Disney’s Frozen was fantastic. Let me state that from the beginning. I. LOVED. IT. I geeked out on this film on multiple levels. Artistically, it was stunning. Technically–both in animation and in CG imaging of details and clarity–the CG artists continually push the envelope with each film and blow my mind. Musically, it gave me goose bumps on more than one occasion.
The geek-outs I mentioned above make sense, since I love art, animation, and music. The geek-out moment that I want to share in this review refers to my theological side. I think Frozen gives a beautiful picture of the Gospel as it is expressed in the postmodern era.
Let me explain.
**SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie, you should watch it first, because I totally give away the ending in the following. You have been warned. :)**
First of all, fairy tales are simply complex parables. A parable is a simple, earthy story that communicates a deep spiritual reality. A fairy tale does the same thing, but with complex stories wrapped in an enchanted world of imagination. We can tell a lot about a culture by its fairy tales.
The modern fairy tale
Think about how the traditional fairy tale goes (by traditional I mean the ones my generation grew up with in mid-twentieth century). Let’s take Disney’s Snow White for example (since it was the first feature-length animation). There is a very good heroin (Snow) and a very evil villain (the Queen). The Queen casts an external spell of evil on Snow. Snow is completely helpless to this external threat. Enter the hero. A man comes into the scene and imparts upon the helpless beauty the only thing that can save her: True Love’s Kiss. She is a passive recipient of something outside of herself, both evil and good.
Life in the modern world is black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, in and out. You are either on God’s side, or the devil’s. Sin is something that is done to you that renders you incapacitated and helpless–asleep–and bound for eternal separation from God. Jesus, the hero, swoops in and “kisses” you with the gift of life that comes from his own self-sacrificing death. The kiss awakens you from sin and death and you go walking off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Sin is in the past and the blissful marriage is in the future.
The postmodern fairy tale
Now let’s look at Frozen. First, let’s look at the “evil” or “sin” in the story. Elsa’s “condition” is neither a gift, nor a curse. (Actually, it is considered both, depending upon who is observing it.) The fact is that Elsa can freeze things. There is no explanation as to the source of her ability. It just is. The enemy in this story is not a person. The real enemy is fear and greed. Elsa is imprisoned by fear. The irony is that her fear is motivated by love for her sister. She cuts herself off from life in order to protect her sister, and in so doing creates Hell for both of them. The village ultimately suffers because of her fear and everyone is encased in a deep-freeze. This is indicative of the societal effects of fear and alienation.
Next, let’s look at salvation. Each character is saved in their own way. Elsa moves through a multi-stage transformation. She begins in fear and isolation. Once she curses the village, she runs away and experiences freedom and liberation for the first time. She creates a beautiful ice palace and her solo gives you chilling and thrilling goosebumps of the exhilaration that only comes from feeling truly free. This is akin to adolescent independence. This freedom seems like her salvation at first, but then we realize that she is in just as much of an isolated Hell as she was before. The adage, “I just gotta be me,” doesn’t bring salvation, but only introduces a new form of isolation. It is only when Elsa comes to grips with her fear, understands who she truly is, and that she is an integral part of the community, that her abilities come into balance. She experiences interdependence with her environment and can freeze things for good, without the harmful consequences.
Anna’s story of salvation allows us to reimagine the hero/heroin story line. Anna begins with impulsive infatuation with the wrong guy who sweeps her off her feet, but turns out to be a jerk (and the closest thing to a villain in the movie). Christof is a loner who doesn’t think he needs, or deserves, love. Anna and Christof start to fall in love. Anna is damaged by Elsa’s freeze-ray and begins to turn to ice. The trolls give the classic antidote for the curse. Only an act of true love can save her and the village. The climax of the movie comes. Christof races to Anna to declare his love (his salvation, by the way) and save the day. Then, just when you think True Love’s kiss will save all, Anna demonstrates what True Love really is. She gives up herself for her sister.
Here’s an important corrective we learn from this. True love has nothing to do with romance. True love is about giving up yourself for the good of the other. When Anna demonstrated true love, then the curse was reversed and salvation came to the village.
I believe that the postmodern gospel, and the one portrayed in Frozen, gives us a better picture of the Gospel, and the message of the New Testament, than the modern rendition. I believe that God is continually creating the world through the dynamic, interdependent relationships of the Trinity. Love is the rhythm of God. All of creation is invited to sing and dance in this gorgeous and complex universe. Fear is the discord that disrupts the dance and sends us into disastrous prisons of isolation, hatred, violence, poverty, and death. This is Sin. This is Hell. The second person of the Trinity became flesh in the person of Jesus. Jesus lived to show us how to dance. He died to demonstrate true love and to reverse the curse. He rose from the dead to show us that the dance goes on. The Spirit empowers, enlivens, and sings the song to, through, and around us all the time.
Each of us has a “freeze spell” of some sort. Our blessings are usually our curses as well. We are called–invited–to learn how we were created by God. We have gifts and limitations–the good and the bad–and our spiritual formation is the process of bringing all of who we are into an interdependent relationship with God and God’s creation.
I think this is the Frozen Gospel, and it warms my heart. Peace.