The bright spot in this insufferably cold winter has been the success of the movie, Frozen, considered one of the best Disney films in decades.
We took the family to see the film on Thanksgiving weekend, fully expecting the common, tired storyline of a princess being true to herself and finding salvation through romantic love. It is the Disney dogma, after all.
Suprisingly, the movie’s storyline takes us in the opposite direction. The princess who is “true to herself” wreaks havoc on the world and leaves shattered relationships in her wake. Her devoted sister pursues her, even at great personal cost. And when all seems to be lost and you hope a prince will save the day with romantic love, there is instead a stunning portrait of self-sacrifice, described as the only kind of love that can melt a frozen heart.
It’s not hard to see the redemptive sketches in this movie. If you believe that love is more than just a feeling, that true love is expressed in self-sacrifice (which flows ultimately from Christ’s willingness to give His life for the world), and that true change can only take place through redemption not self-discovery, then you will find this movie delightful. More importantly, you will find ways to connect this movie’s theme to the gospel. We loved it.
The Success of “Let It Go”
Four months later, we’re still talking about Frozen. It has earned close to a billion dollars at the box office, surpassing the studio’s all-time best moneymaker, The Lion King (in inflated dollars). For months, it has been in the top five, and the soundtrack has spent considerable time at the top of the Billboard charts.
“Let it Go” is the stand-out song on the soundtrack due to its beautiful melody and memorable lyric. The music video has been viewed more than 88 million times. But the success of this particular song leaves me scratching my head, especially when you consider its place in Frozen’s storyline.
If there ever was a song that summed up the Disney doctrine of “being true to yourself” and “following your feelings” no matter the consequences, it’s “Let it Go.” Take a look at some of the lyrics:
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside. Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried. Don’t let them in, don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know. Well, now they know!
Let it go, let it go! Can’t hold it back any more. Let it go, let it go! Turn away and slam the door. I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.
It’s funny how some distance, makes everything seem small. And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!
Thousands of little girls across the country are singing this song – a manifesto of sorts, a call to cast off restraint, rebel against unrealistic expectations and instead be true to whatever you feel most deeply inside. What’s ironic is that the movie’s storyline goes against the message of this song. When the princess decides to “let it go,” she brings terrible evil into the world. The fallout from her actions is devastating. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” is the sin that isolates the princess and freezes her kingdom.
It’s only after sacrificial love saves her from the effects of the curse that the princess is free to redirect her passion and power – not in “turning away” and “slamming the door” and expressing herself – but in channeling her powers for the good of her people.
If there is a moral to Frozen, it’s that “letting it go” is self-centered and damaging. What’s needed is for our distinctive gifts to be stewarded and shaped by redemptive love.
Perhaps that’s why I’m flummoxed by the popularity of “Let It Go” (the song). Not from an artistic standpoint; it’s a gem. But I’m afraid its popularity drowns out the bigger and more beautiful point of the film.
Rebellion vs. Rule-keeping
A popular idea in our culture is that there are only two ways to live:
- Through authenticity, expressed in rebellion against cultural constraints
- Through an ordered life, expressed in rule-keeping
Many people see these as the only options. And sometimes, Christians are assumed to be lumped in with the second group – the rule-keepers of religion. To the stodgy, religious types, “Let It Go” is an anthem to the beauty of spontaneity and freedom.
But Christianity doesn’t see morality in either of these ways.
We don’t believe we are most true to ourselves when we embrace our deepest desires. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. We need deliverance from our deepest instincts, not celebration of them.
Neither does Christianity say we are most true to ourselves when we conceal our sin – as if by willpower, we can control our terrible tendencies. Some religious people may put forward the image of a rule-keeping, behavioral checklist. But that’s not true Christianity. The gospel frees us from the curse of the law.
The Glory of Self-Sacrifice
Christianity teaches explicitly what Frozen only hints at: salvation comes not through self-discovery or self-restraint, but through self-sacrifice.
All across the country, little girls are singing about self-discovery. Let’s make sure that after they see this wonderful film, they are given songs about self-sacrifice.