Frozen – The Problem With Hans

Ok. I’m going to start this post with a HUGE SPOILER ALERT.

Disclaimer:- If you haven’t seen the Disney animated movie, Frozen (2014) and wish to remain spoiler free, then avert your eyes now and don’t read on. Just to make sure nothing is spoilered I will now post a large space-taking-up photo of Hans, one of the characters featured in the film.

If you have seen the movie I will see you on the other side of said big space-taking-up picture.

SPOILERS AHOY! I MEAN… AHEAD!

Frozen-The Problem With Hans

Ok.

Warnings safely in place let’s talk about the character development of Hans in the movie Frozen.

There was none.

At least nothing that felt truly real or authentic.

After watching Frozen the first time and being mildly surprised by Hans’ “transformation” I was curious as to what it was I missed. Usually when you have a character do a total 180 degree shift in motivation and intention you have at least some foreshadowing.

So I figured there had to be something to let the audience know, if they were looking, that a character shift was about to take place, or at least possible. Surely there must be some seed of doubt planted in their minds of Hans true intentions. Of course all-too-soon it would be dismissed again by his displays of love devotion and integrity (surely, says the audience, I must have just imagined his evil-looking-eyebrow-raise).

I was ready to let it slide, thinking I had somehow missed said foreshadowing – it was probably because I was still blubbering after “Let It Go” or too busy staring at the beautiful background layouts/compositions to pick up on their subtle suggestions.

When I went in to the cinema the to watch Frozen for the second time I was forewarned. I put all emotion and artistic appreciation aside (tried at least) and was focussed; to pick up the hints, the innuendos, etc that would lead me to see Hans as a well-thought-out character with a truly dastardly dual purpose and a very effective mask of deception.

So what did I discover?

Nothing.

I stared closely at every posture, every gesture, every smile to see even the merest hint of cynicism. I  logically examined every potential moment in the story where the scriptwriters could have inserted something (anything) to demonstrate his dual nature.

But, is this just me or, was there no foreshadowing at all?

One minute the guy is lovey-dovey, responsible and the pillar of integrity, the next he is willing to murder a woman by stabbing her in the back with a very large sword, all for social and monetary gain.

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, I love your movie, I really do. But, as a storyteller and a storylover I have to ask, is there something I missed?

Hans’ character shift, while making sense in retrospect (being the youngest brother with no inheritance and all that) didn’t feel authentic to me and as a result the story felt weakened. Which is a shame because I love the Elsa/Anna storyline so, so, so much.

Yes, I will be buying Frozen in HD (after all I’m not crazy!) and I will watch it over and over again. But a part of me will always be watching in hope, waiting to see just a small hint of the real Hans.

About Inger

Inger is the founder and editor of Creating The Story. Learn more about her here and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ .
Email: Inger @ CreatingTheStory.com (Remove the spaces round the @)

Comments

  1. I think the only possible hint of Hans’ plan could be the the moment in “Love Is an Open Door” in which he waves his hand over Arendelle’s view and sings “I’ve been searching my hole life to find my own place.” With a little imagination one could interprete this as kind of a revelation, don’t you think?

  2. Hmmm.
    Just watched that scene again and personally, I wouldn’t count that as either revelation or foreshadowing. As you say it is a “hint” but little more.

    If I was going to offer “Notes” on this scene, suggestions that could contribute to filling in Hans’ character and his eventual relationship with Anna, perhaps when they are singing “Our mental synchronisation, can have but one explanation. You and I are just meant to be…” perhaps they could actually be out of synchronisation when they are doing the “cuckoo clock” dance. That would be one area where there is potential for “something to feel a little off”.

    You could even take that one step further and show, while they are singing the song beautifully together, that they are different in their actions, in the choices they make physically, in way they act. That would also make it different from other Disney-romance songs and set the tone a little more concretely for what is to come in the story.

    But, in the visuals and lyrics as they are in the film, all I see is harmony.

    Beautiful scene though. I love the lighthouse – But I do have a lighthouse fetish :-)
    Thanks for your reply Lilly
    Cheers
    Inger

  3. This post made me want to investigate Hans’ character shift too. When I first watched the movie, I felt that there was something off with him even before his “transformation” but that’s just that, a gut feeling. Interesting post and blog! :)

  4. The way I see his character after watching the movie several times, focusing on different elements (Hans one of them):

    Symbolism of gloves: only people in the movie who wear gloves that don’t serve as protection from cold (so they can be considered as just regular and reasonable thing to wear) all the time are: The Duke of Weaselton, Elsa, Hans. The Duke seems like the obvious case, downright double – crossing and dishonest, no second depth to see here.
    Elsa’s gloves are part of her entire kit of symbols surrounding her detachment from the world, her retreat, her emotional blocks. Her powers are first manifested in public when her first glove is snatched away from her. When she throws the second one she embraces her powers (altough with certain blocks still, but that’s beside the point).
    Hans wears the gloves all the time, the only scene when he takes them off is the scene when he shows his true colors to Anna, do note he puts them off and contunies the charade in front of others after they have their little chat.
    While I know the symbolic nature of gloves can be considered as far – fetched, it can be considered as a way of hinting that there’s more to a character wearing them than it meets the eye.

    Another point is the song ‘Love is an open door’. When Hans & Anna sing, there’s a line:
    ‘We finish each other -’ – Hans
    ‘Sandwiches!’ – Anna
    ‘That’s what I was gonna say!’ – Hans
    It’s pretty clear they don’t finish each other sentences. As a matter of fact, they’re talking about completely different things. Anna just cuts in with her ‘Sandwiches’ into Hans’s monolog. Do note Hans’s flinching at that moment and his immediate adjustment to Anna’s behaviour <– It kinda gives away a tell.

    • Hi Jacob
      Thanks for your reply, I appreciate the time you took to contribute to the conversation.
      I wrote a detailed/ edited response to your email but WordPress lost it so I’ll try to rewrite it with the same level of thought.

      I agree with the role of gloves as symbols in the movie and thanks for the breakdown of your observations – great work. I enjoyed Elsa’s one glove on, one glove off transition as a symbol of her growth.
      And I did note the “finish each other’s sandwiches” lyrics.

      I guess what I am looking for when I watch a movie or read a book is insight into characters and their motivations.
      As a storyteller and an audience member, if a character does a 180 degree shift in motivation then I want to be able to see hints/reasons perhaps not on the first viewing but definitely on the second. To me Hans’ intentions in the first 3/4 of the film were completely the opposite of his ultimate betrayal in the last act. This doesn’t change regardless of how many times I watch Frozen.

      A reader/viewer wants to be a part of the storytelling process, an active participant otherwise at some level they may feel cheated/lied to and the plot will appear manipulated. For a writer to know the outcome of a character’s shift but keep all the cards to themselves until the last minute isn’t great storytelling.

      To sample an earlier Disney feature, in Wreck It Ralph you had the “Turbo” backstory early on, you could see King Candy making some dubious choices and, as an audience member that made me think, something is up with this guy.On further viewings it all made crazy, sweet sense.

      For me there is not enough in Frozen to foreshadow or warrant the drastic shift in Hans’ actions.

      If I think of anything else I originally wrote I will add it later (curse you wordpress!).
      Thanks again Jacob
      Cheers
      Inger

  5. Try different interpretation. Hans doesn’t make any change in behaviour. Not from his point of view at least. His goals are pretty straigth – forward from the beggining. He just adapts a different approach as situation changes. Pragmatism.

    As such, the man retains his integrity. We can’t really expect him to show his true intentions from the start. Honesty kills the plan ;)

    About the author keeping secrets too close to his chest without hints: double truth! Personally I kinda liked it. Makes Hans really detached douchebag, or even better, no – good, double – faced sociopath ;)

  6. I think Hans was originally created as a genuine good guy. The scene where Hans and the boat fall off the dock, look at his face after he resurfaces. He has a genuine smile on his face, as if he found true love. A Disney Villain would have expressed a more sinister look, as if his plans were unfolding the way he wanted.

    I had heard that Disney originally had Elsa as the villain, but it didn’t go over well with test audiences. I think they reworked some scenes to make Hans the bad guy, and like you, his sudden transformation bothered me.

    • Hi Mike
      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you completely. The first meeting between Hans and Anna was telling for me, especially that moment when Hans lifts the boat up after falling in the water and we see the smile on his face- a quintessential Disney-I’m-In-Love Moment. If there had been any alternate motives for Hans they would have played out (even a mere hint) in that shot. But his smile is just as smitten as Aladdin’s or Ariel’s.

      On the bonus features for Frozen there is a deleted scene where Elsa was the “bad girl”, she takes out some of the men that come up the mountain to find her. It got up to storyboard, previz stage as far as I can tell but no further – as you say it probably didn’t go over well with test audiences. The filmmakers do admit that was the original intention. What a boon that change turned out to be for Disney! Sisterly love wins the day and the box office. I just wish they had taken the time to add a couple of extra shots to make Hans look even mildly dubious.

      Hey I’ve still watched it 4 times in the last 2 weeks :-)

      I will (hopefully) be receiving my copy of The Art Of Frozen soon so perhaps it will shed some more light on the evolution of the story.

      Thanks again for contributing to the conversation.
      Cheers,
      Inger

  7. Maybe I’m naive, but I really thought that Disney dropped the ball on this Hans character. Nothing in the movie warned me about his ulterior motives. The scene where Anna gets rejected by Hans could have been rewritten, and it wouldn’t have changed the movie at all. He could have kissed her, and found out it wasn’t true love, and told her sorry, there was nothing else he could do for her. Then he could have informed everyone that he did what he could, and then been manipulated by the Duke of “weasel” town into thinking that the only way to end the winter is to “destroy” Elsa. The rest of the movie could have been the same. Even when Anna breaks the sword, Hans could have been blown back. After Elsa breaks the curse, Hans could have come and apologized, and Anna could have said “that’s ok”, we rushed into it too fast (a coming of age moment). Hans could have then walked away.
    Hey, maybe I should have written the script.

    • Hi Maurice.
      Thanks for your comment, I think a lot of people feel the same way.
      For me I love the visuals, music and the Elsa/Anna relationship so much that I’m still able to enjoy the film over and over again.
      But whenever I see Hans I shake my head a little and think about what could have been.
      Would love to read your script if you ever get around to writing it :-)
      Cheers
      Inger

  8. Um, I think the part where Hans revealed himself to be evil was when the dude was trying to shoot Elsa with a crossbow. Hans looks at the chandelier and then fires at the chandelier. That way, he took Elsa down with out seeming to mean to.When Hans visits her and says he’ll see what he could do. Anna left him in charge. He could have released her, but he didn’t. If he was truly in love with Anna, and didn’t care about power, it wouldn’t matter if people were against him. Anna loved her sister. Also, Hans tried to hard to be nice. He agreed with everything Anna said.

    • We can infer all we like, but if we are to give Hans’ character the benefit of the doubt in the supposed expression of ulterior motives through scenes leading up to his betrayal – such as the one with the chandelier – then we have to think about what that means for his character. In order for us to believe that he shot the crossbow into the chandelier with the express-purpose of attacking Elsa, then we as the audience have to award Hans some level of superhuman calculability. Given how little we know of his personal backstory (not to mention the fact that we don’t expect NEARLY as much ‘genius’ from the rest of the characters), it’s just not fair to award him anything like that.

      Furthermore, Hans saying “I’ll see what I can do,” to Elsa in the scene where she is being held in captivity is only a faint indication that he isn’t what he seems. Although “diplomacy” doesn’t fit into the movie’s themes, one might also assume that Hans is trying to be diplomatic in the face of overwhelming opinion against Elsa and her highly misunderstood powers. That’s a lot more likely than what his intentions turned out to be, at any rate.

      In trying to decide whether Hans’ sudden character shift makes sense or not, the audience is mostly left trying to piece together what the character DOESN’T do, rather than what it DOES do. It doesn’t make sense to go back through a film, look at all the gaping holes in a character, and derive some kind of agency. “Foreshadowing” requires action.

      My thoughts are similar to this author: it was just bad character development.

      • Hi Michael
        I appreciate your detailed reply.
        Its great to see a bit of debate happening.
        Hans obviously ‘worked’ for some but not for others, and its interesting to see the reasons why.
        Cheers
        Inger

  9. Hi there,

    I have taken Hans’ hand reaching out over Arendelle to be a hint. But the bigger hint, in the same song, is this…..

    Hans: You
    Anna: And I
    Hans: We’re
    Anna: Just

    Both: Meant to be

    Anna is talking about the two of them and how they’re ‘meant to be’ yet Hans doesn’t include himself in Anna’s perceived partnership.The lyrics completely leave Hans out of it.

    Add in his quick adjustment to Anna’s ‘sandwiches!’ and throughout that song you can (for me anyway) that Hans isn’t what he appears to be.

    I must admit, I love the film and this song in particular. That Hans is so nonchalant about the whole thing, and such a massive douche in the end, was a cool surprise for me and my wife.

  10. Hans was just poorly written character development that the filmmakers passed off as a twist to excuse it. It just didn’t work.

  11. bj mccoy says:

    People, this one is really obvious. Someone touched on it earlier.

    The script was REWRITTEN. Hans WAS a genuine good guy in the original, and Elsa was the villain. After “Let it Go” was composed, they decided they didn’t want Elsa to be the villain, but rather the conflicted and isolated girl who finally finds redemption.

    So, they needed a villain, and they shoehorned Hans into the role. That’s why it feels so clumsy. The first two-thirds of the movie work; the last third is just horribly disjointed by so many things that either straight-up don’t make sense or feel “off.” The weird transformation of Hans into villain is one of those.

    Disney blew it on that. They blew what could have been a near-perfect story and made it merely a good story with a couple fantastic songs. A 7 or 8 instead of a 10. Too bad.

  12. John Hilario says:

    I agree that there was a lack of (sufficient) foreshadowing for Hans. I felt cheated at the twist and almost spoiled the whole movie for me.

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