If you're a Disney fan, you've probably heard that fun little theory that ties Disney's two films, Tarzan and Frozen, together. The theory suggests that the ship-wrecked parents of Tarzan -- John and Alice Clayton/Greystroke -- are actually the King and Queen of Arendelle, and thus parents to Elsa and Anna as well. The main piece of evidence from the films to support this theory is the fact that both sets of parents were shipwrecked in their films. (It is, however, implied that Anna and Elsa's parents died in their accident, while Tarzan's lived through theirs.) It's a bit of a leap, yes, but it's one that Chris Buck (the director of both films) approves of... as he is the creator of the theory himself.
“When you’re working on a feature, you have a lot of time to think about stuff because it takes four years to make one. I think Jen [Lee] and I were walking to a meeting, and I just start to tell her the entire story. I said, ’Of course Anna and Elsa’s parents didn’t die, Yes, there was a shipwreck, but they were at sea a little bit longer than we think they were because the mother was pregnant, and she gave birth on the boat, to a little boy. They get shipwrecked, and somehow they really washed way far away from the Scandinavian waters, and they end up in the jungle. They end up building a tree house and a leopard kills them, so their baby boy is raised by gorillas. So in my little head, Anna and Elsa’s brother is Tarzan — but on the other side of that island are surfing penguins, to tie in a non-Disney movie, ’Surf’s Up.’ That’s my fun little world.”
I am a huge fan of theories, 'deep Disney discussion', and tying universes together. I love delving deeper and pulling out more from the worlds and characters that we are given. But I do like to provide sound reasoning to these ideas, and looking at this particular popular theory... I find that there is more against it than for it. Of course, the fun thing about theories is that you can believe what you wish! If it's not specifically stated in a film, then it's up for friendly debate, and you can theorize to your heart's content. But for fun, I thought I'd give the 'con' argument, and explain why I feel this theory doesn't quite mesh in the Disney world.
Ready? Here we go!
What We See
Let's begin with what's 'official' and best known: the movies themselves! In Tarzan, the movie opens to a stormy night at sea, where Tarzan's parents are escaping their burning ship. There seem to be no other survivors, and it is Lord Greystroke who is lowering the lifeboat to the waves below. They survive, along with their tiny son, and we see that they have shipwrecked just off the coast of Africa. They seem to promptly accept their situation, and begin construction on a treehouse home, using the wreckage that washes up from their ship. They settle in to this new life... only to be killed by Sabor, the leopard that terrorizes the jungle. Their last act is to hide and draw attention away from their son, who is later found and raised by Kala.
The King and Queen of Arendelle depart for a two-week voyage during the "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" sequence in Frozen. It is not explained where they were headed in the film itself, though Jennifer Lee (the second director on Frozen) has later said that they were off to a wedding. (More on this later, as we are focusing on what we actually see for now!) We see them packing trunks decorated with the flowery insignia of Arendelle. Their ship features a similar pattern along the back, with a giant wooden crest at the front. The Queen of Arendelle is not visibly pregnant, and there is no son seen or mentioned at all during the course of the film. Cue another stormy night at sea, but this time, the ship is swallowed by the waves, likely capsized or shattered by the impact. There is no fire, and no chance to escape by lifeboat.
What We've Heard
Now it's time to look at the 'outside sources', aka the things that are not seen or acknowledged in the films themselves, but have been brought to light by the directors, producers, or other source material. Starting with Tarzan's parents, we know from Tarzan Of The Apes, the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel upon which the Disney movie is based, that their names are John Clayton and Alice Clayton (nee Rutherford), the Lord and Lady of Greystroke. They are a British couple, and they seem to have family in England as well, as Tarzan has cousins with the Clayton name. It is, however, also mentioned in Tarzan Of The Apes by the narrator that "both Clayton and Greystoke are fictitious names", which could be a point in the Frozen theory's favor.
The King and Queen of Arendelle go unnamed in the movie... unless you know how to read the Runic alphabet engraved on their tombstones. This reveals that their names are King Agnarr and Queen Iduna. (Though the queen's name is changed to Gerda in Once Upon A Time's take on the story.) These names also appear in the "Frozen 5 Minute Stories" book, and are said to be used in the upcoming movie novel, "A Frozen Heart" as well. They are loved by their people, and their daughters, and seem well established in Arendelle.
In a Reddit AMA, Jennifer Lee was asked where the King and Queen were off to on that fateful voyage that supposedly took their lives. She answered that they were heading to a wedding, but also added that, according to Chris:
"They didn’t die on the boat. They got washed up on a shore in a jungle island. The queen gave birth to a baby boy. They build a treehouse. They get eaten by a leopard."
What We Know
Both sets of parents are only seen during their respective film's opening song montage, which does not give us a chance to get to know them very well. We do see that they are devoted parents, willing to do anything to protect their children, which is perhaps the biggest thing they have in common. But now it's time to take what we know, raise questions, and point out the major differences in their stories, characters, and ultimate demises.
- NAMES: Tarzan's parents are John and Alice Clayton, Lord and Lady of Greystroke. Elsa and Anna's parents are King Agnarr and Queen Iduna. While it is suggested in the Tarzan novels that John and Alice have fake surnames, it does not seem likely that King Agnarr and Queen Iduna would start a new life in England, rather than return home to their daughters and their kingdom.
- APPEARANCES: While the noses might be passable, there is little else to suggest these are the same characters when it comes to looks. Agnarr has Alice's hair and eye color, while Iduna has John's. John's facial hair is far fuller than Agnarr's, and Alice's hair is longer than Iduna's. Plus, all of the hairstyles are very different. They could not make such changes out on a boat, in that time period, in less than two week's time.
- TIMELINE: This is the big one. For starters, the films take place in two different eras. Secondly: the royals of Arendelle are away on a two week voyage. Two weeks is not enough time to arrive to England, establish themselves as Lord and Lady of Greystroke, end up on another voyage, have a third child (when Iduna did not appear pregnant at all when she left Arendelle), and shipwreck off the shores of Africa. "The voyage was MEANT to be two weeks long, but maybe after not hearing from their parents in that timespan, Elsa and Anna just assumed them dead, though they were still alive for longer than that!" Perhaps. But it still doesn't explain why Agnarr and Iduna wouldn't try to contact their daughters, or get back to their kingdom. Why would they go settle down in London when they could be hitching a ride back home? They would never abandon their daughters, especially with Elsa's situation. Besides: the way the directors have stated it, it sounds like they want us to believe that the two shipwrecks were one and the same. And not only does the timeline just not add up, but...
- SHIPWRECKS: The shipwrecks are clearly two separate tragedies. Both happen on stormy nights, yes. But in Tarzan, the ship is struck by lightning, and it burns. We see it sink. Meanwhile, in Frozen, the ship is swallowed by a wave. As mentioned prior, there was no fire... and no chance to put down a lifeboat. In addition, it appears that this wreck happened in the middle of the ocean, while the Greystrokes' ship went down just off the coast. Finally, the two ships are not the same ship. The Greystrokes' ship does not have the ornate flowery insignia of Arendelle.
- THE WRECKAGE: Earlier, I pointed out that the Arendelle trunks were painted with that flowery insignia, just like everything else in Frozen. But none of the trunks and crates we see in the treehouse have that very important detail. Everything is very Victorian-era England, as we would expect it to be in a Tarzan film. It looks like a lot of the ship's cargo washed up on shore, judging from how elaborate the treehouse is, but there is nothing that really suggests the ship was carrying royal passengers. Again, just not a match.
- THE PICTURE: Another very important detail is the family photo that is such a key element in the Tarzan film. The portrait is of the Greystrokes and their young son. The clothing style is vastly different than something you'd expect from the people of Arendelle. As for the photo itself, well... Arendelle is still in the era of painted portraits! Again, the timeline simply doesn't add up. Now add in baby Tarzan. How did they get that portrait taken if he was born on the ship, when they didn't have that kind of technology? Why don't they have a (painted) portrait of Anna and Elsa? That would be the thing to save in the sinking, not a portrait of the family that you have within reach.
What We Think
So there you have it: the argument against the "Anna and Elsa's parents are Tarzan's parents" theory. It was fun to look at these two films in such detail to see if the connection really could be made, but ultimately, there was too much evidence to suggest otherwise. And the truth is... these are just fictional movies, and one was made before the other was even a thought in anyone's head. The connection was made afterwards by the director, and as the creator of both films, it's certainly his right to make it. And as he said in conclusion to his little tale:
"Whatever people want to believe, go for it. That's the spirit of Disney."
And he's right. There are no limitations to the imagination, and you are entitled to create and believe and support anything you want to -- so long as you're respectful with it, and don't try to force your ideas on others. Maybe your theory won't ever be deemed official canon, but so long as you play nice, you can believe "anything your heart desires."
And that's what makes fandoms so great.