Elsa Introduces the Monomyth to Future Writers

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Frozen 2.

Before I took my girls to see Disney’s Frozen 2 when it hit the theaters, I new exactly how it would end… and not because the book was already in stores, spoiling the whole plot. It’s because of McDonalds Happy Meals.

How could this be? Well you see, Frozen 2 toys showed up at McDonalds and each came with a little square code token. I scanned it with my iPhone and got access to a song from the movie, “Into the Unknown”.

Those three words. That’s all it took for me to know the entire plot.

That’s because Frozen 2 follows the classic monomyth storyline. “Into the Unknown” is a key turning point in the classic hero’s journey story. If Elsa’s going to follow the monomyth then she might as well be blatantly obvious about it. Let’s break it down.

Unusual Birth/Origin. Elsa knows who her parents are but she questions where her magic came from since she’s had it her whole life. This gives her a crisis of identity, which sets her up for her “Show Yourself” apotheosis at the climax.

The Call. Elsa gets her call to adventure when she literally hears an ancient Swedish herding call, “ah-ah-ah-ah.” This is called “kulning”; other northern cultures have variations of it too, including the Vikings.

Refusal of the Call. Elsa tries to ignore the voice. The first verse of “Into the Unknown” makes this clear: “I can hear you, but I won’t. Some look for trouble, while others don’t. There’s a thousand reasons I should go about my day, and ignore your whispers, which I wish would go away…”

Helpers/Amulet/Supernatural Aid. This prop and/or person is a source of unknown-world knowledge and also a tool to solve problems the hero can’t get out of. This role is filled by Anna, Olaf, and her mother’s shawl. Anna comes along in the protector/helper role and ultimately is the one that helps Elsa from afar. Olaf (the supernatural snowman) provides the wisdom that “water has memory” and the shawl connects the girls to the Northuldra while also providing clues about the fifth spirit.

Into the Unknown / Crossing the Threshold. Frozen 2 makes it literal again. As Elsa sings “Into the Known” she moves from refusal to acceptance and decides to go on the journey. Then Elsa and friends go through a magical force-field to enter the enchanted forest, serving as the threshold between the known world of Arendelle and the magical world of trials and adventure.

Tests/Belly of the Whale. Elsa’s first tests is in Arendelle as she recognizes the four spirits and gets everyone to evacuate. In the forest she encounters the spirits again and this time she tames wind and fire, proving her power over them. Later she tames the water spirit. Anna figures out how to use the Earth giants to solve the big problem… this is one of the unique ways Frozen 2 wove the two sisters’ plot arcs together.

Meeting With the Goddess. This role is filled by Elsa’s mother, or rather, a memory of her in the ice, showing Elsa’s past and revealing to her who she is.

Death. Often in a hero’s journey the hero has to die and then somehow conquer death or ascend above it. Elsa gets frozen solid and is essentially dead and must rely on her sister to solve the big problem before she can come back to complete the rescue of Arendelle. In the way the two sisters’ stories are woven together, it is Anna who saves the magical world and Elsa who saves Arendelle—each sister saving the world that will eventually be ruled by the other sister.

Climax & Apotheosis: Elsa’s plot-line climaxes when she tames the water horse and enters her own Fortress of Solitude. The song “Show Yourself” brings us to the climax and her final form transformation.

Magic Flight: Elsa does not have to escape from anything… instead she has to ride as fast as she can on a magic water horse to Arendelle to save it from being destroyed since Anna broke the dam.

Elixir: This is something that redefines how our hero’s role in society has changed. The only physical change we see is Elsa’s outfit but this signifies that she is now the fifth spirit and as such she adopts a new role as guardian of the enchanted forest instead of being Queen of Arendelle.

Home/Master of Two Worlds. To come full circle, everyone is home again. We see that even in her new role in the forest keeping the spirits happy (which benefits both peoples) Elsa won’t miss the wedding and she keeps in touch with home by sending letters. She has found her place in both worlds.