Disney’s Frozen: A Fatherhood Reflection
So there have been some recent articles written from a Christian perspective criticizing Disney’s movie Frozen. Apparently, “worldview analysis” is just a code word for a list of things in pop culture that Christians should and shouldn’t like. You can listen to a certain song just as long as you frown and shake your head during the relativistic refrain. And warn your children about the boogeyman, Moral Relativism.
Look, moral relativism isn’t an intellectual danger. It’s an experiential one. When a cartoon character sings, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me,” it is painfully obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense that she is making a rule which is either right or wrong. It’s laughably self-refuting. Lamentably, we live in a society where that modicum of common sense is more elusive than a Chupacabra. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s pretty easy to teach my children to see that relativism is self-refuting. Now if I could just teach them to share…
Moral relativism is just the sewage which many of the fish in our society have mistaken for fresh water. All they’ve ever swam in is sewage so they don’t know the difference. Take them out of the sewer and plop them in the river and they may gasp and flop for a bit, but eventually they catch on and swim along with the current. Sins (of all kinds) are the real issue; moral relativism is just the way some sinners convince each other that the stupid things they’re doing are actually intellectually defensible. It’s a defense mechanism against the conscience. It’s a symptom, not a disease. I’m not worried about my kids becoming moral relativists; I’m worried about them becoming unrepentant sinners.
So, that being said, rather than a passing nod to the self-sacrificial love shared between the sister-protagonists in the film and a jeremiad about a relativistic song lyric, I would hope for a more compelling analysis from Christian reviewers. People steeped in the richness and depth of the themes, types, symbols, and narrative of Scripture should be able to draw more value from such a film than even its creators realize is there.
For example, Queen Elsa’s freezing powers are a metaphorical extension of her emotions. There’s a dynamic of fear and love at work in her powers. When she’s afraid, she loses control — when she learns to love, she regains control. Now, my daughter will never build a frozen palace of isolation as a result of living in fear — but that’s exactly what her loneliness may feel like if I don’t teach her how “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
In the movie, the young princesses are playing together and Elsa displays a natural control over her powers (read: emotions). She builds a winter wonderland to share with her sister, Ana, in one room of their castle, but she becomes afraid when her sister moves too quickly and accidentally strikes her sister in the head with an icy blast. Their parents, the king and queen, rush them off to see some magical trolls in the woods who fix Ana’s frozen mind and replace her memories of Elsa’s powers with fun memories of playing in the snow. The troll prophesies over Elsa that her powers (read: emotions) are both beautiful and dangerous, and that she must learn to control them or they could destroy her.
This is a reality that we all face, young ladies especially. Emotions are beautiful and dangerous aspects of human nature. It’s a beautiful emotional response when Ana sacrifices her life for her sister, and Elsa’s fear dangerously isolates her from everyone that she loves. Her father’s response to the troll prophecy is to take measures to teach her how to control her “powers.” In order to protect her, so he thinks, he locks the castle gates, removes most of the staff, isolates the sisters from each other, and Elsa is kept in her room where he teaches her to conceal her powers. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Teaching little girls to fear and conceal their emotions is a mistake. That’s not love. And it sets them up for failure in every relationship of any kind that they will ever have. Don’t do it, Dads.
Notice that every time Elsa demonstrates some control over her powers she is moving toward someone she loves, and every time she loses control she is moving away. Even when she finally lets her powers free, singing “Let It Go,” she’s not experiencing real freedom. She’s enslaved everyone in her kingdom under a frozen winter wasteland just so that she can finally release her powers. Isolation can feel like freedom for a moment, but the fear and loneliness remain. Only love casts out fear and love is reciprocal, not reflexive. A little girl’s emotions need to be loved, not feared, if she is to learn to love rather than fear. And only a father who has dealt with his own emotions at the cross of Christ will be able to give the love that a beautiful and dangerous little girl’s heart needs.
It’s ironic to note how many Christian reviewers responded out of their fear of relativism, when the point of the film was that love overcomes fear. As a father, I see Frozen as an opportunity to teach my daughters about their emotions and I see a cautionary virtue tale for fathers everywhere (the king also failed to teach his younger daughter to guard her heart, as she “falls in love” with the first prince she meets). However, I’m not interested in wasting the time I have with my children fussing about moral relativism, when I could be teaching them how to love… which I’m going to go do now instead of just writing a blog about it.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” -Frederick Buechner.