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In Defense of Prince Hans

The villain of Frozen is really an innocent bystander.

8:35 AM, May 14, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Yet when Prince Hans pulls away from Anna, telling her devilishly, “If only there was someone who loved you,” it makes no sense. And watching Frozen after you know about Hans’s ultimate disposition is frustrating, because in a movie that’s driven by complex and interesting characters, Hans is Jekyll and Hyde.

Watch Frozen enough times and this misstep becomes even more obvious precisely because the rest of the film is so carefully wrought. It makes no sense: How could the writers, who did everything else so right, get Hans so wrong?

IV. Prince Hans: Victim of a Terrible Prophecy

The answer can be found on the second disc of the Deluxe Edition Frozen Soundtrack. (Yes, I know how that sounds. Remember: You were warned.) On this disc there are seven songs written and performed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, which do not appear in the movie, because they were written for an earlier version of the Frozen script. (Frozen had a long and troubled developmental history.) And based on what we learn from those songs, the script changed radically from the penultimate version to the final cut.

In their outtake songs, the Lopezes describe how, in the draft of the screenplay they were first given, the story of Elsa and Anna revolved around a prophecy proclaimed by Arendelle’s trolls. Here’s how the troll prophecy is described in the song “Spring Pageant”:

Your future is bleak, your kingdom will splinter,
Your land shall be cursed with unending winter.
With blasts of cold will come dark art
And a ruler with a frozen heart.
Then all will perish
In snow and ice
Unless you are freed
With a sword sacrifice.

In this version of the script, the central conflict was whether or not Elsa was the fulfillment of the prophecy. At this point Hans was still cast as Anna’s love interest and, in fact, the two got married before the final denouement. (We know this from two of the other outtake songs, “You’re You” and “Life’s Too Short.”) And we even know that the story ended with Hans trying to kill Elsa (from the reprise of “Life’s Too Short”). From all of this it seems reasonable to surmise that in this version, Hans wasn’t a villain. If he was trying to kill Elsa, it was in order to save Arendelle in accordance with the prophecy. He thought she had to be sacrificed to lift the curse of unending winter. He might have been misguided or hasty, but he probably wasn’t evil. And in any case, he was playing his part in the prophecy correctly, since the “sword sacrifice” turns out to be Anna’s attempt to sacrifice herself in order to save her sister.

V. The Narrative Ripple Effect

Lee and Buck were absolutely correct to remove the troll prophecy from the story. By getting rid of it, they made Elsa’s character infinitely more intriguing. Once the prophecy was tossed, Elsa’s central motivation became her love of family and fear of harming them—which in turn created more interesting tensions between her and Anna. (In the earlier draft they had a paint-by-numbers sibling rivalry.) In fact, with the prophecy removed, the story achieved that rare state where the conflicts were so wonderfully organic and character-driven that there was no need for a “villain.”

Except for one thing. Lee and Buck still needed someone to swing a sword at Elsa during the climax, simply because they needed to give Anna a way to sacrifice herself for her sister—the “act of true love” that will save both Anna and the kingdom. And there Hans was, standing around clutching a sword.

With the prophecy gone, Hans had no reason to want to kill Elsa. The writers had to come up with a new motivation for why he’d do such a thing. So they retconned him into an evil scoundrel. Only it doesn’t quite fit, and the Hans of the first 95 minutes winds up being an entirely different character from the Hans of the last 7 minutes.

So the next time you watch Frozen (which, for me, will probably be tomorrow morning) have some sympathy for Prince Hans. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, he's not bad, he's just drawn that way.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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