At some level I am afraid of encouraging my daughter to love fairy tales. It’s a personal problem. I know. Though I’ve found I’m not alone in my struggle. One anonymous author (slightly more cynical than I) said it well in two words: Disney lied.
It’s true. Disney’s princess stories have long told us that finding a handsome man will make your life perfect. They tout that finding him brings you a Happily Ever After and that you’ll need just a little magic (plus a perfect cartoon body and great singing voice) in order to fix everything that’s wrong in your life and lead you to him.
I don’t want my daughter buying in to this… The difficult truth is that Prince Charming doesn’t make your life perfect. (The even more difficult truth is that no one’s life is perfect in a fallen world….) Yet, most of the fables in Disney’s collection leave a young girl with the impression that the right man can solve it all…(I think this leads to major disappointment from false expectations of marriage…but that’s another blog post.)
That brings us to Frozen. The latest release from Disney’s Pixar studios. I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw it, but assumed it to be more of the same.
But, instead I was completely surprised and delighted by this movie! In fact, this is one princess tale I’d let my daughter watch again and again.
It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me think. It made me feel. Yes, I loved it. (Ok, so the movie’s not perfect. For one thing, I wish Elsa’s “Snow Queen” transformation dress wasn’t so Angelina Jolie…and they could have given the lead characters slightly more realistic body types…But, for the purposes of this post I’ll stick to what I loved…)
Here are the three main ways this movie freezes out its royal competition. **Spoiler alert — if you haven’t seen the movie yet you may want to finish reading this later**
1. The myth of love at first sight is disproven… I watched the charming duet between Princess Anna and Prince Hans thinking that Frozen was, in traditional Disney style, offering yet another love at first sight subplot. Prince Hans initially seems to be everything Anna wants and more. There is no indication that he is anything less than what he portrays himself to be. He takes care of the people of Arrendell during the summer freeze. He leads the charge to find the missing Princess Anna, and he even saves Queen Elsa’s life. He seems to be a great catch.
Yet, Disney turned the story on a dime. Though I spent a solid half hour trying to figure out how and who the male lead, Kristoff, would end up with… (I finally decided the only option was that Prince Hans would be found out to be Anna’s long lost brother or something…) I could not have predicted the plot’s sudden turn. Hans’ true colors were revealed and quickly (and quite convincingly) they demonstrated that one royal ball is not enough time or experience for true love to develop. Bravo Disney for finally giving my daughter some sound relationship advice.
2. Authenticity, letting others know the real you, is healthy… Be a good girl. Keep it all together. Don’t let them see inside. These are Queen Elsa’s mantras. She is a woman who’s trying to hold a lot in. I can relate. Many women can.
She has tremendous power but has only ever been able to see how this power hurts people. So, she must not use it. It must be stifled.
She is in bondage to this power. It keeps her locked in a lonely prison. Her anthem, “Let it Go,” reveals to us how trapped she’s felt. She can’t get close to people because she’s afraid she’ll hurt them. She can’t let anyone know the “true” her because it’s too dangerous…She’s afraid of what’s in there, too.
Her parents, lost as to what to do for her but sure they didn’t want to risk her hurting her sister again, encouraged her to keep it inside. They close the gates to the whole kingdom. In a way, they didn’t know how to deal with their different daughter, and thus kept her away from the outside world.
So, Elsa does what many women do when they can’t take the pressure anymore. She let’s it all out. Not in a slow, gradual, working-through-things-one-issue-at-a-time way. No, she explodes… and then runs away.
She thinks she’s found a place to be alone. Somewhere she can do as she pleases without harming anyone…finally. She thinks she’s found somewhere safe. But, it’s not.. and she’s not. Suddenly, the newly liberated queen isn’t really free. In fact, her freedom did have consequences. Her absence from Arrendell was not going to solve any of the problems she created…it would only exacerbate them.
The symbolism here touched me deeply. It’s so hard for us to be authentic with each other. It’s hard to know who, if anyone, you can trust with those deep secrets within. It’s a challenge to find people that will be honest with you in return. We all have ugliness inside…be it thoughts, actions, or a past we’d rather not remember. These are things we’d never post on Facebook and secrets we are scared to reveal even to those closest to us. What would people think if they knew that about me?
It’s even more difficult to let people get close enough to risk hurting them and getting hurt by them. But the best relationships require the constant exercise of repentance and forgiveness…because that’s what we do. We hurt each other. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.
Most of us don’t regularly talk about what we are really going through…with anyone. Instead, we fluctuate between a state of bottled-up emotions that we try not to let anyone see and a state of unbridled freedom where we explosively let all that’s been trapped inside out…and then later regret the words we said or actions we took when we see how others have been affected by them.
How much different would the story of these two sisters have been if Elsa had been able to share her secret with the world from the beginning? Honesty, authenticity, engaging in real relationships and not hiding because of the secrets we hold inside is a great take away lesson. Regularly confessing our sins to one another…reconciling with one another…helping each other through the day to day struggles is where there is true relational freedom and life. Isolation -be it physical or emotional- is ineffective because we can never be free from ourselves and often that’s where the problems lie.
Unlike in the Frozen story, we also know that there is a redeemer who can transform our cold hearts, heal the hurts, and help us (through the Holy Spirit) sanctify the ugliness of our flesh. And, he knows what’s going on in there whether or not we tell him…He can miraculously thaw frozen hearts.
3. Sacrificial love transforms…not magic. Disney’s love anthems make me cry. It’s true. Come on, “So This is Love,” “Tale as Old as Time” — these tunes tap into your heart of hearts. They speak to a desire for a love that transcends everything that is wrong with this broken world. I’d argue that they spell out our heart’s longing for a hero to save us from all the evil that plagues us. But that’s not a yearning for a cheesy cartoon prince on a white horse…it’s for a Savior.
In this movie Disney does something that I doubt they know they are doing. They show us the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Disney’s modus operandi is to bring in a witch, wizard, or something else with magical powers to fix the plot lines problem. But, in Frozen (again SUPER spoiler alert) it’s Anna’s sacrificial love that changes the queen’s icy heart and prompts yet another act of love to save the princess.
Our daughters need to know (and so do we) that this is the kind of love that will save them. That Jesus’ sacrificial love–a love that led him to die for us–is the kind of love worth singing about and a kind of love that gives us the ability to truly love and bring others to life.
So, in summary, Disney, I just want to say, “Thanks.”
Thanks for making a princess story that ends with a different kind of happily ever after…the kind that comes through real love, authenticity, and salvation. It gave me the chills.
Psalms 147: 18a He sends his word and melts them…