I was a latecomer to the party, but last week I saw Frozen, and I completely loved it. It is the best Disney animation I’ve ever seen (noting that I don’t remember at all some of the classics I saw when I was young). I really liked Tangled. I liked Wreck-It Ralph. But Frozen blew them both out of the water. Besides the obvious attractions (excellent music, great visuals, etc.), I think there a number of themes, messages, and object lessons to be found that truly set Frozen apart from the pack. I’ll give five great truths to see in Frozen. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet!)
Yeah, About “True Love”
No movies are more associated with the myths surrounding “true love” than Disney movies. So when Frozen defies the stereotypes not once but twice, I find myself someone refreshed. Early in the movie, when Anna meets Hans and they almost instantly fall in love (which led to the excellent “Love is an Open Door” song), their quick engagement doesn’t seem that stunning. If they had followed through and gotten married, no one would have batted an eye because in the Disney universe, you can find true love in a few hours. Yet not in Frozen. Instead, the concept of such instant love is scoffed by Else, ridiculed by Kristoff, and finally revealed as a scam when Hans betrays Anna and exposes his true motives. (This was, by the way, one of my few nitpicks with the movie. The twist was a good idea, but I think they played the good-Hans a little too convincingly up until that point, making his actual plan seem like an unrealistic twist.)
“Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”
If Frozen had stopped there, I would have been content. Yet the challenges continues. Near the end, when Anna is dying of her frozen heart and racing for Kristoff, apparently her real true love, she sees Hans about to kill Elsa and turns to save her. She chooses to save her sister instead of be saved by her handsome hero. Again, this is a refreshing twist on the usual portrayal of love. In fact, this self-sacrifice becomes the act of true love which thaws Anna’s frozen heart. This goes well with what the quite wonderful snowman Olaf said, which is a much better definition of love than what some will give: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” Word, Disney. Frozen’s portrayal of love actually reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Letting Go: The Right and the Wrong
Even if you haven’t seen Frozen, there is a good chance that you’ve heard the musical masterpiece that is “Let It Go” (and if you haven’t, then go to YouTube right now and listen). Easily the most memorable and high quality song of any Disney movie in many years, “Let It Go” expresses the sudden shift in Elsa when, having failed at her number one goal to never let anyone see her icy powers, she takes a 180 and decides to embrace and explore her abilities far away from all the people from whom she had been hiding. For years, she blocked out everyone else and isolated herself, trying to hold in her powers and not hurt anyone. Now she’s failed, and she’s ready to quit that road and enjoy what she can do.
The funny thing about “Let it Go” is that most people seem to miss the point. Far from being an anthem of self-expression and self-realization, “Let It Go” marks Elsa only getting things half-right. She rightly realizes that the suppression she put on her abilities have been damaging, and she does well to embrace them, but what she fails to see is that the most dangerous part of her power is still present. She still isolates herself. She still fears sharing her life with others and loving people. So she goes to the wilderness and revels in her self-satisfying abilities, but remains broken, as is clearly seen later when Anna tries to bring her home. What “Let It Go” really shows us is that self-expression alone is quit unsatisfying and impotent.
For Elsa, sharing herself and her powers with others to benefit them is shown to be the best way to live.
Fortunately, Elsa is eventually redeemed from her isolation, and when she learns to love her powers are no longer an uncontrollable force of destruction but a beautiful force for good. Enjoying her powers alone left Elsa only slightly better off than repressing them alone, but sharing herself and her powers with others to benefit them (like ice skating for all her people, or using a magic cloud of snow flurries to keep Olaf around in summer) is shown to be the best way to live. This is a pretty great alternative to the usual Disney message, which makes self-expression the primary virtue and only brings others into play as people who support your self-expression, and whose self-expression you support. In fact, this makes me think of verses like, “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4) and “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others” (1 Pet. 4:10).
No Christian review for Frozen would be complete without mentioning Anna’s Christ-like sacrifice at the resolution of the movie. Though Elsa has frozen her heart, when she comes to the choice of being saved by her apparent true love or losing her last moments to save Elsa, she chooses the latter. The Christian parallels should be obvious. We were not worthy of God’s love any more than Elsa had deserved Anna’s. Indeed, we treated God and His grace with far more contempt than Elsa did to Anna. Elsa shut Anna out of her life, but Paul tells us that we were once enemies of God and hostile to Him (Rom. 5:10). Yet Anna continued to love Elsa by choice, regardless of merit, just as God has been faithful to love us in spite of all our wrongdoing and rebellion. Anna’s love ultimately became the means for redemption, for though Elsa had brought death upon herself by her frozen outburst, ready to fall to Hans’ sword, Anna gave her life to save her. Elsa was saved by this love, and indeed this constituted just the “act of true love” which was needed to thaw Anna’s frozen heart, giving her a kind of resurrection (any time you throw in sacrifice+resurrection, my Christian allegory senses start tingling). In a similar way, Christ died for us even while we remained estranged from Him, and by His death we are saved from death, and in the end He rose from the grave, leading to reconciliation between us and God.
The best part about this particular event is that Anna’s sacrifice really makes every bit of good as an allegory for the Cross as Aslan’s death in The Chronicles of Narnia, even though C. S. Lewis’s work was specifically intended to have such a parallel while, as far as anyone knows, Frozen was not. Yet the story of redeeming love breaks out even here because the reality is powerful. What Jesus really did is something so marvelous that His story begs to be mirrored, even if unconsciously. Pointing this out to children who see Frozen is, in my opinion, an excellent idea and a great excuse to watch the movie again (and again).
Law and Grace
I actually missed this connection at first. Somehow the thought escaped me. Only after I read this blog post did I notice. Yet Frozen actually makes a good allegory for the dynamics of law and grace, in addition to the other themes. See, in the beginning, Elsa works entirely by her willpower to obey one command, first imposed by her parents and then self-imposed: “Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show.” She is motivated by fear to follow this charge strictly, as one deviation could ruin everything. Yet this doesn’t actually help. The rule doesn’t work. Instead, Elsa’s powers grow increasingly uncontrollable and dangerous. This parallels life under the Law. The Law can do nothing to change or save us. We find ourselves controlled by sin and fear, and the Law cannot do anything about that. Instead, we are unable to keep the Law, and until we realize our hopeless state we will continue to disappoint.
Though the law of concealing failed her, Elsa finds she can live differently when grace comes from Anna. This is also like the grace that God gives us. Though we are unable to keep the Law, through grace we can begin to live in the way that God has prepared for us.
Yet then there is grace. While facing death, Anna makes a choice to show mercy. She sacrifices herself for her sister who doesn’t deserve any help. Anna loves and sacrifices because she chose to love an unworthy Elsa, and this is what sets Elsa free. No longer a slave to fear and unable to control her powers, Elsa finds freedom in the love and grace showed to her by her sister. Grace thaws the frozen heart and enables real life. Though the law of concealing failed her, Elsa finds she can live differently when grace comes. This is also like the grace that God gives us. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), and this sets us free from condemnation and the power of sin. We no longer have to fear, and we can begin to live in the way that God has prepared for us. Grace changes us and enables us to live more in line with the Law than we ever could when we were under the Law.
I could go on about other great parts of Frozen, but these are the main themes I wanted to highlight. Frozen gives better moral messages than most Disney productions, and also unwittingly provides powerful Christian allegory about law, grace, and redemption. Plus, being an animated Disney movie, you can count on the lack of objectionable content (unless the words “gassy” or “impaled” upset you). There are some who claim a pro-gay theme running throughout the movie, but I deem their claims hogwash and refer you to this blog for reasons why. So, needless to say, my children will enjoy Frozen one day, as I have, and they will certainly hear the Gospel commentary from me afterwards. For the rest of you, I encourage everyone to see this great movie if you haven’t already!