The hype is wrong about Frozen. Doubtless you’ve seen the fan art, rave reviews, and musical tributes flooding the Internet. Frozen encourages viewers to be themselves, and challenges the traditional fairy-tale trope of love at first sight, say the critics. If you’re like me, you’re sick of being told the moral of Frozen, and doubly sick of hearing “Let It Go” in a thousand different forms—because really there can never be too many covers of a Broadway-style, award-bait song about throwing off the restraints of fear and social expectations (/sarc). Please, don’t mistake me: Frozen is a great movie—just not for the ubiquitously-trumpeted reasons.
She Gives Herself Over to the Curse
Allow me to introduce Princess Elsa. Born under a curse, she poses a danger to herself and everyone around her on account of her inability to keep her powers in check. She grows up isolated, trying to restrain her nature, having lost a loving relationship with her sister Anna. In Elsa’s early womanhood, when death takes her parents, she must assume the responsibility of the crown. But her powers get the best of her at her coronation celebration: Elsa nearly kills a crowd of her subjects and visiting dignitaries, as well as her sister. She flees to the top of a mountain to build herself a new palace where she can be autonomous, independent of all the trappings of the kingdom she was meant to rule—and of all moral compunction. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me / I’m free!” she sings as she gives herself over to her curse.
But Anna, the younger princess, follows Elsa to the mountain. Anna invites Elsa to return and urges her to restore the kingdom’s summer. “I can’t,” Elsa responds, acknowledging the limits to the power and the freedom she’s claimed for herself, and repulses Anna’s rescue mission. The Prince of the Southern Isles, Hans, a guest of Arendelle, then mounts an attack on Elsa and captures her—but not before she has wounded Anna with an icy blast to the heart.
As Good as Dead
We next see Elsa struggling to break out of the grasp of the deceitful prince, who has her chained within Arendelle’s castle. Still unable to control her icy nature, however, she gets lost in the blizzard she creates while escaping. She loses herself, and cannot find her sister, and too late she realizes that the prince stands over her with her life in his hands. Claiming the authority to act on behalf of the kingdom, he raises the sword against the fallen queen to execute her for her crimes. Elsa is as good as dead.
But the sword does not fall on Elsa. Anna stands in the gap. In this instant, Anna lays down her life in two ways: first, she puts herself under Hans’s attack in Elsa’s place; and second, she declines to seek rescue for herself. The blast with which Elsa froze Anna’s heart has been working its way out, gradually chilling the princess’s whole body. “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart,” and Anna turns away from one she knows truly loves her. As she leaps into the way of certain death, she turns completely to crystal-blue ice as hard as diamond.
Curse Turned to Blessing
The sword shatters against her frozen hand. Anna has chosen to submit to the ultimate harm of Elsa’s wound—she is already dead. Hans’s blow does no harm to either Anna or Elsa, but only breaks his own power. And now, from the heart from which came the act of loving sacrifice, warmth and life spread and Anna lives again.
Anna has not only restored her own life, but also the life of Elsa and her kingdom. Neither Hans’s machinations nor Elsa’s past irresponsibility have power any longer—her curse has been turned to blessing. Here begins the Happily Ever After: in the renewed fellowship of the sisters, the banishment of the enemy, the restored order of Queen Elsa and her kingdom—in short, redemption.
The Essence of the Story
Now, I haven’t told the entire story with all sub-plots and details, because I have no interest in forcing Frozen into an allegorical frame. The points I’ve mentioned are the elements of the story that reflect, although they do not mimic, the Great Story towards which I’ve been gesturing. They are the essence of the story, and if the essence were other than it is, the movie would be the worse; but at the same time the movie is artful, providing a story that is aesthetically graceful and intellectually stimulating. Simple allegory would be dull, but there is no man-made story more beautiful than one that illustrates the greatest love that can be.
The story of Elsa in Frozen is my story. I pray it’s yours as well. I was born under a curse, I was brought up to be moral, I have failed to live according to what was right, I have harmed myself and others, and I have tried to define my own law—but my Kinsman the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life in place of mine. And this is why Frozen is beautiful and good: it points to what is true. Even the song “Let It Go” is good, although it points to the ugly truth of my rebellion. It’s good to remember what I was, the more to praise my God of grace.
So if you haven’t seen Frozen, see it. If you have already, see it again. Admire the colors, the characters, the animation, the music. Be swept up in a good story. Heck, laugh at the stupid snowman, if that’s your thing. Most of all, come away rejoicing in the one who has such love that He thaws even your frozen heart.