The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen"

Image: back cover of "A Sister More Like Me"
(This post contains spoilers. Go watch "Frozen" before you read it)

First, a disclaimer: "Frozen" is not an explicitly "Christian movie", like, for example, "The Passion of the Christ" is. The creators didn't sit down and say "hey, let's make a movie that tells the story of the Christian Gospel". It doesn't make any definite statements about God or Jesus or salvation. Like other great works of art, it can be - and has been - interpreted in many different ways, ranging from insightful to ridiculous, and it has different meaning for different people. You don't have to see it with a Christian interpretation. But if you would like to look into this deeper layer of meaning, it's there, infused throughout the whole story. "Frozen" is the story of perfect love casting out fear. It is a telling of the Gospel story, told like this:

(I'm taking a page out of the "Frozen" book "A Sister More Like Me", and using different colors to tell different parts of the story. Paragraphs in blue describe the movie, and they're in red when they talk about the Gospel in real life.)

Princess Elsa was born with an awesome power - her ability to generate snow and ice. It is part of who she is, part of her birthright. It's a beautiful and powerful ability. But precisely for these same reasons, it's also dangerous, capable of causing disasters.

We are Elsa. Like her, humanity was created to be awesome - made in the image of God and meant to grow to become like him. This is our amazing destiny. But precisely because of our incredible potential, we can also fall into sin, with devastating consequences.

After Elsa accidentally harms her sister Anna, she's given some rules to reign in her powers: conceal it, don't feel it, don't let it show. Limit her contact with people and keep her powers hidden. Here's the thing about these rules: they're severe, but if Elsa actually follows them, they really will keep Elsa and everyone around her safe from her powers. Elsa just has to follow them perfectly.

Like with Elsa, humanity was given God's law to teach us what he wants from us: have no other gods before God, honor your parents, do not steal, love your neighbor as yourself, etc. If we just followed the law, we could theoretically be righteous before God, completely freed from sin, and live perfect lives in perfect societies. We just have to follow them perfectly.

Of course, Elsa can't follow these rules perfectly. It's too much for her to hold everything in. To add to the tragedy, she comes to rely on the rules as her only way to deal with her powers. But they were never meant as a permanent solution; they were only supposed to guide her until she could control her powers. Further adding to her misery, she's warped these rules to "conceal, don't feel. Don't let them in, don't let them see, be the good girl you always have to be", leading her to fear making "one wrong move", because then "everyone will know".

Humanity has Elsa's same problem: we can't follow the law perfectly. No one is good enough to meet God's standards. To add to the tragedy, we have come to rely on the law as our only definition of what it means to be a good person, although the law was never meant to and never could make anyone righteous. Further adding to our misery, we've warped the law into a way to work up our own self-righteousness. This leads us to be judgemental hypocrites, constantly in fear of others discovering that we're not the good boy or girl that we always pretend to be.

So in Elsa's attempt to follow the rules, she utterly fails. The harder she tries the worse her fears and failures become. Her fears cause her powers to go completely out of control during her coronation, and all that she's tried so hard for comes to naught. Her kingdom is enveloped in a sudden winter, and she is cut off from Anna: her only sister and family, and the only person she has a real relationship with.

Humanity's attempt to follow the law also utterly fails. The harder we try, the more clearly we see that sin infects our whole nature and separates us from God. For all that humanity has accomplished, our kingdoms and civilizations are still steeped in sin, and these will all perish with the passage of infinite time. Critically, sin cuts us off from God himself: our only father, and the source of all love and goodness.

Elsa's problem is not something that she can fix herself; she cannot simply try harder, or follow her rules better. She's trapped in a wretched, evil condition that's beyond her ability to control. She says so herself multiple times, in some of the most tragic lines in the film. She sings, "Couldn't keep it in / Heaven knows I tried", and "I'm such a fool, I can't be free / No escape from the storm inside of me / I can't control the curse". She also says, "Don't you see? I can't." when Hans asks her to stop the winter.

Our problem with sin is also not something that we can fix ourselves; we cannot simply try harder, or follow the law more closely. We're trapped in a wretched, evil condition that's beyond our ability to control. Apostle Paul expressed this clearly when he says "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out" - words that could have easily been Elsa's.

Anna, however, loves her sister and will not let Elsa stay in her "kingdom of isolation", even if Elsa herself has abandoned Anna and Arendelle, and given up on "that perfect girl". Anna pursues Elsa to her castle in the North Mountain to bring her back. But in the ultimate expression of Elsa's fear and lack of control, while screaming out "I can't!", Elsa strikes Anna in the heart with her power. 

Anna is the Christ-figure. Jesus loves us and will not let us remain in sin, even if we have already turned our backs on him and lost sight of our divine destiny. He pursued us down this world to bring us back to him, coming to us as a man, as one of us. But in the ultimate expression of our sin, in our ignorance and pride, we crucified and killed the Christ, the very Son of God.

When Anna then insists that things could still be set right, Elsa desperately asks, "How? What power do you have to stop this winter? To stop me?" But Anna actually does have that power, the only power that can save Elsa. For there was always a way for Elsa to control her powers, apart from following the rules: by experiencing an act of true love. In fact, Elsa freezing Anna's heart is precisely what allows Anna to perform this act of love. 

We also are in desperate straits. There is nothing we can do to escape our sins. As Apostle Paul says, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" But what is impossible with humans is possible with God. For there was always a way for us to be good before God, apart from the law: through Christ's love. In fact, the very catastrophe that was the crucifixion is precisely what allows Christ to demonstrate his love for us.

What is love? As Olaf says, it's putting someone else's needs before your own. So in the climax, Anna, in her weakness and frailty, displays the kind of love that can keep loving Elsa even after Elsa strikes her in the heart. She chooses to sacrifice herself and freezes to solid ice, to save her sister's life.

What is love? As it is written, "Greater love has no on than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends". So at the cross, Jesus displays the unconditional love that continued to love his sinful enemies even while we crucified him. He took on all our sins and their consequences, sacrificing himself and saving us.

If, after all this, Anna remained frozen, all hope would have been lost for Elsa. She would have remained trapped in her fear and her kingdom would have been doomed to an eternal winter. But the deep truth in the "Frozen" universe is that an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart. So Anna sacrifices herself, but she's then thawed and restored. By this act Anna and Elsa's relationship is repaired, and Elsa finally becomes the "perfect girl" that she never even dared to dreamed of: freed from her fears, beloved queen of her kingdom, in full control of her powers, and truly sisters with Anna.

Likewise, if Jesus had remained dead, we would have no hope. We would have remained in our sinful condition, and we and all our achievements would have been doomed to perish. But because Jesus humbled himself even to his death on the cross, God raised him from the dead. So Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, but on the third day he rose again from the dead. Through Christ's death and resurrection, we are restored to God; we are fully freed from our sins and fears, adapted as his children, heirs to his incomparable riches, and truly members of the family of God.

That is the story of "Frozen". As you may be able to tell at this point, I was somewhat facetious when I said that "Frozen" is not a "Christian movie". It's true that its makers didn't sit down and say "hey, let's tell the story of the Christian Gospel". They merely told the truth that underlies the whole universe, like all art is supposed to do. But in doing so - in expressing this truth well - they managed to tell the one and only story in the whole universe. So "Frozen" is in fact a Christian movie - in the sense that all good movies are. After all, there is only one story in the universe.


You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
An analysis of "Let It Go" in Disney's "Frozen"
The Gospel according to Disney's "Tangled"
Another post, from the table of contents

14 comments :

  1. The parallels are beautiful! As you say, there really is only one story to be told - the Story that the eternal God loves us. Every story we tell is drawing from that.

    Most of the movie is following Anna's story, rather than Elsa's, but most of life is - for obvious reasons - following our story. Frozen is a look at humanity from God's perspective.

    Elsa asks "What power do you have to stop this winter? To stop me?", but she's not defiant, in the way that an evil overlord would say "Haha, you cannot stop me!"; she's pleading. She is wishing, begging, hoping, that Anna will have an answer to that question. She *wants* to be stopped. And yet it's only by hurting her sister - and, in the process, bringing each of them (later) to the point of despair - that she can be reunited to her. What power do you have? The power to not give up on you. The power of choice - the power to say "Elsa may have hurt me, but she is still my sister, and I will not let her go". No matter how much we spit in God's face, stab Him in the back, and drag His name through the mud, He won't abandon us. "You sacrificed Your Son for me?" "I love you."

    Small point of formatting: The blue of "this text is from Frozen" is similar to the blue of links. Fortunately it's not confusing, as all your links are Scripture text and thus in the red text... and I can't think of any better color to indicate Frozen than blue, heh.

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    1. Yes, Anna is the main character, but it's amazing how many people connected with Elsa on a profound level. She's easily the most popular character in the movie. It makes sense, as Elsa is us.

      But as for Anna, there's several AMV's out there that match up Katy Perry's "Unconditionally" with Anna in "Frozen". I think the song fits very well for her. It's rare to see anything in fiction or real life that serves as an example of unconditional love, but Anna is a pretty good example.

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  2. Just thought of another parallel. If Anna represents Jesus, then clearly (massive spoiler, but the whole thing is spoilers) Hans represents Satan. He is the Prince of Lies (looks can be deceiving, but not as deceiving as a low down, dirty... deceiver), and at the crucial moment, he believes he's won a victory over God by killing the Saviour. Elsa killed Anna, but Hans killed Anna, and yet at the final moment, Anna willingly gave up her own life. We (all of us, but most visibly the Jews and Pilate) killed Jesus, but Satan definitely was arranging for it, and yet no one took His life from Him (John 10:18). And ultimately, that crushing defeat of Jesus and Anna, that supposed victory of Hans and the devil, is turned completely around.

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    1. Thank you for your comments!

      I generally don't talk too much about Satan in my Gospel presentations; he's just not significant enough. But I did miss some parallels there with Hans!

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    2. He is and he isn't. Without sin, the story wouldn't have happened; and sin came into the world through Adam, yet not purely by his own invention. But you're right; the Bible talks very very little about Satan. Adam was blamed for the sin; he can't get out of it by saying "Oh but Eve gave me the fruit, and she was tempted" - no, Adam, you were responsible for your actions.

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  3. Good job on the comparisons. Not sure how it fits in biblically, but I thought it was interesting that Hans actually saves Elsa's soul when he stops her from killing the Duke's bodyguards. As mentioned in your 'Let it Go' blog, I feel that Elsa only needed the slightest push to fall down a much darker path of no return.

    I also wanted to say execellent job on your "Let it Go' analysis (Not sure if you are still reading comments there). You nailed it. There was WAY more going on in that scene than just a triumphant accepting yourself for who you are song. Though I was caught up in the song like everyone else, I really thought she was going to turn into the villian after that scene.

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    1. Thank you! I thought of adding more verses to support my points, but I didn't want the colors to get too garbled up - I'm generally trying to stay away from having my posts be too full of links.

      I never thought about the role Hans had in this analogy, but you're right - he does help save Elsa in that scene. I think that just shows how everything - even the things that evil men do for their evil reasons - only work together for the good of those who love God.

      It would have certainly been interesting to see Elsa be more evil, then turn around - but she's such an excellent character already that I hesitate to say I want her to be different than how she actually turned out.

      Thank you for your thoughts, and I hope you find more interesting things on this blog!

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  4. Great analogy! It's so amazing Frozen and your blog helped me better understand the Bible especially the salvation. I cried several times when watching Frozen and reading your posts. Never seen such a good movie and good comments and analysis. Never seen such characters that moves me so deeply. It seems after watching this movie my heart is going distant away from this material world ! What a Deep Magic !
    I disagree with the point that Elsa wanted to kill the duke's thugs. They may immediately die if Elsa really wished to kill them as I replied in your blog " An analysis of "Let It Go" in Disney's "Frozen" ". Hans just did what seems right at a perfect juncture of time and deceived others making them think Elsa was going to be a monster.
    "How? What power do you have to stop this winter? To stop me?" I like this sentence. The answer may be: There really exists power beyond mortal imagination, beyond Elsa's power and comprehension. Love is the most ultimate "power".

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    1. Thank you! That's very gratifying! If I can help people understand God better, then that makes everything I do in this blog worth it.

      "How? What power do you have to stop this winter? To stop me?" is one of my favorite lines in the movie too. There's so much dramatic irony there, because Anna does have the power - the only power - that can do those things, yet Elsa doesn't realize it. I think that we, too, often don't see the love and power of God at work, even while it's the only thing that's actually working in the universe. In fact I like this line so much I snuck it into my "Gospel" series of posts as well.

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  5. Hi, I'm here again. After reading this post, I felt there are two questions in my mind.
    1. I have a strong feeling that Elsa is as good as Anna. She has suffered very much from the isolation; she loves her people more than herself; she always loves and concerns Anna. I found a blog with the same thing I thought.
    http://kioewen.tumblr.com/post/67748245525/elsa-protector-of-this-dominion-one-of-the
    http://kioewen.tumblr.com/post/66569882871/extended-review-of-frozen-elsa-is-everything
    But the parts about Anna is very biased. Anna, though not as wise as her sister, has a shining heart, performed some miracles (saved Kristoff twice, beat Marshmallow) and eventually saved the whole thing. I believe if Elsa has a "chance", she'll sacrifice herself for Arendelle. Actually she really did.
    Elsa is good, but most reviews ignore this point.

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  6. Oh my comment exceeded the 4096 characters limit and must be divided.

    2. What is revealed to Elsa when she witnessed Anna's death and resurrection? What is the mechanism that Elsa gains control over her powers? This inevitably leads to another question: what has fear done to Elsa?
    After weeks of thinking, I partly find the answers. It's a long story.
    From the beginning of the movie, they're best buddies, they have a happy family, and they loved each other. When Elsa hurt Anna with ice, she felt guilty and fear. Her parents seek help from the trolls, i.e., the Shamans, not from the church, is a mistake. Then Elsa was locked in the prison of fear for 13 years. The more she loves someone, the deeper she fears to contact someone. In the 13 years, fear kidnapped Elsa's love, tortured her, cursed her, and controlled her using the kidnapped love. Elsa's free will was also deprive by fear. Her "conceal, don't feel" is actually giving up her decision to fear. I assume that originally Elsa can do and undo magic effect when she's in normal condition (by "normal condition", I mean she is in the light of love and set free by love), but when she feels fear, her free will succumbs to fear and her power becomes a tool of fear, herself becomes a slave of fear. Practically speaking, when Elsa is about to use her power to undo some ice effect, the daemon of fear tells her that her action will cause further disaster and harm your loved people, then the scene where her ice hurt Anna's head comes to her mind, and Elsa surrenders to fear. After 13 years, the daemon of fear had given her enough training that she's completely become a slave of fear. How deeply she loves, how deeply she fears.
    In the last, Anna's death (faked by Hans) completely destroyed Elsa, her heart was dead, she's lost everything and was ready to die (she didn't defend herself from Hans). Just as the daemon will destroy everything, there happened Anna's sacrifice and resurrection. What does this meant to Elsa? She witnessed Anna's death because of the curse and resurrection by love, and her own heart, from death to life (yes, both of them, from death to life, darkness to light). Then Elsa surely realized the ultimate power of fear is death, but love brings back life! And Elsa has experienced an act of true love, an indescribable feeling. At this time, fear is conquered by the perfect victory of love, it no longer has power over Elsa, and Elsa is set free! The great work of love let Elsa remembered her long forgotten/suppressed ability to really control her power.
    Miraculously, this film let me think about the great power of Jesus' death and resurrection, which I was very confused with. I now know why his disciples ran away and why they rejoiced greatly when they know Jesus was raised as if I am in that event. "Frozen" let me better understand why Jesus' death and resurrection is so important, for those who have faith in him believe in love, thus are set free from the power of sin, just as the great light shines upon Elsa and set her free from fear.
    It's worthy to note that fear is different from fear. Elsa's fear is stemmed in her love for others so despite her weakness, she's still very noble. If the fear is bound with herself, then it's despicable. Whoa what a great movie. I suspect if there's some very religious people behind this story, and its box office is a mystery.
    I'm afraid I have missed/ignored something. Hope there's further discussion and advice.

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  8. If use cold logic for analysis, we can also come to the conclusion that Elsa is not afraid of hurting Anna again. How can this mortal magic kill someone with immortal love? Anna's resurrection is an example. So Elsa does not have to fear her power. But I've to admit the majority of things are beyond logic.

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    1. Wow, all that is a lot of things!

      I agree that Elsa is a good person. In fact, she's a better person for having had to overcome a real potential for evil. This is one of the reasons that I won't be opposed to a sequel to "Frozen", to see these other sides of Elsa.

      I like your analysis of exactly why Elsa gains control of her powers! Although I think it's more than what could be said from the movie itself, it does lend a plausible subtext to what I thought was one of the weaker moments in the movie itself (Elsa's sudden ability to thaw). But in terms of the greater theme of the movie itself - true love does indeed drive out fear!

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