Thursday, March 27, 2014

Anna from Disney's "Frozen" as a Type of Christ

I believe that the story of Anna and Elsa symbolizes Jesus Christ's sacrifice as well as any parable in scripture. In literary terms, Frozen is the most obvious retelling of the Messiah story since The Lion King or I, Robot.

Leaving the Ninety-Nine for the One

Anna loved and gave freely, focusing on those who needed it the most. She left her people at home and went to search for the one who was lost, no matter how difficult the journey. She even left her handsome prince at home, instead of asking him to come along, so that someone could take care of Arendell.

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
Matthew 18:12

Even when Elsa froze Anna's heart, she kept on pleading: I am here; let me help you!

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3:20

Redemptive Sacrifice

Elsa hurt all of Arendell. Many people suffered because her powers got out of control, but the person who suffered most was Anna.

Weak and dying from the ice in her heart, Anna has one last hope: if she and Kristoff share a kiss of true love, then she will be saved. She sets out across the frozen fjord, hoping to find him. The storm clears, and she sees him, just a few dozen yards away. They run towards each other, but then something more important than her own life attracts Anna's attention.

Elsa is in danger.

Giving up any hope of surviving, enduring the pain Elsa has caused her, Anna runs to her sister's side and saves her life. As she does so, her own time runs out, and she becomes frozen solid. Her sacrifice shatters the sword that had been raised to kill Elsa--just as Elsa gave up all hope of forgiveness.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

Conquering Death

But, like Jesus' sacrifice for us, Anna's sacrifice went beyond saving her sister. Her act of true love literally brought her back to life, much like the Father gave power to the Son to live again.

And Anna's sacrifice had one final gift: when Elsa saw that Anna's love could thaw the ice inside her, Elsa was inspired to be more, to gain control over her own powers. I believe that Jesus Christ, likewise, lives to this day, praying for us and inspiring us to be more than we could ever be without his death and resurrection.

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Romans 8:11

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Christian, Latter-day Saint Reading of Frozen

Several authors have done interpretations of Disney's Frozen. Kathryn Skaggs did a critical queer reading of the show, which has many critiques, including an excellent satire by Julie of Huopo. In the comments of Skaggs's blog, Jeffrey Thayne did a fascinating comparison of Frozen to Carl Roger's humanism, which is a major theory in psychology.

My purpose here is not to critique any of them, but to talk about the many different messages of the movie Frozen in light of the word of God, using the Bible, the Book of Mormon, my own experiences, and other Christian and Latter-day Saint sources. In doing so, I hope to build on the work of Whitney of Mercy River, who was inspired by Frozen's message that love can thaw a frozen heart. I also hope to inspire conversations in other Christian families about what we can learn from this movie.

Overall, I find this movie inspiring, and I see several scriptural principles in it.

Love Thaws, Fear Freezes

John and Mormon both wrote that "perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18, Moroni 8:16). The scriptures are filled with the instruction to overcome our fears--angels tend to say, "Fear not!" before they even introduce themselves, and God gave Joshua some beautiful encouragement when he become the leader of Israel:

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
Joshua 1:6-9

Elsa is taught that as her powers grow stronger, fear will make it harder to control them. Grandfather Troll says, "Fear will be your enemy." The reprise of For the First Time in Forever is devoted to contrasting Elsa's fear and with Anna's love:

You don't have to protect me I'm not afraid
Please don't shut me out again,
Please don't slam the door
You don't have to keep your distance anymore

'Cause for the first time in forever, 
I finally understand
For the first time in forever, 
We can fix this hand in hand

We can head down this mountain together
You don't have live in fear
Cause for the first time in forever,
I will be right here


Anna: You don’t have to be afraid
Elsa: No escape from the storm inside of me!

Anna: We can work this out together
Elsa: I can’t control the curse!

Anna: We’ll reverse the storm you’ve made
Elsa: Anna, please, you’ll only make it worse!

Anna: Don’t panic
Elsa: There’s so much fear!

Anna: We’ll make the sun shine bright
Elsa: You’re not safe here!

Anna: We can face this thing together
Elsa: No!

Anna: We can change this winter weather
Elsa: AHHHHH...

Anna: And everything will be all right...
Elsa: I CAN’T!

In the end, Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa, in a beautiful type of the Atonement of Christ, and the act of true love saves Anna's life and gives Elsa inspiration--love thaws! By focusing on her own feelings of love, she's able to overcome her fear and control her powers.

Conceal, Don't Feel... Let It Go!

Throughout the movie, Elsa struggles with how to control her immense power. And who hasn't felt a strong passion--a consuming desire for accomplishment, for closeness, for rest, for beauty? For the first part of the movie, Elsa stifles her power completely, burying it, hiding it. This doesn't make her happy, but at least she doesn't hurt anyone--until she explodes. So, she sings Let It Go and unleashes her power completely, giving her a beautiful moment of creativity and release.

But then she finds out that she is hurting other people, and she doesn't know how to undo her explosion of power.

As mentioned above, Anna's sacrifice inspires Elsa with the answer: love! Using love to control her power lets her use it safely, without hurting anyone else or stifling herself.

This is very much like the scriptures' statements about passion and sexuality. The prophet Alma wrote,

Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.
Alma 38:12

The awesome power of Elsa's ice is foreshadowed in the opening song of Frozen:

Beautiful, powerful, dangerous, cold
Ice has a magic, can't be controlled...
There's beauty and there's danger here...
Beware the frozen heart

Although the analogy is usually fire, rather than ice, this sounds very much like the scriptural teachings about sex, especially when ancient prophets talk about chastity.

Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?

Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?

So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.
Proverbs 6:27-29

I like Frozen's example of balance and love, rather than stiflement or pure passion, and I think Elsa's power could be a useful metaphor for teaching children about sex. I plan to use Frozen to teach my children about the law of chastity: sex is beautiful, powerful, and (if not an act of love in a covenant marriage) dangerous.

Love and Fixer-Uppers

When Kristoff introduces Anna to his adopted family of "love experts," they burst into song about loving someone who's a fixer-upper, how love is about loving someone in spite of their flaws. Or, in the words of Peter:

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

This song is a beautiful way to open a discussion with children about loving people who aren't perfect. In a way, the entire show is about Anna's love for her flawed sister. Although the song is about love, it adds a caveat that love doesn't necessarily change people:

We aren't saying you can change him
'Cause people don't really change
We're only saying that love's a force that's powerful and strange
People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed
But throw a little love their way, and you'll bring out their best
True love brings out the best

While the line "people don't really change" contradicts the Book of Mormon promise that Christ can change our hearts, the overall message here is important. We don't love people so that they will change, we just love them, and that is likely to bring out the best in them. Again, here is a good starting point for a family conversation about how we can influence others, but we cannot truly change them.

I'd leave real change between them and God.

Let What Go?

The song Let It Go is a beautiful piece of art about letting go of something that's holding you back. This message, in itself, can either contradict or confirm the scriptures, depending on what you're letting go of. But the movie itself shows that the more extreme interpretations of the song are dangerous, and Elsa clearly accepts right and wrong and cares about the well-being of her sister and her kingdom.

Instead, when singing this song, Elsa seems to be rejecting the stifling tradition of her father. Tradition is often opposed to the Gospel:

And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
D&C 93:39

Elsa was letting go of a rule which came from an earthly father, not a Heavenly Father, a rule that was no longer working, a rule that may not have really accomplished anything to begin with. In doing so, she lost some people's respect, but she prepared herself to learn a better rule: use love to keep the ice under control. It's normal to have rules that are based more on tradition, pride, or habit than the word of God, and those are things we need to change.

Rules without love are not redemptive or healing.

Whitney of Mercy River wrote, "Ultimately, Frozen teaches us to be more worried about the condition of our hearts than our pride or our need to be right. These things will freeze our ability to progress, our happiness, our peace, and our character. A frozen heart will most certainly distance us– not only from our siblings, our parents, our neighbors, and our friends– but also from God."