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Problems With Elsa's Ice Powers In Disney's Frozen Movie

Updated on December 28, 2016
Freya Yuki profile image

Freya loves analyzing the plots, themes and characters of various movies, TV shows and anime series that she enjoys watching.

Elsa, the Queen of Arendelle and one of the main characters of the Disney movie Frozen, has really cool and 'super special awesome' ice powers.

There's absolutely no doubt about that, right? Those who've watched the film know what Elsa is capable of and just how powerful she can be.

She can do things like create an entire palace made out of ice, create snow creatures (like the super cute Olaf) and she was even able to bring an eternal and never-ending winter to the Kingdom of Arendelle.

But, while all that is true, it's also true that there are actually some problems with Elsa's abilities. What's wrong with her ice powers?

Why is this a problem? And how does this make the Frozen movie less believable and enjoyable? Could these problems and issues be classified as plot holes?

A poster of Elsa, the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle, from Disney's Frozen movie. You can also see her younger sister, Anna, Olaf, the snowman, and Kristoff in this pic
A poster of Elsa, the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle, from Disney's Frozen movie. You can also see her younger sister, Anna, Olaf, the snowman, and Kristoff in this pic | Source

Warning for possible spoilers for Frozen, a 2013 American fantasy and comedy movie that was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Short synopsis of the Frozen movie by Disney

The Frozen film was actually inspired by The Snow Queen, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The movie stars Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and her younger sister, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell).

Elsa became the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle after her parents, the king and queen, passed away. She has ice powers that no one else, except her now-dead parents, knows about.

Her abilities end up causing her and the kingdom problems when her sister asks her for permission to marry a man that she had just met. Naturally, Elsa says no to the marriage, which is only right because, seriously, who marries someone they just met?

Official trailer for Disney's Frozen

And who'd let someone, especially someone they care about, marry someone they barely know? But Anna refuses to accept this decision and the sisters get in a bit of a fight.

The result is that Elsa's well-kept secret of having ice powers is revealed to everyone. She runs away, not knowing that her actions have caused a never-ending winter in Arendelle. Anna sets off on a journey to find her sister to make things right again.

Elsa's ice powers

Let's focus our attention on Elsa's ice powers. Here are some of the questions we can ask about her ability, which point out the problems and issues with said ability.

Why does Elsa have ice powers?

Elsa was born with ice and snow powers. This is confirmed when her parents brought her and her sister to the trolls after Elsa accidentally hurts her little sister.

The Troll King asks if Elsa was born with her powers and her parents answer that, yes, she was born with this ability.

Anna, Elsa's younger sister, doesn't have powers. Their parents don't have any either. So, how come Elsa has powers? Where did her ability come from? Why was she born with the power to control ice and snow?
Anna, Elsa's younger sister, doesn't have powers. Their parents don't have any either. So, how come Elsa has powers? Where did her ability come from? Why was she born with the power to control ice and snow?

There's nothing wrong with that, but the question now is why and how can this happen?

Neither the king nor queen of Arendelle were said to have ice powers or any other ability for that matter.

Even Elsa's younger sister, Anna, wasn't born with powers. So how come Elsa has powers? Where did this ability come from? What about the rest of the kingdom? Is Elsa the only one who has powers?

Even magic has rules. Even magic has to make sense

Elsa is so ridiculously powerful. Seriously. Just look at some of her achievements:

  • She can create a beautiful ice palace just by gesturing with her hands
  • She can create sentient beings from snow like Olaf
  • She can freeze her entire kingdom, Arendelle
  • She can easily change her clothing
  • And more

Just because Frozen is a fantasy movie doesn't mean that the story doesn't have to make sense and that anything can happen without plausible and believable explanations because even magic has rules and constraints.

If there's something magical or supernatural in a story, then there should be an explanation as to how this is possible even if the explanation is something made-up or something that doesn't exist in the real world.

Let's take a look at a few shows/series for examples:

Meitantei Conan (Detective Conan)

  • This is an anime and manga series by Gosho Aoyama

  • Meitantei Conan is known as Case Closed in America
  • The English dubbed version changed the names of the characters too. So, Shinich Kudo became Jimmy Kudo
  • Your mileage may vary on whether this change is a good thing or not
  • For me, I prefer the Japanese version with English subtitles

  • In this story, Kudo Shinichi, the main character, is turned back to his younger self
  • This isn't possible in the real world, so how does the show explain this incident?
  • The answer is that this was caused by a drug or toxin known as APTX-4869
  • APTX-4869 was given to Shinichi and this caused him to revert back to his younger self

Harry Potter

  • Harry Potter is a series of fantasy books by J.K. Rowling
  • This series includes magic, witches and wizards

  • The world of Harry Potter is very magical, but the characters don't just snap their fingers to perform magic.
  • There are rules that need to be followed.
  • For example, you need a wand to cast spells.
  • Spells have to be cast a certain way, like making sure you say the words in the correct manner, etc.

  • Harry Potter, the main character and protagonist of the story, is a wizard and he can use magic
  • But why? Why and how is it possible for him to be a wizard?
  • This is because James and Lily Potter, his parents, were both wizards
  • Furthermore, the world of the Harry Potter series firmly establishes and explains to us the concept of pureblood wizards, half-blood wizards, muggle-born wizards, etc.

Anastasia

  • Anastasia is an animated movie by Fox
  • The film tells the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov of Russia
  • She was somehow able to survive the Romanov massacre, but how and why should we believe that?

  • Just because a story is classified as a fantasy doesn't mean things can happen without explanation.
  • Things need to be explained so readers/viewers can suspend their disbelief and be able to enjoy what they're watching/reading.
  • So, we can believe that someone has magic powers, but only if we get a reason or explanation why this is the case.
  • For example, did he make some sort of deal with a magical person to get power, etc.

  • The movie tells us that this was possible because of a kid named Dimitri
  • He leads a young Anastasia to a secret passageway in the castle and this allows her to escape
  • What about Rasputin, the main villain in the film?
  • Why does he have powers when everyone else in said movie doesn't have any?
  • The answer is that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to curse the Romanov family

What's the explanation for the powers and abilities of Elsa in Frozen?

In the aforementioned examples, everything has been properly explained in the context of the book or film, so the readers/viewers can believe what is happening even if they know that this really isn't the case in the real world.

Elsa singing the well-known song, "Let It Go"

In the YouTube video above, you can see just how cool and awesome Elsa's ability is.

She can easily build an entire castle made out of ice just by gesturing with her hands. She can even change the appearance of her clothes.

That's all well and nice, but how can she do all that? What's the extent of her powers? What are her limits? How did she even learn how to do all that?

Remember, she never practiced using her powers because she was so scared of it. She was always hiding and concealing it, so how did she suddenly become an expert in using her abilities?

We can willingly suspend our disbelief and we can take the story seriously thanks to the explanations of how things work in that world.

But what about in Disney's Frozen? Where is the explanation that would make us believe this story?

Why does Elsa have ice powers when no one in her family has any? What makes her so special that she has powers?

Just because she's one of the main characters doesn't mean that she should automatically have powers without reason.

Harry Potter is the main character of the HP series and yet that's not the reason why he has magical capabilities.

It's because he was born as a wizard to parents that were both wizards.

So what about Elsa? How is it possible for her to be born with powers when her parents don't have any?

How come she seems to be the only person in the Kingdom of Arendelle who has powers?

What is so special about the gloves Elsa wears?

Elsa wore gloves and this somehow prevented her from accidentally turning things to ice or using her powers.

But why? What's so special about her gloves? Aren't they just ordinary gloves? Or did it come from those trolls?

Coronation scene in Disney's Frozen where Elsa has to remove her gloves and nearly freezes the items she's holding in her hands

Because if the gloves are perfectly normal and ordinary, then how can it stop Elsa from using her powers?

Won't she end up freezing it too? And yet she appears to be very attached to these gloves. So what's up with that? Are they magical or special or what?

Why was it so easy for Elsa to learn how to use / control her ice powers?

After Elsa accidentally hurt her little sister, she became frightened of her own abilities, which resulted in her not using it anymore.

She never practiced or tried to learn how to control it or work with it. The only time we see her using it was when she was unable to control herself such as during the coronation.

In that scene, she'd gotten so nervous and scared that the scepter she was holding almost ended up being turned to ice.

  • Look at Olaf, the snowman. Yes, he's really super cute. But who made him? Elsa.
  • She's so powerful that she was able to create a living, talking creature out of snow. Isn't there a limit to her abilities? What can't she do?
  • And how did she even know how to create a snowman that's capable of talking and walking and moving and thinking all on its own?

Without meaning to, she also ended up using her powers when she and Anna got into an argument after her sister said she wanted to marry a guy she barely knows.

And yet, when Elsa left Arendelle, she was suddenly easily able to control her powers.

As we saw in the famous "Let it go" song sequence (video featured above), she was able to do so many wonderful things (like creating ice castles and changing her clothing) just by waving or gesturing with her hands.

That scene was really cool, but the question is how was she able to do that? Previously, she'd been so scared of her abilities that she never bothered to use them.

She didn't study or try to learn more about it. She didn't even practice. So, how was she able to easily control her powers?

Elsa from Disney's Frozen using her ice powers

Look how easily Elsa is able to use her ice powers just by moving her hands and gesturing with them. How can she do that with no trouble at all when she used to be so scared of her ability that she never bothered to practice or use it?
Look how easily Elsa is able to use her ice powers just by moving her hands and gesturing with them. How can she do that with no trouble at all when she used to be so scared of her ability that she never bothered to practice or use it?

How did she suddenly become an expert? How did she suddenly know how her powers worked? Don't you think that it would have made more sense if she had more of a hard time trying to control her powers and then slowly learning how to use them?

Let's take the Harry Potter series again as an example. Harry and the other witches and wizards didn't suddenly become experts at using their magic.

They actually had to study and learn what spells to use, how to pronounce the words, the proper way to wave their wands, etc. And that makes things more believable.

Unfortunately, that's not the case at all with Elsa in Frozen, which makes the movie rather unrealistic and unbelievable in the context of the fictional fantasy world.

What are the limitations or constraints of Elsa's powers?

Okay, we've established that:

  • Elsa is really powerful
  • Her abilities are cool
  • She can do all sorts of things with her powers like changing her clothes, creating sentient beings, and even building ice castles practically out of thin air

Elsa's ice palace in Disney's Frozen

She was able to easily make her castle just by waving and gesturing with her hands. It took no more than a few seconds. Cool, yes, but also unbelievable since we never saw her learn how to control her ability & she'd always been so scared of using it
She was able to easily make her castle just by waving and gesturing with her hands. It took no more than a few seconds. Cool, yes, but also unbelievable since we never saw her learn how to control her ability & she'd always been so scared of using it

But, is there anything that she can't do? What's the extent of her powers? What are her weaknesses, her constraints and limitations?

Does she get tired whenever she uses her abilities? Would she need to rest if she uses them for hours at a time?

If she doesn't have any weaknesses, then she has way too much power that it borders on unbelievable.

She may be one of the main characters, but that doesn't mean that there should be no way of beating her. The protagonists need to have weaknesses too.

Even if this is fantasy, that doesn't mean there shouldn't be rules, laws and limits that apply to that fantasy world and that make it possible for us to suspend our disbelief.

Let's take a few more shows/series for examples:

Hunter x Hunter (HxH)

  • Hunter x Hunter is an anime and manga series by Yoshihiro Togashi
  • A lot of the characters in this series are really powerful and have cool and even unusual abilities
  • But there are always limitations and constraints to their abilities, so they can't do anything and everything, not even the main characters, and there are explanations as to why they can do these things

  • The Hunter x Hunter storyline is very interesting.
  • It's an ongoing series, so a whole lot of things have happened already.
  • By now, the main characters have gone through a lot.
  • One of the best things about HxH is that the main characters don't always win.
  • For example, Gon and Killua had to fight these guys named Shoot and Knuckle, so they'll be allowed to help fight the dangerous and powerful Chimera Ants.
  • Shoot and Knuckle are older and have more experience and that's why they won the fight even though Gon and Killua are the protagonists / main characters.

  • For example, the character named Killua Zoldyck can use electricity as a weapon, but this isn't something that everyone can do.
  • The reason he can do this is because he was trained to be able to withstand large amounts of electricity
  • Speaking of training - that's another thing that the HxH world has a lot of. The characters didn't become powerful all of a sudden. They didn't manage to control their abilities and skills seemingly in the blink of an eye
  • No, the characters actually needed to train to become strong, to understand how their abilities work and to discover their strengths, weaknesses, limitations, etc.
  • For example, Killua and his best friend, Gon Freecss, were trained by Wing and Biscuit Krueger. These 2 helped Gon and Killua unlock their potential and strengthen their abilities

Card Captor Sakura / Cardcaptor Sakura (CCS)

  • This is an anime and manga series by CLAMP
  • The main character, named Sakura Kinomoto, comes across a magical book filled with what is known as Clow Cards

  • The world of Card Captor Sakura is undoubtedly magical, but it's never unbelievable because the characters aren't too powerful.
  • There are always limits to what they can do, which makes the show even more interesting and enjoyable

  • She is able to use these cards, but she is limited in how she can use them and there are rules as well as a lot of explanations for how all of this works.
  • For example, she has to get the cards first before she can use them
  • When she was trying to transform the Clow Cards into Sakura Cards, she can't do it all at once because she loses a lot of energy

Full Metal Alchemist / Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA)

  • This is an anime and manga series by Hiromu Arakawa
  • The main character is named Edward Elric and he, as well as a lot of the other characters in this series, can do a lot of cool things with alchemy
  • But there are rules for how the fantasy world of FMA works

  • The story of Fullmetal Alchemist is really very interesting. Best of all, the characters aren't too powerful to the point of being unbelievable.
  • For example, Ed can do lots of cool things with alchemy, but he's not like some sort of god that can't lose or something.
  • The world of FMA also has laws and rules that people need to follow, so there are lots of limitations.
  • For example, there's the Law of Equivalent Exchange, which states that, "In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed".

  • For example, you can't bring back someone from the dead with alchemy no matter how powerful you may be
  • There are also consequences for one's actions
  • For example, Edward and his little brother, Alphonse, tried and failed to bring back their mother from the dead
  • They were able to survive the horrifying ordeal, but they had to pay a terrible price for dabbling in things that were forbidden - Ed lost his arm and leg while Alphonse lost his whole body and his soul had to be anchored to a suit of armor

What do you think about the powers of Elsa from Disney's Frozen?

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*Note: The rest of the images above are from Amazon.com; links shown above

© 2016 Freya Yuki

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      Reasons why we all hate rules 13 months ago

      Ugh. I can't stand rules. Rules ruined magical worlds. Elsa would've been better off being raised in the wizarding world alongside her maternal aunt, Ingrid (Once Upon A Time) which it would've been better and fairer anyway.

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      Reasons why we hate how the writers used Anna in the movie, Frozen 13 months ago

      I dislike Anna's insufferable insensitivity

      I also dislike Anna's rudeness.

      I dislike Anna's pigheaded stubbornness.

      I dislike Anna's hastiness/recklessness/impulsiveness

      I dislike Anna's domineering pushiness/forcefulness.

      I dislike the idea Anna's negative actions before her thoughts.

      I dislike the portrayal idea of Anna as Elsa's little sister.

      Anna was a major insult to Gerda to the original main heroine of the original snow queen.

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      Reasons why Frozen was likable and unlikable 13 months ago

      I don't like the portrayal idea of Anna and Elsa as sisters at all because of the strife/fight/argument at the coronation party before eternal winter and the great thaw after the past thirteenth year separation. I don't like the idea of Anna and Elsa being raised in the same royal Norwegian kingdom in Norway in the same Disney film/movie together at all either. I don't like Anna and Elsa being part of the same royal Norwegian family together at all either. I don't like the idea of Anna and Elsa being raised in the same royal Norwegian kingdom of Norway at all either. I don't like the idea of Anna and Elsa being part of the same canon world/universe nor the same time. I don't even like the idea of Anna and Elsa being raised in the same lonely isolation at all either. I rather like the idea of Anna and Elsa being better off existing in different Disney films without each other anyway. I especially rather like the idea of Anna and Elsa being better off existing and living in different canon times and different canon worlds/universes without each other anyway. I mostly rather like the idea of Anna and Elsa being part of different royal Norwegian families anyway. I rather like the idea of Anna and Elsa being raised in different royal Norwegian kingdoms in Norway anyway. I rather like the portrayal idea of Anna and Elsa being portrayed unrelated to each other. I never ever even like Anna's insufferable attitude. Ugh. I never ever even like any of Anna's insensitivities nor any of Anna's other insensitivities toward Elsa either. I never ever even like Anna's stubbornness at all.

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      Freya Yuki 14 months ago

      @Moenwriter and @Siddharth Kapoor - thanks :-) I hope to be able to write more articles about Frozen. I did like the movie; just didn't think it was all that perfect.

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      Siddharth Kapoor 14 months ago

      My little sister would have loved this. Thanks for the write. Good work here.

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      Moenwriter 14 months ago

      This very well put together, great job!