Originally published Thursday, 13 March 2014.
**Spoiler Alert! This article is intended to process the popular film with people who have already seen it!**
Disney's Frozen recently won an Oscar for the Best Animated Feature Film at the 86th annual Academy Awards. The film generated over $810 million during its time in theaters, making it the second-highest grossing, non-sequel animated release in history. The result is that Disney's stock has climbed, its theme song "Let It Go" has gone viral, and my children keep begging me to watch the movie since its recent home release.
Yes, I'm a pastor, but I'm also a mother. So when I'm watching the movie with my two young boys, I'm secretly applauding its feisty female leads. I join in on my children's attempts to sing and dance to its catchy choruses. And I appreciate its plethora of quirky characters too - like the adorable reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf, who bring well-timed comic relief to balance some of the movie's darker moments.
For one, Disney does not shy away from death in this film, just like in many of its other classics. It's somewhat of a surprise, as many parents with young children avoid addressing the topic, and yet here is a movie targeted at the age group that includes it as an important element in the plot development. My two-year-old has not realized its occurrence in the movie, but my five-year-old has started to ask questions. That in of itself is not necessarily bad, however.
The troubling part of the movie as a pastor and mother is how the king and queen handle their daughter Elsa's power before their demise. Elsa has the gift of being able to create ice and snow. With it, she has the ability to bring good - like creating fun and imaginative playdates for her little sister, Anna - or harm - like when she accidentally injures Anna while they are playing. Because it is a gift that Elsa has had from birth, it resembles the mysterious way that all of us are entrusted with gifts by our Creator.
Each of us has been created to fulfill a unique purpose and entrusted with different spiritual gifts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to do so. We are to use these gifts for good - for the upbuilding of community and advancement of the kingdom of God. Although we do not have control over the weather like Elsa, scripture tells us that with God, the possibilities are limitless. Remember how Paul describes God in Ephesians 3:20, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (NIV, emphasis mine).
Instead of nurturing and shaping Elsa's gift, her parents fear it. Because the gift harms her sister once accidentally, they decide to isolate Elsa to prevent any future occurrences. They mention wanting to help her learn to control it, but their instructions to her work to conceal it instead. She isn't to have contact with Anna or the outside world and she is to wear gloves to mask the power in her hands: Ultimately, she is to "conceal, don't feel, don't let it show."
Upon their parents' death, the two young daughters are left without the benefit of sisterly companionship. Elsa remains a "good girl" by following her parents instructions. Her gift grows stronger in the dark and alone. Anna effectively is left mourning three losses in her family. She is confused, frustrated, and alone as well. The decision to hide Elsa's powerful gift was the wrong one, as illustrated by the resultant division, cover ups, and pain.
A scriptural understanding of giftedness recognizes the importance of gifts functioning within community - never isolation. Paul explores this principle by demonstrating how believers can function as different body parts within the larger context of Christ's body (Romans 12:3-8). Each person has a unique purpose appropriate to how their gift naturally functions within the whole. Some gifts are stronger than others, but no gift is more important than another. That's because community growth, contagious love, and furthering one vision (advancing the kingdom of God) are the common goal.
Actively learning how to control her gift and openly using its power for good would have been a better goal for young Elsa. Instead of imprisonment and fear, connection with others and confidence could have shaped her childhood. As Christians we know the power in confronting trial; Elsa's parents could have been a source of unconditional love and acceptance through it instead. As Elsa learned to control her gift, she could have been empowered to do great things for the kingdom - her kingdom in this instance. Not only would the larger community have been stronger, but the bond between the sisters would have remained intact.
That was not what her parents chose, however, and the movie plot advances with compiling complications because of it. It is no surprise that the movie ends with a Christological moment that changes everything. Elsa has accidentally injured Anna once again, but this time, she has frozen her heart. Only an act of true love can reverse it. With little time left before her own frozen demise, Anna opts to save Elsa from sudden death rather than to save herself. Yet this act of self-sacrifice is able to melt the frozen rift between the two sisters as their love, rather than romantic love, is enough to save them both.
Anna's self-sacrifice, like that of Christ, is the pivotal moment that initiates the healing of everything. The characters discover the redeeming and redemptive power of love - it's the key to controlling Elsa's gift, building relationships, and effecting a stronger kingdom. As the scenery and characters' hearts begin to thaw, new life begins to bud everywhere. And the last scene shows Elsa openly using her gift to create community fun - she is finally both free and connected.
It is well-known that Disney movies have several layers. It's interesting to watch old classics and discover the adult material we missed as children. Frozen has its adult layers, but it definitely a Christian one too. With eyes tuned to the gospel, we won't miss its presence. And I hope we won't miss its inspiration to use and nurture our gifts in freedom either.