Saturday, April 05, 2014

Frozen and Let It Go: The Gospel for Little Feet

"Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps."
Hans Christian Andersen's request for the music to be played at his funeral.  
(Source: Bryant, Mark: Private Lives, 2001, p.12).
Frozen is a world wide sensation. Disney released the 102 minute computer animated musical last Thanksgiving (2013). The movie is now the top-grossing animated film of all time, exceeding one billion dollars at the box office. The film's mega-popular theme song Let It Go is an instant classic. The film's version of the song, sung by Idina Menzel, won an Academy Award.  Disney's official single release of Let It Go, sung by Demi Lovato, has been played nearly 150 million times on YouTube, and is America's ubiquitous song for 2014. The song's popularity has led to sparring between fans of the two artists who sing it and to the creation of some hilarious on-line parodies from people who've had enough of Let It Go. There are nine other songs from the movie's award winning official sound track, making a total of ten original songs from Frozen now being sung by kids all over the world. A quarter of a century from now,  our grandkids will be singing songs from Frozen, just like we still sing songs from Disney's renaissance period twenty-five years ago. No way around it; Frozen is here to stay. To me, that's a good thing.
In this day of Christian themed movies, I propose that Disney's Frozen is the most gospel oriented movie of them all. Few Americans realize that the  movie is based on Hans Christian Andersen's short story The Snow Queen. In fact, the movie Frozen was originally titled The Snow Queen, and even retains the original title in foreign countries. Hans Christian Andersen's purpose in writing The Snow Queen, published during the week of Christmas in the year 1844, is seen in the poetry at the beginning of his story, where Andersen describes the reason for warmth in this world:  

'Where roses deck the flowery vale,
There, Infant Jesus, we thee hail!'

The Snow Queen is a story that represents the truth of Jesus Christ and His transformative power to change lives, giving warmth to cold hearts. There is a darkness to Andersen's Snow Queen, yet the theme is one of redemptive hope. The heroine of the story is a girl who must rescue a neighbor boy from the Snow Queen's curse. He's been caught by the Queen's spell, held captive in her palace, and cursed with a cold heart. As the heroine approaches the Snow Queen's palace to rescue her friend, she cites the Lord's Prayer, allowing her entrance into the place of evil. Ultimately, the heroine's love for her friend, a love seen through her selfless sacrifice, breaks the spell of his cold heart. Warmth floods into him. The love of another awakens love within.
In Andersen's story, there remains the possibility that the Snow Queen will reappear with all her powers in tact, so the boy and girl must return home, but they leave the palace grounds knowing that if the curse of winter ever surrounds them, the effect of winter will never be in them. They have experienced love. Author Hans Christian Andersen knew the true meaning of Christmas is seen in the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ in coming to die for others, a message when properly apprehended drives selfishness from the coldest heart. Andersen wrote The Snow Queen to present the gospel in a creative fashion, similar to the manner C.S. Lewis would later use when writing his colorful fantasies.  The second (and last) poem in Andersen's The Snow Queen refers to the power of overcoming a cold, dark world through apprehending the good news of Christ's first advent. Even when the world around us is captured by the Snow Queen, the light of God's love within us remains bright. Anderson writes:

Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.”

Hans Christian Andersen closes The Snow Queen with the heroine and her neighbor friend returning home under the realization that they have changed. They are filled with love, having themselves been transformed by love. Though they delight to see it is now summertime when they return home, they are no longer afraid of the coming winter and the curse of coldness. They "Let Go" of their fears, having experienced the power and warmth of  sacrificial love, and they are now ready to love others in the same manner they have been loved. Andersen's The Snow Queen closes with the grandmother reading the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
The meaning of Andersen's Snow Queen is clear. There is power in sacrificial love. No greater love exists than Christ's love in laying His life down for the world. The evidence that we belong to Him is our selfless love of others, loving people as He loves us. Jesus Christ came to earth to set us free from the curse of a cold heart. The Snow Queen hopes to curse our hearts with perpetual coldness, but sacrificial love breaks that curse. C.S. Lewis would later base his White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on Anderson's Snow Queen.

When you see the movie Frozen, it will be evident that the movie's script writers have taken a few liberties with Andersen's original fairy tale. Here are just a few examples:
  1. The movie Frozen shows the Queen's heart melting rather than the boy's heart melting as in Andersen's The Snow Queen.
  2. The movie Frozen makes the heroine and the Queen sisters, but the two have no relation in Andersen's The Snow Queen.
  3. The movie Frozen turns the heroine into a princess in love with a prince, but she is just a poor girl with a heart of love for a neighbor boy in Andersen's The Snow Queen.
  4. The movie Frozen redeems the Snow Queen while Andersen's fairy tale ends with the Snow Queen remaining in a perpetual state of cold (i.e. 'the epitome of evil'). 

Even with these differences, Frozen succeeds in presenting the good news of Jesus Christ, maybe even better than Andersen's original story. Frozen is true to its source and remains a story of redemption. Pastor Samuel Shuldheisz points out that just as Anna (the heroine in Frozen) places her frozen body between her sister (the Snow Queen, with a cold heart) and the one who would harm her (the Prince), so too:
"Christ placed his dying body - full of the curse of our sin - between us and the grave. An act of true love for he is Love incarnate. Self-giving, self-sacrificing love. He placed all others before himself. And then He was placed into our tomb, dead and buried. But He (like Anna) didn't stay there. He arose. He is risen. Summer is near. The curse is gone. Sin's frozen gloom over us is melted. Death's cold, icy grip on us is shattered by the warmth of resurrected light. The love we lack is given to us by another, by Christ's perfect act of true love on the cross. Love and Sacrifice."
Anna's sacrificial love melted the heart of her sister. That's the Christian message. A few Christians have alleged the movie makes a veiled attempt at promoting gay-rights.  Others argue that Disney's portrayal is too far removed from Andersen's Snow Queen to find any gospel in it. I'm in neither of those camps. I believe Frozen may be the best Christian themed film since The Chronicles of Narnia. Frozen presents the power of love to transform cold, lifeless hearts.

Of course I understand that the script writers, song composers, and directors of Disney's Frozen were not fully aware of the gospel theme in Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Yet, the very fact the movie stays true to Anderson's theme of redemption means the film represents the message of the gospel. For Jesus said to His disciples:

"A new command I give you; that you love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34), and
"By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love on for another" (John 13:35).

Hans Christian Andersen wanted the music at his funeral "to keep time with little steps" because most of the people who would "walk after" him would be little children. Parents, next time you hear your kids sing the music from the film Frozen, take the opportunity to explain to them who Jesus Christ is and what He has done. The only way to  'Let Go' of fear, greed, and what others think of you is to be so filled with the love of God in Christ that you can't help but live your life loving others in the same manner God loves you!

It's that kind of love that melts the Frozen heart. 


Curious Thinker said...

I have heard of Hans Christian Anderson's story "The Snow Queen" and seen a couple of adaptations but wasn't aware that it had a Christian theme. You put an interesting biblical perspective of the movie based on the classic story. Good post.

Ciera said...

So glad to see that the Snow Queen is back in discussion! But I'm not so sure I agree with your conclusion...It's true that the Snow Queen has many Christian themes, and it may be possible to search for hidden Christian meanings in Frozen. However, the main thematic emphasis on sin and morality in the Snow Queen is stripped away from the Disney version. My response to Frozen is based more on authorial intent,

Thanks for writing this - I appreciate seeing the original text in the conversation!

believer333 said...

This was so interesting I bought the DVD and watched it.

I also noticed the theme that fear drives a heart to coldness. Whatever our fears eventually they have the potential to hurt others, even those we don't want to hurt. It has roots that can darken our souls. But love is the great healer, as is forgiveness, as is repentance, as is a brave determination to move forward and do better (we have to forgive ourselves as well).

Thank you. Loved the movie.

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks for the feedback, Curious, Ciera, believer333 - all excellent comments.

Tink2014 said...

Thanks so much for this article and pointing out how Frozen presents the Gospel.

I do believe the story developers of Frozen knew the Gospel when they wrote it because there are so many
Christian themed symbols in the movie:

1. The gates to "Kingdom" of Arendelle remain closed (much like the gates of Heaven) until after Anna's sacrifice. After Elsa is redeemed it is declared "We are never closing them again." The gates of the Kingdom of Arendelle represent the gates of Heaven. After Christ's death and resurrection, the gates of Heaven were opened for the first time for mankind.

2. I see Hans as the symbol of Satan: the deceiver, the accuser. Elsa has destroyed the kingdom and mortally wounded her sister. Hans declares Elsa a traitor and sentences her to death (much like the White Witch in Narnia accuses Edmund before Aslan and declares that he is a traitor and must die). Hans stands over Elsa with the sword ready to carry out her sentence of death. Then Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa (as Jesus did for us). Hans' sword (symbolic of death which, as sinners we justly deserve), is the weapon meant to deal Elsa's punishment. But, it is shattered when it strikes Anna's body and a supernatural force throws Hans backward. The instrument of death meant for Elsa has been destroyed by Anna's sacrifice of love and can hurt Elsa no longer! As Christians, Jesus' sacrifice has removed our death sentence

3. The song "Fixer Upper" while on the surface appears to talk about how me must accept each others' imperfections, goes deeper. At the end of the song it declares that "Everyone's a bit of a fixer upper. That's what it is all about." In other words, we are all imperfect and "have fallen short of the glory of God." This clearly establishes the need for a Savior. The song also says,"the only fixer upper fixer that can fix a fixer upper is true love." As we find out at the end of the film, they are not talking about romantic love.

4. The opening song of the film is a combination of Norwegian yoiking and the hymn "Fairest Lord Jesus". The traditional yoiking song is about the beauty of the Earth. However, the song then introduces the melody of "Fairest Lord Jesus" over it. In the hymn, it talks about however beautiful the Earth is, Christ's beauty is supreme.

These are just a few of my observations, just food for thought.

By the way, does anyone see a faint image of a Gothic Cross in the Frozen logo where the word "Frozen" is laid across the snowflake (like on the CD cover?) I may just have a vivid imagination, but check it out and see what you think.

Thanks so much for the blog and for portraying the film as I believe it was meant to be.