i’m going to do something totally unpredictable and babble about frozen for a bit!
in a lot of ways, i like ‘life’s too short’ better than ‘for the first time in forever’ as the sisters’ confrontation song — i mean, i absolutely understand why it didn’t make it into the movie, and i do think that the one they went with is a much better fit for the spirit and tone of the story. it’s disney, of course their relationship is going to be as pure and idealized as they can make it! and i enjoy it for what it is, of course, as well as the fact that elsa and anna’s relationship throughout the movie is relentlessly supportive and loving. it’s a refreshing take on female relationships that you don’t see in media that often. but then, life’s too short adds so much depth, realism and complexity that i’m almost kind of sad the movie didn’t exist in some alternate reality where it didn’t go against everything the production company stood for to actually have some anger and vitriol between the sisters.
i mean, it makes such delightful sense! they haven’t talked to each other in thirteen years, and not for anna’s lack of trying, or elsa’s lack of desire to. they are practically strangers, and the only thing they have to go off of is muddled, pained childhood memories. of course there’s going to be a chasm between them, of course they won’t be able to understand each other, of course there’ll be tension and bitterness and resentment when anna believes she’s abandoned her, and elsa has been denied the right to be a person her whole life without anna having the slightest clue. so when they can finally have their first proper conversation after all this time, of course each girl would project her completely different worldview on the other, and of COURSE they’d end up clashing and lashing out at each other. it’s just such good, smart, intense writing. i love that.
but in first time in forever, anna forces her sheltered, oblivious viewpoint on elsa and elsa isn’t bothered by it at all— while she’s still trying to push her away, she’s much more passive about it. they don’t clash; the whole song is both girls trying to persuade the other to see things her way because she believes it’ll be best for the other, but neither one of them really responds. neither one of them says ‘no, this is wrong, you do not understand me’, just ‘oh, i know you mean well, but see i want to save you—’. there’s certainly no anger or bitterness there. it’s touching, but i think the impact is much greater in the scrapped version, where only after that huge blow up, when they think it’s all too late, that they’re able to have that moment of introspection and finally have the other’s point of view click into place in their mind. they have both been selfish — a trait that is almost scarily lacking from their final movie counterparts, particularly in elsa — and they are both, in the end, able to recognize and overcome it. it meant going through an ugly patch there, yes, but ultimately it was more than worth it.
really, i think the biggest and most saddening difference between the two songs is elsa’s attitude. i adore the final version of elsa, she is heartwrenchingly tragic and lovable — but her sense of self-worth is practically nonexistent. she immediately accepts the blame for everything and starts beating herself up for it. i’m not saying it’s unrealistic for someone in her situation to develop such a self-blame complex — but when her negative feelings for herself seem to override any negative feeling she could’ve potentially harbored for anybody else, that’s where it becomes a bit shallow in my eyes.
in let it go, she’s finally able to build up her confidence, to take pride in herself for the first time, to allow herself to be wild and unrestrained. and that’s wonderful. but it all collapses in an instant when anna tells her of what she’s inadvertently done, and then she’s back to the panic, guilt and self-hatred. her self as seen in let it go is gone without a trace. but life’s too short takes elsa and develops her further in that direction, perhaps even too far: she’s unapologetically self-assured and confident, to the extent where she tells anna to celebrate her for her powers. and while in the movie, elsa’s response to finding out she froze arendelle over is to have a total mental breakdown, in this version, she…
takes a moment to have it just barely register, flatly says ‘oh’, and then immediately gets upset— at anna, for expecting her to go back and fix it.
is it selfish? it is morally skewed? ABSOLUTELY, and i love it. because all her life elsa has been robbed of the basic right to be herself. she has had to sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice all that made her her, just so that the people of arendelle can be happy.
the people of arendelle who, upon seeing who she really was for a single split-second in twenty-one years, immediately shrank away with fear and hate and exclaimed her a witch.
and now for the first time in her life she is able to be herself, to be free, and anna’s telling her to sacrifice it all again for the sake of those people?
in no version of the movie does the text explicitly point out that elsa’s parents were abusive, and that they were in the wrong for what they did. but elsa’s behavior in life’s too short is the only thing in any version that indicates as much. elsa in the final movie never resented her parents, never felt that the life that was forced on her was in any way undeserved. but prototype elsa? she accepted her fate for thirteen long years and suffered quietly through it, but the moment her restraints come off and she’s finally able to see all that she’s been missing, she realizes just how wrong it was to make her live that way, and she doesn’t ever want to go back. this elsa is acting under the impression that the rest of the world owes her something, and that even if her living in her castle of ice on the mountains is hurting other people, she’s not going to go back. ‘i had to give up more than half my life for your happiness— now it’s your turn.’
now, don’t get me wrong. i think given enough time to really face the consequences of her actions, elsa wouldn’t have remained at peace with that decision. but in that moment, she’s thinking: fuck it. for once in my life, fuck what everybody else needs. for once in my life, i am going to celebrate ME. i matter. i should be free to live my life. and yes, it is selfish and morally skewed, but could you possibly blame her for feeling this way?
she’s not acting with the same unrelenting pure-heartedness final-elsa did, no. but that’s the thing: it doesn’t make her villainous or evil, not even close. she’s still a complex, tragic character, just one who’s responding in a more realistic and nuanced manner to her years of trauma. because it’s okay for female characters to have negative feelings and act out on them and still ultimately make good choices and be good people. it’s not black and white, despite the way disney ended up quite insistently sticking purely to the white zone.
i love both versions of elsa very, very much. but the final version of elsa is one i love as a character, while the elsa lost in the outtakes will always be more of a person to me.