There’s a delightful feeling of surprise when you actually learn something from an animated movie, especially one you expected to be a colder, more cliché knockoff of Tangled. I’m happy to report that this was the case with Disney’s latest, Frozen.
Lesson One: Family matters.
Frozen shows us that the love between sisters is really important. For those of you who missed that moral, I’d also like to mention that Wall-e encourages us not to ruin the earth, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is Christian allegory (spoiler: Aslan is Jesus!) and Spiderman teaches us that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
So, fine, it’s not a particularly subtle, delicately nuanced point. But I am not ashamed to admit that I cried a little when teenage Anna slumped against her sister’s door and whispered, “Do you want to build a snowman?” Because I know so many kids are asking that of their older siblings, their single moms, their overworked dads . . . and the answer they get is “No” time and time again.
We’ve lost something, people. Frozen reminds us to get it back.
Lesson Two: Even princess movies can say something profound every once in a while.
I’ve already learned the lesson, “Don’t decide that people aren’t going to change” a few times. As soon as you box someone in and decide there is just no hope for him, or that she’ll always act that way, or that they aren’t ever going to grow up, people surprise you.
I hadn’t quite gotten to the lesson, “Don’t decide that megabillion corporate entertainment moguls aren’t going to change.” Until now.
Let’s face it: Disney isn’t exactly known for its solid and realistic definition of love. Their oft-trumpeted mottos are: “Follow Your Heart” “Dreams Come True” and “If Your Father Disapproves of Your Dramatic Declaration of Love for A Member of Another Species Who You’ve Never Even Spoken To, You Should Probably Run Away.” (That’s The Little Mermaid, in case you’re wondering. Never been a fan of that one.)
So, when Princess Anna asked Olaf what love is, I was literally mid-eye-roll, expecting one of the answers above.
Then Olaf responded, “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”
Excuse me, what? Did that goofy bucktooth snowman just say the exact answer that had been going through my head and that I never thought Disney would have the good sense to say? Yes, yes he did. And the movie followed it up by making it very clear that sacrifice, not a romantic kiss, is the truest act of love.
Well done, Disney. I tip my cynical hat to you.
Lesson Three: We need other people.
Elsa is as close as I’ve seen to a tragic character in an animated movie, and can she ever belt out her songs! (Which, paired with Idina Menzel’s voice, basically made the movie Wicked on ice, and I didn’t even care.)
In “Let It Go,” she looks out over the barren, snowy landscape and declares, “A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the Queen.” Her lifelong motto of “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them see” has been abandoned, and she’s celebrating her new life alone and free.
What confuses me is how many people see this song as a rallying cry, an empowerment ballad celebrating freedom and independence.
It’s supposed to be very, very sad. “You’ll never see me cry,” she says, right before the fist-pumping line of “Here I stand!” The second might be good. The first really isn’t.
The rest of the movie bears out the idea that while conforming to others’ expectations isn’t good, neither is fleeing the people who have those expectations.
Those of you who followed my old blog know that I’m trying to develop a theology of loneliness, because we’re very good at isolating ourselves. We keep appearances up, tuck our dirty laundry away, wear masks, carry our burdens alone. We all relate to Elsa. Even (especially?) Christians.
We tend to sign emails with Bible verses, respond with “fine,” and avoid discussing things like mental illnesses and eating disorders. There is a pressure to be “good” that doesn’t come from a love of God, but instead, from the need to avoid the judgment of others. We have built a culture of isolation and shame like a castle around us.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them see.
That is not healthy, not possible, and not Biblical. We were made for connection. (If you need proof of this, listen to this clip of Brene Brown and then go out and read/listen to everything she’s ever created. Go on. I’ll wait.)
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity makes relationship the very essence of God, and gives a theological knock-out to the idea that we should be able to handle things on our own.
Love is a gloves-off, open-gates approach to life that isn’t afraid to let other people in and make them feel welcome. For all their whimsical ridiculousness, Hans and Anna had the right idea from their song, “Love Is an Open Door.” As C.S. Lewis famously said, loving others means risking hurt and betrayal and heartbreak. But it’s worth it.
Are there any animated movies you have learned something from? Tell me in the comments. I might write a post about that movie sometime in the future!