Frozen: An Alternative Look at “Let It Go”

The billboards went up in November 2012 here in Metro Manila, but I was only mildly interested. The only thing that seemed new to me was that it had two girls, two guys, and a reindeer. Then a nine-year old boy, my voice student, asked me if I had seen it.

Not yet, I told him.

“Demi Lovato sings Elsa. I like her song Let It Go, but I like how she sang it in the movie, not the one at the end.”

That got me curious. And don’t worry, I know that Demi Lovato could not have sung both the movie and the public versions. She probably sang the second one, so I began to wonder who sang Elsa in the movie.

A few days later, I was requested to go to a gathering in behalf of the organization I volunteer with, and I encountered another Frozen fan.

“Idina Menzel sings it,” she was telling another person at the table. She saw my reaction, and she interpreted it correctly: I’m a fan of Idina Menzel.

Next voice class, I told my student about the different singers, and he told me he wanted to learn to sing the movie version of the song. But in my family’s present financial struggle, shelling out around 1000pesos just to watch a movie for one song (I did say I wasn’t really interested, right?) was too extravagant a choice. I turned to the next best thing: youtube.

Idina Menzel and Demi Lovato both didn’t let me down. And I also saw what made my student like the movie version: the bridge part while Elsa built the castle was A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

But did I really want to encourage kids to sing a song that says: “No right, no wrong, no rules for me”? The parents will kill me! Heck, I would kill me! And I mean murder, not suicide!

I looked up the Wikipedia entry to read the plot. My curiosity rose. Finally, a week before Christmas, Irl found a way for us to watch it.

I was stunned. Not by the beauty of the movie, or the songs – both deserve to win awards. But no, it was the story itself that stunned me. And I wondered if people would be able to catch that subtle, underlying message that triggered the story’s conflict. I know Irl didn’t. In fact, he complained to me how quickly Elsa figured out the key to controlling her powers with just two words: Love thaws.

I quickly wrote a blog while everything was still fresh, but I did my best to downplay what I see now was probably the crucial point of the story, and just focused on how Anna’s choice to save Elsa was the act of true love that removed the ice from her own heart.

Don’t look for it. It didn’t upload. It was the first (and last) time I tried uploading a blog from my Blackberry WordPress app, and for some reason, it got lost. It didn’t even get saved as a draft.

Then yesterday, a friend shared an article posted on The Gospel Coalition, asking if we could possibly be missing the underlying self-centeredness in the song Let It Go. I read the article, and my heart sank.

Oh no, I thought. He just reacted to the song like I did at first, but – well, I guess singers analyze songs and stories differently from pastors and preachers. Irl bore the brunt of my panicked rant, and when I had calmed down, he told me to write.

I probably would have entitled my original review of Frozen as “Would Somebody Please Slap the King?! (A Parenting Lesson from Frozen)”, then put myself in the line of fire by showing why I don’t see Elsa as rebellious and selfish, nor Anna as sweet, devoted and selfless, and why I wish there’d been a smart-ass duchess who wouldn’t have been afraid to stand up to and slap the king – but, of course, if there had been, we wouldn’t have had the plot conflict that became the movie.

Let me start with Olaf’s description of love:

“Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”

And by that, I see that Elsa was the loving sister who was willing to lose needed sleep to please her little sister who wanted to play – and eventually, to live in isolation to protect Anna and the rest of the kingdom from herself. While she seemed excited by the thought that in isolation, there would be “no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!” the real recurring thought in her heart was “The cold never bothered me anyway…the cold never bothered me anyway…the cold never bothered me anyway.”

It pierces like one of her frozen icicles: IT DID BOTHER HER. Not the cold weather, climate or temperature, but the lifetime of separation from the sister she loved so much, and the people who had waited so long for her. And it didn’t just bother her, it hurt her. Still, she chose it, not so she could be free, but so they could be safe.

And Anna – she was still like the five-year-old little girl using her charm to get people who loved her to do what she wanted. “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” were the magic words that always got Elsa to get up and play, but somehow it stopped working. And “For the First Time in Forever” shows us she wasn’t excited for her sister’s coronation; she was looking forward to finally being able to experience what she had been deprived of for years. So we watch her marching off, happily declaring, “for the first time in forever, nothing’s in my way!” (Honestly, this is the real self-centered song in the movie, not Let it Go).

But she was wrong, wasn’t she? The horse was funny and therefore forgivable, but not Elsa. When the newly-crowned queen wisely refused to let her have her way – to marry Hans when they had only met – all the pent-up bitterness towards what she thought was Elsa’s rejection and abandonment of her rushed out: “I can’t live like this anymore!

And the audience knows Elsa has had it worse. But Anna didn’t know that, did she?

Someone defined character as “who you are when nobody’s watching.” After Elsa runs away, not knowing that in her fear, she unleashed winter, Anna nobly declares that it was her fault, so she would go and bring back Elsa to undo the curse. How admirable. But what was she saying when she was all alone? That Elsa was a stinker. How devoted, huh?

I think I hear the firing squad rifles…

Do you want to know why I wish there was a smart-ass duchess – sister to the king – who wouldn’t have been afraid to stand up to him, maybe even slap him?

“Elsa! What have you done?! This is getting out of hand!”

**SLAP!!!** You actually think she did this on purpose?! **BOP!!** Why don’t you ask her first what happened, before you blame her for it?! She said it was an accident! **TOINK!!!*

That’s what a smart-ass sister would’ve done, I think. But had the king been confronted with his dangerous assumptions at that point, we wouldn’t have had the movie. That is why I found Frozen and Let It Go to be a message for parents, and not just an “anthem” for girls (or boys) who feel suppressed by rules.

Parents are often told: more is caught than taught.

The king obviously cared for and loved his daughters, but he let himself be ruled by his fear of Elsa’s growing powers more than by his love for them. As a result, he estranged his daughters, not just from the rest of the world, but worse, from each other. The Grand Troll spoke truly that Fear would be Elsa’s worst enemy. So while the king did his best to teach Elsa control, he missed the bigger danger of the fear he was passing on to her. His fear became her true enemy.

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be.” So – if people found out, she was being a bad girl? “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know – well, now they know. Let it go.”

He wasn’t teaching her control. He was telling her to hide and stay hidden. Because he only saw harm in the power, and didn’t understand its potential for good. We fear what we can’t understand, and suppress what we can’t control.

Let It Go wasn’t rebellion. It was resignation and release – but only because she had brought herself to a place where there was no one she thought she would hurt. But by that time, it seems it may have been too late. Arendelle was already in deep winter.

And Anna? “None of it would have happened if she had just told me her secret.” If she had not been made to forget about Elsa’s power, and how her unthinking playfulness caused the accident, she would probably have been able to help Elsa, both in learning to fine-tune her control, and also to protect her. Why? Because in her innocence, she was not afraid of Elsa’s powers, and she loved the beautiful things Elsa created for her with “the magic.”

But it wasn’t Elsa who didn’t tell her, or who allowed her memories changed so she would forget what really happened. Keeping her in the dark did not help her to handle the truth well when she eventually found out. Neglecting her and leaving her to play by herself, while the king locked Elsa up in a room until she could suppress the powers he feared, left Anna feeling deprived, and eventually bitter against Elsa, thinking Elsa had rejected her and shut her out.

The king meant well, and the fact that Elsa and Anna didn’t rebel against the isolation (unlike Rapunzel in Tangled) speaks of how both girls knew his love. But his fear blinded him from what his daughters were actually catching from him: he sought to teach Elsa control, but what she caught was that she must be suppressed, because she was a danger; he tried to protect Anna from Elsa, but forgot to protect her from the loneliness that his fear put in her heart.

And when he died unexpectedly, they suddenly had to learn to cope on their own. But Elsa had already caught so much of his fear, all she knew to do was to shut herself in – and Anna out – even more.

As a parent, I saw that as a wake-up call: I cannot justify my actions by my intentions. I must be willing to step back and look at what my children are learning and catching from what I do and don’t do, say and don’t say, and change, if I need to. I am grateful to have people around me willing to confront me if I start going the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. Fear cannot  be my motivation for teaching my children to “be good.”

And so we come to Anna and the act of true love that thawed her frozen heart.

When she realized that Elsa had been right to not allow her marriage to Hans, Anna finally faces the truth: “I don’t even know the first thing about love.” So Olaf, the snowman Elsa built out of love for Anna, tells her: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”

And in a great touch of story-telling, Disney continues down the expected road of true love referring to romance before throwing us the twist: it has to be Anna who would do an act of true love that would thaw the ice in her heart.

From the time she was told, “You have ice in your heart, put there by your sister (*sigh* thanks for sealing the mistaken bitterness she was already feeling for Elsa, Grandpabbie). If not removed, to solid ice you will freeze forever…only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart”, all Anna could think of was finding someone who loved her to kiss her and heal her. It caused her to miss how what the trolls told her about Kristoff also applied to Elsa:

“His isolation is confirmation of his desperation for human hugs… 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.”

When Olaf pointed out Kristoff’s sacrifice of bringing her to Hans instead of kissing her himself – he did love her, too, right? – Anna forces herself to get to Kristoff, thinking of how he could save her.

Elsa’s blizzard abruptly clears when Hans tells her that her greatest fear has happened: her power has killed Anna. Anna finally sees Kristoff, but suddenly hears the metallic ring of a sword, and turns to see Hans about to kill a grieving, vulnerable Elsa. And in that moment, she makes her choice to save Elsa instead of herself.

She put Elsa’s need before hers. And she is healed.

When Elsa sees the sacrifice, hears Anna tell her she loves her, even after all those years of being forced to shut her out, and Olaf happily declares, “an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart!” she finally understands the true key to controlling her power: love. And remembering how she would use her powers to make Anna happy, Elsa is able to bring back summer, keep Olaf alive, and rule with wisdom, kindness, and fun.

She knows now that Anna has truly forgiven her. And she is freed.

These were the lessons I gleaned from Frozen: love that I give heals me just as much as love I receive; knowing I am forgiven frees me to give the best of myself; and – well, this one was written about 2000 years ago – love casts out fear.

It’s not just my students learning Let It Go now, but my daughters and me, too. Because I know how Elsa felt – I always have. Anna, too. And I also know Someone who sacrificed Himself for my healing, my forgiveness, and my freedom. And His love overcomes all fear, and I find that I can “let it go.”


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