One of my favorite things about Disney’s Frozen is its plot twist villain.
If it hasn’t been spoiled for you already, I’m about to spoil it. You know Hans, the dashing prince with whom Princess Anna fell in love at first sight and who proposed to her that very night? Surprise! He’s the bad guy!
We’re used to Disney films involving love at first sight, and Disney knows that. That’s why the twist works so well. We might roll our eyes at Anna and Hans, but we don’t really doubt them – until the climax of the film, when Anna needs an act of true love to heal her frozen heart, and Hans leans in to deliver true love’s kiss… and stops.
I love it. It’s a cool divergence from tropes, and it teaches an important lesson to kids: not every handsome stranger who says they love you is telling the truth.
But some people don’t love it. Some people say that it’s a bad plot twist because there’s no evidence beforehand; Hans is nice up until the reveal, so obviously he can’t be bad!
But there is evidence before the twist that Hans is a villain. Let me present it to you.
Exhibit A: Hans’s Worst Memory
As Hans wins over Anna at the coronation party, he tells her a story about his twelve older brothers: “Three of them pretended I was invisible. Literally. For two years.”
Hans knows how insecure Anna is about her relationship with her sister – he just saw her trying not to cry as she walked away from Elsa. He’s trying to connect with her over shared negative experiences with siblings. But it’s interesting that this story, out of an entire lifetime of interacting with twelve older brothers, is what Hans picks to share as a particularly painful memory. It’s a story about not being seen, and resenting it.
Hans very much cares about how he is seen. Remember that as we go forward.
Exhibit B: Hans’s Costume Change
Shortly after meeting Anna, Hans falls into the ocean, and by the next time we see him he has dried off and changed clothes. This is innocuous enough. What’s interesting is the colors of the outfits. Both times, the outfit is mostly white. But when Hans first meets Anna, the outfit’s highlights are in blue and purple. After his costume change, the highlights are green and gold.
When the plot twist is revealed, Hans tells Anna that Elsa was his first choice, as the heir to the throne, but “no one was getting anywhere with her” so he moved on to Anna.
Elsa’s coronation gown was blue and purple. Anna’s was green and gold. Hans evidently packed outfits that complimented each princess’s gown, started with Elsa’s, and ended with Anna’s. Because he cares how he is seen, and wants to make a picture perfect couple. Hans’s clothing choices subtly foreshadow his true intentions and match up with the story he tells Anna after the twist.
Exhibit C: Hans is a Parrot
As Hans and Anna interact over the course of the day, Anna thinks that they’re getting to know each other. But Hans presents an incredibly superficial persona. He doesn’t say anything about himself, except for his name, and he listens quietly as Anna rambles.
And then he starts repeating what she says back to her.
Anna puts herself down, saying that it’s “just her.” Hans says it back, with a tone of incredulity: “Just you?”
Anna says that Elsa “shut [her] out.” Hans replies using her own words: “I would never shut you out.”
Throughout the song “Love is an Open Door,” Anna says something, and Hans follows along.
“Can I just say something crazy?” says Anna. “I love crazy,” says Hans.
Anna sings about how great it feels to be with Hans. Hans replies, “I was just thinking the same thing.”
His parroting is even in the structure of the song. Anna sings “But with you,” and Hans sings it back. Every time they sing the chorus, Anna says “door” and then Hans says it too.
Hans initiates once in the entire song. He sets up Anna to parrot him back: “We finish each other’s –”
“–sandwiches!” says Anna, not taking the bait.
Hans doesn’t miss a beat: “That’s what I was gonna say!”
Then he falls back into his role of parroting Anna: “I’ve never met someone –” “–who thinks so much like me! Jinx!”
Anna thinks they have “mental synchronization.” But they don’t. Hans is just reflecting Anna, the girl he’s been watching and listening to all day, waiting for her to tell him what she wants – and telling her back exactly what she wants to hear.
Exhibit D: Hans’s Horsemanship
Let’s take another look at the scene in which Hans meets Anna. He hits her with his horse as she runs along the docks, perpendicular to her path. But just look at the direction the horse is “running” when it hits Anna – there is literally nowhere for it to go but straight into the water. Why would Hans lead his horse in that direction except with the intention of hitting Anna, triggering a “meet cute”?
Perhaps he “lost control” of his horse, but Hans shows himself to be an expert horseman with both his horse and Anna’s later, in sharp contrast to the klutzy persona he adopts in his first appearance. The whole thing is just plain fishy.
Exhibit E: Hans Looks Up
Hans’s supporters cite his good behavior when Anna isn’t around as evidence of his love for her, such as when he stops Elsa and the Duke’s guards from killing each other. But bad people don’t only do bad things. When it serves their purposes, they do good things.
Like I said before, Hans cares about how he is seen. Hans knows what role he wants to play in this narrative: the dashing, kind, love-struck hero. He says as much to Anna after the twist, and it’s the role he plays up until that point, whether Anna is present or not. When he comes across Elsa about to kill the Duke’s guards, he talks her out of it, as the love-struck hero would.
What happens next is much more interesting.
One of the guards aims a crossbow at Anna. Hans looks up at the ceiling. Then he runs at the guard, forcing his aim upwards, at the chandelier.
The audience, and all watching Hans in the movie as well, see Hans try to save Elsa but accidentally knock the chandelier down onto her.
But if the only thing on Hans’s mind was saving Elsa, why would he look up?
Disney has been in the business of visual storytelling for almost a hundred years. There are no mistakes. If Hans’s sole intention had been to save Elsa, he would have had all eyes on the guard.
Also, look at the way Hans grabs the crossbow. It takes effort to shove it upward. The natural motion would have been to shove it sideways, using his momentum to quickly disrupt the aim and save Elsa. But instead he shoots upwards, bringing the chandelier down on top of her.
Hans tells Anna after the twist that he wanted to arrange an accident for Elsa. Well, there was his accident.
Exhibit F: Hans Wears Gloves
In Frozen, gloves are a blatant symbol of concealing yourself. Elsa wears gloves to hide her ice powers. When Anna pulls one of them off, Elsa’s powers are exposed. Later, when Elsa decides to accept herself and her powers, she takes off the other glove.
Hans is always wearing gloves, too. But after the twist, as he shows Anna his true self, he takes one of the gloves off. And then, as he leaves her to die and goes to show the other dignitaries a grieving hero, he puts the glove back on.
Hans is aware of how the world sees him, and he plays into those expectations to get what he wants. In doing so, he plays Anna, he plays the people of Arendelle, and he plays the audience – but not perfectly.
A good plot twist has clues that are visible not the first time around, but on subsequent viewings, after we know what the twist is. And Frozen has a good plot twist.