To prepare for Frozen 2, I watched Frozen again with my daughter. I remembered it being a funny, whimsical movie with a catchy soundtrack, but I was surprised by how much the story resonated with me.
What it teaches is surprisingly countercultural, calling into question the adequacy of common narratives pushed in pop culture (including often by Disney), replacing them with ideas that are, dare I say, biblical.
Freedom in Autonomy vs. Belonging in Community
Frozen initially appears to follow the pervasive Western narrative of finding happiness as an autonomous individual. We find our identity and purpose by looking within (self-discovery) and expressing what we find or feel (self-realization). A person can only be true to themselves, or “authentic,” when they’re free to act on desires discovered within. Despite what doubters and haters—usually authorities—want you to do, “follow your heart” (Moana), “live your dream” (Tangled), and “listen to your inner voice” (Toy Story 4).
Such “expressive individualism” permeates Western culture. Find yourself and be true to yourself. Again, that’s the mantra of most Disney movies. The autonomous, authentic individual reigns supreme.
Find yourself and be true to yourself. That’s the mantra of most Disney movies. The autonomous, authentic individual reigns supreme.
Some Christians hear this loud and clear in Frozen’s Elsa, particularly her anthem of liberation, “Let it Go.” Elsa puts Arendelle and her sister in the past to break free from the burdensome expectations of others. She walks up North Mountain in a pilgrimage to find herself.
By pushing and breaking free from limits (“no right, no wrong, no rules for me”), Elsa can be herself. She transforms from a timid girl, bound in cloak and gloves, into a glamorously dressed, glittering woman—hair flowing, reveling in her newfound freedom. We find this appealing because the siren song of self-rule is so potent in our world.
But the story doesn’t end there. Much of what follows dismantles the narrative of expressive individualism, exposing the hollow promises of autonomy and offering something better. Frozen makes us feel the seduction of living for self—only to reveal its emptiness. The end leaves us not with the glory of the autonomous individual, but the surpassing beauty of belonging in community. The real happy ending isn’t found at the end of a solitary path, but on a journey with others. Elsa finally learns that love toward people—not freedom from them—casts out fear.
We should caution our kids not to belt out “Let it Go”—which millions of girls do, including my toddler—or grab onto its lyrics without keeping in mind how self-empowerment turns rotten in the film, as it does in life. The song’s standalone power is dangerous if detached from the rest of the film.
The end of Frozen leaves us not with the glory of the autonomous individual, but the surpassing beauty of belonging in community. Its happy ending isn’t found at the end of a solitary path, but on a journey with others.
Selfish Dreams vs. Selfless Purpose
Frozen also complicates the typical Disney trope of “following your dreams.” The film’s plot moves from characters caught up in self-focused dreams, to tasting the disappointment of them, to moving beyond them to a larger purpose.
We learn about Anna’s dreams, for example, when she sings “For the First Time in Forever.” She desires romance and magic. With the castle’s gates opening to the world, for the first time in forever, nothing stands in her way. She gets her dream when she meets Hans. Elsa warns Anna she’s being foolish, but Anna knows in her own heart there’s something special between Hans and her. She insists on her own path, sticks to her gut, and follows her dreams.
But Frozen exposes the unreliability of our hearts. Anna’s fantasies blind her to reality, and she puts herself before the people she loves. Hans is not who she thought he was. Her dreams betray her, toss her against the shores of heartbreak, and almost kill her.
Frozen exposes the unreliability of our hearts.
Elsa also achieves her dreams when she no longer has to hide or worry about what others think. She can let loose and be herself atop the mountain—but it locks her in a prison of solitary confinement. Her anthem of freedom (“Let it Go”) turns into a lament of bondage (“For the First Time” reprise): “Oh I’m such a fool; I can’t be free! No escape from the storm inside of me! I can’t control the curse!”
Elsa’s dream castle isolates her in loneliness, robbing her of love. She (literally) spins out of control until she finally pierces her sister—the one who never stopped loving her—with a deadly wound to the heart. It’s not exactly the dream-come-true moment Elsa imagined when she left home. Like the prodigal, she wonders how she got here. Is there a path leading us home when our dreams have led us to a pig’s slough, or an empty castle?
Finding Yourself vs. Being Found
Both sisters learn that dreams centered on self turn into nightmares. The initial pleasure of following your heart crumbles and crashes down in an avalanche of regret and isolation.
As the movie ends, the main characters prioritize friends and family over personal dreams. As Olaf says, “Love is putting someone else’s needs before you.” Kristoff gives up Anna so she can live. Olaf will lay down his snowman life if the fire keeps her alive. And when Anna is forced to choose between saving her own life by running to Kristoff (seizing the love she dreamed of) or rescuing Elsa by sacrificing herself under the sword, she chooses sacrificial love. The selfless act is as surprising as it is beautiful.
The sisters are redeemed through sacrificial love. In losing life, they find it. We see the triumph of community over autonomy, dependence over self-sufficiency, finding purpose in serving others rather than serving self.
The self-centered gospel is a false gospel, Frozen vividly reminds us. Autonomy cannot deliver on the good news it promises. And like Elsa and Anna, we can neither save nor free ourselves; help must come from beyond. Only grace can give us what we most need but can’t supply. As it did for Anna, love reaches down into our frozen heart and unthaws us with new life. And this act—Anna laying down her life—finally saves and changes her sister. Love spares Elsa’s life, frees her from captivity to fear, breaks the curse’s power, and allows the prodigal to return home.
We find life, not by finding ourselves, but by being found. True belonging is nothing less.