, it’s still an important step forward for a company that’s come to be synonymous with happy endings, no matter the cost.