Please note: the following post reflects on the Disney film Frozen and necessarily contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen Frozen yet, stop reading this post and go see it, because it’s awesome.
I’m not sure if you noticed, but for the first time in a number of years, everyone is talking about an animated movie made by Disney.
Frozen is the first Disney movie in a long time that comes close to achieving the quality of the films it released in the 1990s, including classics like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Already it has had a profound influence on the culture, inspiring parodies, lip dub videos, and sing- alongs that have gone viral. The movie has transcended the “kids movie” genre and has become a surprise hit, not only among nostalgic lovers of the old Disney favorites, but also among those who want the movies they watch to have a deeper meaning.
In some ways, it’s no surprise that Frozen has been so popular. It ticks all of the appropriate Disney movie boxes: catchy songs, cute sidekicks, princesses, anthropomorphic animals, and parental tragedy. I think the reason for its near-universal popularity, however, is the fact that it is not hamstrung by its need to be a traditional Disney movie. Indeed, there are elements of Frozen that totally transcend the genre. For instance, Elsa and Anna (the princesses; yes, there are two), are far more three-dimensional than their historic counterparts. They struggle with the same issues that we struggle with: how to be ourselves in the face of societal pressure, how to trust people, and most of all, what the nature of love really is.
THIS IS WHERE THE SPOILERS ARE. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE AND DON’T WANT THE ENDING RUINED, PLEASE STOP READING!
I won’t rehash the entire plot, but suffice it to say that in the final sequence of the movie, Anna is trying to be healed of a frozen heart caused by her sister Elsa. Told by one of the sidekick characters that the only way to heal a frozen heart is through an act of true love, Anna assumes, like a traditional Disney princess, that this act must be true love’s kiss. As she prepares to kiss the man with whom she has ostensibly fallen in love, however, she sees her sister in mortal danger. Instead of acting to save herself, Anna throws herself between Elsa and her would-be murderer. As the sword comes crashing down, Anna succumbs to her frozen heart and is frozen solid even as she saves her sister’s life. But after a beat, Anna gradually becomes unfrozen and kingdom is returned to normal. The sisters embrace and the implication is very clear: the act of true love was Anna’s sacrifice, her willingness to put her sister’s life ahead of her own.
Several reviews of Frozen describe its ending as “revolutionary.” From the perspective of Disney princess movies in particular or children’s movies generally, it very well may be. It strikes me, however, that the notion of true love being embodied in sacrifice is an ancient idea. In fact, it lies at the very heart of our Christian faith. We believe that Jesus Christ manifested the true nature of God’s love to us through his sacrifice on the cross. The core affirmation of our faith is that God was willing to die on behalf of the world, even though the world had rejected God. And I suppose that this is a revolutionary idea. We tend to be seduced by the idea that love is contingent on whether the person we love does what we think they ought to do. Yet the heart of our religion is that God loves us with a love that is unconditional, sacrificial, and true.