The lesson of Frozen: there is no right and no wrong

January 14, 2015

I've heard lots of good things about Disney's Frozen from a number of friends, including Catholic ones whose children love the movie and the Frozen songs. So I finally brought it out again for the children to watch. (We had gotten it as a gift last year and we did try to watch it earlier, but they didn't seem interested at the time).

The first time the children watched it, my husband and I didn't sit through it with them. They loved it. Our two girls started singing the songs around the house, dressing up and pretending to be the two sisters, Elsa and Anna. My husband and I thought it was so cute. Looks like a great movie, right?

Then, at my daughter's request, I found Elsa's song "Let It Go" on youtube. I didn't realize it at the time, but this is the main anthem of the movie. Due to the incredible popularity of this Oscar-nominated song, Disney has since produced a version in 25 languages.  My red flags went up when I heard Elsa sing the following:

...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!

So the main character is now free of any concern for what is right and what is wrong? Interesting.
She has become liberated by letting her 'true self' break through the repression that had been forced upon her by society and by her own parents since childhood. Here is the song on youtube (the full lyrics are here):

The main theme of Frozen

Many of the words of this song were concerning, so I thought I had better find out more about the actual plot of Frozen. I decided to watch it myself.  So, here is the main plotline in a nutshell.

Elsa and Anna are sisters. Anna is completely ordinary, but Elsa is 'different.' At a young age, Elsa discovers that she has a special power: when she touches things, they turn to ice. What's more, her feelings are the trigger for her power: the more feelings she experiences, the more her ice power 'acts up' and freezes things.

Elsa believes this power is fundamental to her 'true self', and at first she delights in it. But after she accidentally ""zaps" Anna and makes her unconscious, she comes to fear her power and starts thinking of herself as some kind of a monster. Her parents seem to share these fears.  While they know that Elsa was born that way, they teach her to hide her power: she should keep it secret, wear gloves at all times. etc. They want her to conform to the norm, as a way of protecting others from harm.

Repressed Elsa does not have the chance to learn to control her powers. Instead, she lives in fear of herself. Here is how Elsa reflects on this early life in her power balad:

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

Later, through a series of events, Elsa ends up accidentally "outing" her power in a public way, which leads to exactly what she feared: she is called a monster. She runs away into the mountains, where she doesn't have to worry about hurting anyone. There, she finally unleashes her power. She sings "Let It Go" as she throws ice strands in all directions and builds a fantastic ice castle. She finally feels liberated. She puts it this way:
Couldn't keep it in;
Heaven knows I've tried
...Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care
what they're going to say
...And the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all
...That perfect girl is gone 
Elsa's fears of being seen as a monster only last for a little while. Anna goes searching for her, and when she finally makes it to the ice castle, she is full of love and tolerance, singing:
Please don't shut me out again.
Please don't slam the door.
You don't have to keep your distance anymore
'Cause for the first time in forever,
I finally understand.
For the first time in forever,
We can fix this hand in hand.
We can head down this mountain together!
You don't have to live in fear...
Cause for the first time in forever
I will be right here.
However, Elsa doesn't agree to come down the mountain and go back home. She is still worried that going back would mean a return to her life of repression and self-denial. In a song entitled "Life's Too Short", which was cut from the movie but is included on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack, Elsa explains more:
Elsa: Well this is who I am, welcome to the real me
You have no idea how great it feels to be free
...Anna: We've been falling out for way too long, so let’s forget who’s right
Elsa: And forget who’s wrong
Both: Okay!
...Anna: I just assumed that you'd have to...
Elsa: That I'd shove on the gloves, that’s how your story ends!
Anna: It does! It's just like it was, except for we’ll be best friends
Elsa: So that’s been your plan ? To force me back in a cage!
A bunch of action scenes follow where Elsa and Anna fight off the villain and his crew. Anna performs an act of true love towards Elsa and thus saves her life, and this teaches Elsa that true love is the key to controlling ice power. Harmony and happiness are restored as the sisters start a new existence as best friends, with Elsa embracing her true nature as ice queen, no longer afraid of herself but confident in her own identity and in control of her powers.

The main lesson: liberate yourself from right and wrong

Having watched the movie, what jumped out at me was the incredible similarity between Elsa's story and the dominant narrative of the LGBTQ struggle: born that way, repression by self and others for fear of being seen as deviant, then a courageous "coming out" and finally, acceptance and celebration by others. 

In fact, allusions to homosexuality are central to this movie, and you don't have to dig deep to see them. Others have already discussed this topic in some detail and I agree with their observations. One thing in particular is interesting: while Anna has longings to meet the "one" and get married, Elsa doesn't seem at all interested in men. The guy who courted Anna in fact admits that he would have preferred Elsa but “no one was getting anywhere with her.”

There also appears to be a gay family in the movie, as blogger Steven Greydanus pointed out:
It turns out that giant man in “Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna” is probably gay. When he throws in the sauna package for Kristoff, he turns to say “Hello, family!” and BAM! there they are.
The adult in the sauna is clearly implied to be his husband. Best yet, Oaken and his partner have a family — and it’s not even a thing. In the few minutes that he’s on screen, Disney manages to make a compelling character of Oaken…
Given all the above, I find it very hard to NOT see an agenda in this movie. To me, it is clearly intended to normalize LGBTQ, and it is teaching the following things to children:
  1. Gay feelings might start at a young age, like Elsa's ice power; 
  2. Gay people are born that way, and they cannot change. Being gay is a fundamental part of one's true nature; 
  3. You should not repress your feelings or try to conform to society, because that will only result in anxiety, depression and unhappiness (like it did for Elsa);
  4. They key to happiness is to follow your feelings and act out your inclinations or desires, regardless of any concern for the consequences, especially moral ones.
In sum, the idea of right and wrong is tossed aside, and what triumphs is the pure narcissism of following one's 'true' feelings at any cost and any price, along with a tolerance and acceptance of others who act on their own feelings in that manner.

While this movie seems mainly focused on LGBTQ themes, the dominant lesson could really apply to many other situations in our society. After all, people who put their own feelings and desires above all else are also often headed into affairs, divorces, and whatever else is often done in the name of being "true to oneself" - often these behaviours involve using other people as objects.

Surprising? Not really. These creeds have become the dominant philosophy of the society that we live in. It's not a shock that they should find their way into a movie, even a movie for small children.

What are we teaching our children about Frozen?

Through the attractive, shiny and engaging Frozen, the misguided culture that we live in is already reaching for our children through enculturation. It is presenting the values of a morally relativist and secular society as the greatest good.

Our girls are now singing: "No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free!" While they may not consciously think about it, those words are conveying a subtle lesson: that moral rules 'repress' people in a negative sense, and liberation from moral constraints is a positive way of obtaining true freedom.

My husband and I don't want to make a big deal out of prohibiting Frozen to our children, and we don't regret letting them watch it. Disney movies are a major part of the shared cultural experience of children, and I don't want them to feel somehow deprived or too sheltered, unable to engage in normal conversations.

But it's good to be aware, so we can discuss these themes and the lyrics of the songs. This is going to be more and more necessary as they get older, but it has to start today given the lyrics that they love. 

Happily, when we talked to Hannah about Let It Go and brought up the part where it says that there is no right and no wrong, Hannah responded: "It doesn't make sense! There is a right and a wrong. So that is confusing."

Wisdom from the mouth of a 5-year-old.

Top photo: JeepersMedia via photopin cc

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