Monday, December 2, 2013

The best theological movie in years

Every year on Black Friday, my wife goes shopping and the boys and I go to my parents' house. We watch some football, eat some leftovers, play some video games, and (usually) go to a movie. This year we went and saw the best theological movie in years.

Seriously, this movie was amazing. It was poignant, subtle, brilliantly directed and acted, and written so well that everyone from a child to an adult can understand the theology.

What was this great movie?


Yes, Disney's Frozen, the kid's movie.

This movie is a must-see for all Christians, in my mind, both adults and children. It was funny, appropriate for any age, and there is a lot more depth to this than your typical Disney-princess movie. So let's go into that now, shall we?

Plot Synopsis (Spoiler alert! I will skip at least one significant twist, and the movie is wholly enjoyable even if you know the below, but still, spoiler alert!)

Frozen centers around the lives of two princesses, Elsa and Anna. Elsa, the elder sister, has a blessing/curse of magic--she is capable through willpower and emotion to create anything cold, from snow to ice to storms. Anna, the younger sister, is a precocious, clumsy, and yet sincerely adorable girl.

When the two are children playing together, Elsa accidentally freezes a part of Anna's mind. The local trolls are able to save her, but in the process of extracting the effects of magic they also extract the memories of seeing her sister perform magic. Fearful of a relapse of Anna's brain-freeze condition, Elsa and her parents agree to keep her magic hidden and secret from Anna as well as everyone else.

As Elsa grows up, she becomes less and less able to control her gift/curse. Her parents repeat the mantra, "Conceal it, don't feel it," and she spends her life as an act of willpower to keep her abilities from being known. Her fear of hurting her sister and her attempt to keep her gift/curse hidden lead her to live a life of isolation. She spends her life in her room, hidden from the outside world, gates to the castle closed: and, more significantly, the gates to her sister's heart closed.

However, her attempts at controlling her powers, ultimately, fail. Every time she becomes emotional or stressed out, her "curse" comes back out again. Eventually this results in an embarrassing public show which gets her branded a monstrous sorceress, and she flees into the mountains. In the process, the storm inside of her translates literally to the world around, locking the kingdom in an everlasting winter.

The rest of the plot is about Anna trying to reunite with Elsa and convince her to end the eternal winter. In the process, Elsa accidentally gives Anna a frozen heart.

Now a frozen heart, we are told, is much different than a frozen head--and much harder to cure. Only an act of True Love can cure it.

The characters assume--as do we--that the act of true love is a kiss. Anna (who is being pursued by two suitors) rushes around trying to find True Love's Kiss to break the curse.

And that is when the movie gets EXCELLENT, and theologically very relevant.

The Theology

Theology Point 1:  The Law

Through the entire movie, I could not help but notice (and empathize with) the plot of Elsa. She was attempting to control her gift/curse through willpower. She tried harder and harder and harder to invent ways to protect her sin from showing, to control something which is undeniably part of her nature. She failed, however.

We do the same, of course: the Law (i.e., acts of work and control) has no power to save, only to condemn. The harder Elsa tried to keep the curse in, the more the curse came out: works of the Law are primarily successful only in demonstrating our inability to keep the law.

When Elsa fled to the mountaintop she thought that there she could finally be free--free of expectation, free of trying to hide her true self. But then she found out that her curse had actually grown in power and even more people were affected.

The lesson from Elsa's life is clear:  the sin-curse that we have cannot be controlled through works of the Law, and it cannot be controlled through isolation.

Theology Point 2:  The Grace

Even if Frozen had stopped there, it still would have been a valuable lesson on the Law. And that is where I expected it to end, as Anna raced home to get her True Love's Kiss, which would be the act of love needed to set her free.

Or so I thought. In an ordinary movie, "True Love's Kiss" would indeed be what broke the curse.

This is no ordinary kid's movie.

Anna stood, near frozen to death, as her true love approached for the final kiss. She thoroughly believed that this was the only thing that could save her. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw her sister Elsa--about to be killed by an enemy with a sword. Elsa, the woman who was basically alien to Anna. Elsa, the woman whose actions endangered Anna and everyone else. Elsa, who refused to help with Anna asked her to.

What did Anna do? She turned away from her "true love's kiss" and ran to save her sister. Anna placed herself between the sword and her cursed sister, giving her life for her sister's. She willingly died in order to save the cursed one, who had done nothing to deserve such an act.

Sound familiar? John 15:13:  "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." In this story, Anna serves as an archetype of Jesus: she gave up her own life, truly dying to save someone who was basically a stranger and who had done nothing to earn her love. Why did she do so? As we find out later, it was because she loved Elsa--a love which was unearned, and imputed to her by Anna simply because Anna chose to love her.

Olaf the snowman defines love for Anna earlier in the film, and it is not the romantic eros love typically taught in Disney films. He defines love as "putting someone else's needs before your own"--and illustrates that himself, being willing to melt to save Anna. This is of course a pretty dead-on description of what the Bible calls agape love...self-sacrificial, unearned, unconditional love.

But of course, Anna's story doesn't end there, just as Jesus' didn't. It was the very act of sacrificial love which melted Anna's heart and brought her back to life, again fulfilling the Jesus archetype.

Theology Point 3:  The Redemption of the Curse

But STILL this movie isn't done. Elsa's actions act as an illustration of the inadequacy of the Law to free us from sin (as she says, "I can never be free...").  Anna's actions act as an archetype of the Christ, laying His life down in love, the act of True Love serving to break the curse and save us.

But that was not all. Now the movie goes even further, and shows us the curse being redeemed.

When the risen-Anna explains that it was love--not works or isolation--which unfroze her, something clicks in Elsa. Never before had she heard that. Never had she tried that. She had spent a lifetime trying to "earn" her goodness ("Be the good girl you always have to be," is a repeated part of her monologue song.) Now, she stopped trying to earn it and reveled in the unearned-love that her sister had shown her. And something amazing happens...all of a sudden, Elsa is actually able to control the curse. No, there is more than that:  not only is she able to control/eliminate the "sin" of the curse (having been freed by the act of true love), but indeed the curse is now redeemed. Now she is able to use her gift for the enjoyment of her kingdom, instead of having to keep it quiet and controlled.


I left the movie amazed, and went and saw it a second time with my wife this weekend (after her Black Friday shopping concluded). It is not only fun and enjoyable (as most Disney films are), but the thing sounds like it was written by a very theologically-devout Christian who really gets it.

This amazing movie manages not only to be one of the most charming children's films in years, but it serves up the concepts of law, grace, and redemption on a silver platter--either for you to have a way to explain it to your kids, or simply for your own enjoyment and edification.

I can't recommend it highly enough: this movie gets an A+ from me!


  1. I'm going to take your word for it. I haven't read through your whole post to avoid the spoilers. I noticed it's rated PG, would it be appropriate for a five year old?

    1. Absolutely. I took my six year old and didn't have a single uncomfortable moment. The snowman says "butt" a few times. That's it. I highly recommend it.

    2. I took my 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son!!! We all loved it!!!

  2. I saw the trailer for this a few months ago and thought it looked really good. This post has me convinced, I love a movie with some good Gospel themes. I'll check this out if it comes to a Japanese theater near me.

  3. Michael you forgot about charity done for the wrong reason as in Hans giving the blankets, soup, and refuge to the poor but it was all part of his selfish plot! I loved the movie. I saw it in 3-d which was entertaining in itself. Thank you for this breakdown.

  4. It's been circulating around that Frozen has many pro-homosexual themes. Among some of the things said are:

    1) "Let it Go" is Elsa coming to terms with who she is. She was "born differently" and she tries to accept herself with who she really is and doesn't care about the opinion of others. This is being compared to homosexuals.

    2) The store owner (Wandering Oaken's Trading Post) in the movie appears to have a gay family in the sauna, as he hints at the adult male and younger children as being his family.

    3) Allegedly, Jennifer Lee, the director, made a statement that the sexuality of Elsa was "best left unsaid."

    As someone who saw the movie, what are your thoughts on this matter?

    1. Not even a little bit. You should go read my post on "confirmation bias" because that has some impact here. Look, Frozen is a movie which very authentically addresses the human condition--and, as such, it is going to resonate with a lot of people. It resonated with me theologically, it will probably also resonate with some who are gay, it resonates with others as feminists, etc. That is not to say that it is objectively about those things, just that ANY sincere, authentic treatment of human nature will of course resonate with humans where they are.

      That said, let's take each point individually.

      1) "Let it Go" plainly states in the actual lyrics of the actual song that it is about giving up trying to control her actions and be perfect all the time. I suppose you could put a gay spin on that if you'd like, just as I put a "sin curse" spin on it. Again, this is about something sincere that we all understand (the natural human tendency to fail even despite our best efforts), so of course it will resonate with many people.

      2) Maybe you can take the adult man as Oaken's gay partner, but I saw it three times and didn't. I just assumed that it was an older teenage son, or a brother, since Oaken is clearly in his later middle ages.

      3) Two thoughts here.
      (a) As you said, this is alleged. Where is the actual quote, other than tumblr? I can't find it.
      (b) I also would say it is "best left unsaid." I'd say that most children's movies' character sexualities are best left unsaid. Because they are children's movies.

      Here's the thing: I saw this movie three times and am a conservative Christian. And the gay thing did NOT ever occur to me. The only way I think anyone could come to it and see that is in the case of Confirmation Bias (search on the blog for that phrase and you'll see what I mean).

      More than anything--if I didn't see it, your kids won't see it. So take them, and enjoy the beautiful spiritual themes.

  5. It's obviously Oaken's partner. You don't seem to understand what Disney has been attempting to do for many years if you don't see the gay agenda here.

  6. I stumbled across your blog and I just want to thank you. I, too, am a conservative Christian--and everything you said here as well as in your "Confirmation Bias" post was spot-on. Thank you for offering an intelligent, rather than hysterical, analysis. This was one of the most refreshing commentaries I have read about the so-called culture war.

  7. P.S. The Movie is an adaption og H.C. Andersens fairytale "The Snow Queen"

    1. It is not an adaptation, it was merely "inspired by" that story. As it turned out, after lots of rewrites during the years of production, the characters and plot are now almost completely different.