Frozen and the “Let it Go” Culture

Posted: October 2, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

A few months ago over on The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova wrote an article about why Frozen was such a financial success. While she concluded that there are a multiplicity of factors that help account for Frozen’s popularity, there is one point in her article that seems particularly noteworthy. She found that one of the reasons so many people are crazy about this Disney movie is that they can relate to the character Elsa. Consider Konnikova’s observations:

MV5BMTQ1MjQwMTE5OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjk3MTcyMDE@._V1__SX1391_SY638_While responses [of college students who were asked about why they liked Frozen] were predictably varied, one theme seemed to resonate: everyone could identify with Elsa. She wasn’t your typical princess. She wasn’t your typical Disney character. Born with magical powers that she couldn’t quite control, she meant well but caused harm, both on a personal scale (hurting her sister, repeatedly) and a global one (cursing her kingdom, by mistake). She was flawed—actually flawed, in a way that resulted in real mistakes and real consequences. Everyone could interpret her in a unique way and find that the arc of her story applied directly to them. For some, it was about emotional repression; for others, about gender and identity; for others still, about broader social acceptance and depression.

Konnikova’s observation is insightful, and I absolutely agree that the ability to relate to Elsa goes a long way in explaining Frozen’s widespread appeal. But simply saying that many viewers are able to identify with Elsa because they are like her is not enough. What I want to do in this post, then, is look at what Konnikova’s findings might say about the people who are watching (and re-watching) this movie. In other words, the fact that so many people are watching Frozen, buying Frozen merchandise, and singing Frozen songs surely says something about our culture and, more precisely, our nature as human beings.

Consider again, for instance, some of the language people have used to describe their fondness for Elsa. Apparently a number of viewers feel repressed, oppressed, or rejected—or some combination of the three—and want to be affirmed; and, therefore, they like Elsa because the “arc of her story applied to them.” What this means, I contend, is that Elsa is a character who reveals a deep-seated cultural desire to have sin excused and endorsed. In order to substantiate this claim, let us take a brief look at Elsa:

• Elsa is a girl with a special power: she can create ice and freeze things. The problem is, she has trouble controlling her powers. Fleeing civilization, she secludes herself in an ice palace in the mountains, where she is free to live as she pleases and let go of everything.

• “No right, no wrong, no rules for me … I’m free,” she proudly sings. It seems like this is the part of Elsa with which most viewers identify. It is, after all, the most iconic part of the movie.

• Elsa is a fairly static character. She undergoes very little change throughout the film.

It seems to me that Elsa is an outworking of our culture’s desire to justify every conceivable predilection—to “put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). She could easily be read as the champion of any number of contemporary social movements. The rhetoric of “Let it Go” is certainly in step with the modern notion that truth is socially constructed and that any claim to objectivity is intolerant. At minimum, Elsa is a reminder that fallen people are self-centered and naturally seek to justify or ignore their sins. I suppose I could talk about how subversive the message of  Frozen is, but that has already been done. Furthermore, it is difficult to give a fair, nuanced, and in-depth analysis of Frozen’s message in the confines of a brief blog post. The other side of the coin is that I don’t think Frozen is all bad. Instead, it is like every creative product this side of Eden: a strange mixture of the good that comes from being made in the image of God and the bad that comes from being totally depraved—fallen.

I would like to end this post with a few (hopefully helpful) clarifying statements. First, I do not pretend to have examined this issue as fully as possible in this post. My intent herein was to look at one aspect of Frozen In addition, it has been my experience that people are particularly passionate when discussing children’s movies. It is not my intent to engender unnecessary controversy in this post, and I hope that any conversations that take place as a result will be edifying, civil, and God-honoring. Likewise, please remember that I am not saying that you are a terrible person if you enjoyed the move (I enjoyed it myself, even though Tangled is better). If you love, love, love Frozen, please do not read this post as a personal attack. See it, rather, as an opportunity to think deeply—in a way that brings glory to God—about the things we watch. I have added links to several articles on Frozen, written from a Christian perspective, to the end of this post. I do not necessarily endorse all the views of these authors. Finally, the idea for this post was not my own; it came from my good friend, Timothy Wood. I would be remiss did I not give credit where it is due.


Further Reading on Frozen

From Christ and Pop Culture: Beware the Frozen Heart

James Harleman (of Cinemagogue) writes specifically on Elsa here.

From First Things: “So with Elsa, the question becomes one of how to acquire the virtues to apply her power well (making snowmen, hosting winter festivals in season and out of season, playing snow mountain hopscotch, etc.) and thereby channeling the power to a good end and eliminating the occasion for potential abuse or harm.”


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