Hans Up, Hans Down: the Villain of Frozen

Hans from Frozen

Warning: SPOILERS pretty much throughout.

If you’re a parent, particularly of a daughter, then you–like me–have probably seen/heard/experienced Frozen more than you ever thought possible. But this is not a post about the ubiquitous “Let It Go” song, which now even Pearl Jam have referenced. No, this is about the one element of the movie that I just can’t make up my mind about.

Hans.

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Hans is the villain, but you don’t know it until just before the end. Up until the big reveal, he not only seems like a decent guy, he seems like a great guy. He steps up and holds down the fort in Arendelle while Anna goes off to find Elsa, and that includes keeping the population safe and calm. He even saves Elsa from assassins, which ultimately seems counter-productive. In fact, although the movie goes to great pains to remind Anna that it’s a bit insane to plan to marry someone you’ve just met, we’re led to think that Anna might be right after all. Hans is awesome.

Until, of course, the big reveal that he’s not. And his moment of Blofelding, where he explains his evil plan.

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“Oh Anna, if only there was someone out there who loved you.”

Now, I (and every writer I know, and a huge number of fellow bloggers) have wondered about this moment ever since. Was this on purpose, and part of the deliberate design, or did the decision to make Hans the villain come so late in the game that there wasn’t time to drop clues earlier in the film?

I’ve done extensive (i.e., half an hour while the kids were eating breakfast) online research into this, and it does seem that the change in Hans was intrinsic. From Wikipedia:

“…according to Hyrum Osmond, one of the supervising animators for Hans, Hans is this handsome, dashing character. The crew wanted the audience to fall in love with him and the relationship he could have with Anna. Then they’d get to turn him around towards the climax and make it a big shock. According to Lino Di Salvo, Hans is a chameleon who adapts to any environment to make the other characters comfortable.”

Okay, fair enough. So why didn’t the filmmakers tip their hand earlier? Why not give us hints that Hans is secretly the bad guy?

Perhaps Stanley Kubrick has the answer.

In this interview on his film Barry Lyndon, Kubrick says:

“You could have had Barry give signals to the audience, through his performance, indicating that he is really insincere and opportunistic, but this would be unreal. When we try to deceive we are as convincing as we can be, aren’t we?”

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Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon. The template for Prince Hans?

 

This was actually the very first thing I thought of when reflecting on Hans’ betrayal. And the whole Hans plot is so refreshingly anti-Disney that I hope I’m right, that it was a deliberate choice from the git-go, and not a last-minute tweak to provide a villain.

And if so, perhaps that inspiration goes back to Shakespeare:

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

(Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5)

 

9 Comments on “Hans Up, Hans Down: the Villain of Frozen”

  1. Isn’t there a pretty big distinction between deceiving the characters and deceiving the audience, though? While doing the Big Deception a la Kubrick may make perfect sense for an adult audience, with a film like Frozen, the total shocker came out of left field, to the extent that it was a bit like appending a new movie onto a nearly complete older movie. While I LIKED the idea of a charming villain who is smart enough to deceive a lot of characters, I think I might have liked the film better if there had been the tension that arises when the audience knows something the hero/heroine doesn’t. It’s the whole “Don’t go into that room!” thing that makes even bad horror movies fun.

    Of course, looking at how much money Frozen made, who am I to say anything?

  2. Hi 😀

    There are clues as I wasn’t surprised 🙂 The first I think was the song. Her saying sandwiches, for one. lol I think we’re all supposed to be so enamored with the song, that we miss some of the more subtle clues. Even when he’s helping the kingdom, it’s done with calculation when you think about it. He has to get the people to accept him when he overthrows/kills Elsa. How better than to help them through a plight of Elsa’s doing? Also, I think he thought (rightly so) that he needed Elsa to reverse her magic or the kingdom would remain frozen, which would be bad on practical levels.
    Even when he threatens another noble with treason, that was to keep his own power play from being usurped. If they were to depose the queen and Anna, then he would be unable to take over.

    I was not in the least bit surprised that he was the villain. 🙂

  3. At first, it seemed to come out of no where to me, too, but after more analysis than I should probably admit to putting into a Disney movie, I think there are some subtle clues that are only really clear in retrospect. Pay close attention to “Love Is an Open Door.” His lyrics in the very beginning focus on Arendelle. While Anna’s singing about finding him, his line is “I’ve been searching my whole life to find my own place.” He even gestures out at the city instead of at her. He sings “I’ve found my place” at the same time she sings “I see your face.” Really, Anna doesn’t hear anything he says. She hears what she wants, and he takes advantage of it. I mean, was he really going to say that they finish each others’ sandwiches? He’ll go along with anything she says to get what he wants.

    I think he’s a very subtle villain, the smooth-talking predator who takes advantage of the naive. Even saving Elsa makes sense. With Anna missing and possibly dead, Elsa is his only chance at the throne.

  4. As a writer myself, if I intend to make a character a surprise villain, I’ll leave as few hints as possible, if any. If I’m trying to fool my readers as well as my characters, tipping my hand and dropping clues doesn’t make sense to me personally.

    (I’ll admit that I worry whether said surprise will come off like I’m just throwing it in out of nowhere.)

  5. I struggled with feeling like this scene came out of nowhere too. Leona makes some good points about how he needed to behave the way he did for his goals, but Occam’s Razor tilts the balance of “really complex and subtle character motivation” or “simplistic deus ex machina to create more conflict” toward the latter impression for most audience members.

    As I mentioned in my post about this scene (http://jamigold.com/2014/02/how-to-make-turning-points-drive-arcs-and-themes/), I’d have liked to have seen a decision point for his character arc. Many of the elements of him being 13th in line and being the hero were already in place, but we’re missing HIS turning point and motivation.

    In his Blofeld scene, does he decide that he likes his new situation too much now to give it up? Or does he like Anna, sure, but not enough to have to go back to sharing his hero status with her? Or does he not respect Anna’s decision-making skills (understandable) so much that he sees moose-boy and worries that he’ll lose his place?

    Those insights into his character and his decision could be added with just a line or two, and those would go a long way to making his character seem internally consistent rather than just a convenient twist.

  6. As the mother of a 3 year old, I’ve seen this movie many, many, too many times. There is actually foreshadowing, but it is very subtle. I think it’s invisible to the general audience, at least the first time around. Their song together is the first warning. Then there’s the way he’s genuinely worried at first that Anna will put herself in danger going after Elsa (risking his tie to the throne), but then calms down as soon as she leaves him in charge.

    Even when he is “rescuing” Elsa (blink and miss it, literally): he glances VERY quickly at the ceiling, then puts on a concern face while he grabs the archer’s bow and aims directly at the chandelier. It falls, almost kills her, and succeeds in knocking her unconscious. Once I figured this out, and watched it yet again, it flowed very smoothly and became almost obvious.

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