Disney’s Let It Go: Was Elsa Free?

Yesterday, for the first time, I listened closely to the words of Disney’s mega hit song, “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen. I’ve heard the song over 27 thousand times, but had never listened closely. One particular line struck me as fascinating:

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

In the movie (like you don’t know this already) Elsa sings these lines as she is departing her life as queen and diplomat for a life of total isolation. Deciding that she can no longer cover up her gift (or curse) for creating snow, ice, and other frozen things, she departs. She wants to fully be what she is and not have to face the judgments of others, or be a danger to them. So she is leaving it all behind, that is, letting it go.

 

 

Given this context, it may not be that the composers of “Let it Go,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are attempting to “preach” these lines as having universal application on all people. They may not be saying something like this: “Now, kids, Elsa figured out that there is no right or wrong and no rules, and look how free she is! Now, you also need to resist all your parents’ rules and society’s rules so that you can be free too!” I reiterate, they are likely NOT saying this.

 In fact, the context of the plot seems to indicate that Elsa is not breaking free from all rules and restrictions, but rather the specific ones she felt while growing up. She basically had to be quarantined her entire life, hiding in her room, in order to protect others from her gift (or curse) of creating frozen items with a swing of the hand.

 Now that she is leaving behind other people (and thus removing the judgment and danger), she is now free to allow her powers to flourish, which she quickly does by creating a giant ice castle fortress. She is now “free” to be herself and spread her wings. That is more the true meaning of the song in context.

Restrictions Actually Lead to Freedom

I needed to say all of that first. Why? To show that what I am about to say is not some naive, knee-jerk reaction to Disney, the song, or the movie. It isn’t. I see the context, understand the plot and its flow, and have no personal vendetta against Walt or his kingdom. May Cinderella and her fellow animated stars enjoy their time in the sun. I am not raining on their parade by any means.

I simply wanted to point out an irony in the lyrics above that Elsa may have missed as she sang them. Namely, that a circumstance where there is “No right, no wrong, no rules for me,” is not a scenario of freedom, but of disaster. Elsa seemed to figure this out as the movie rolled on, for she did return to her life as a queen/diplomat and re-entered the world of society, where right, wrong, and rules are a must.

But to the point. This lyric seems to promote the notion that a removal of restrictions is the process by which one finds freedom. And to some degree, that is correct. Put a person in a straight-jacket and they are not free to move their arms. Remove the straight-jacket, that which restricts, and the person is now free to move their arms. I get that. But this notion of freedom is way too simplistic and shallow. In fact, this way of understanding freedom is actually a distraction from the realities of true freedom.

True freedom, ironically, is based in right, wrong, and rules (law). In order to obtain true freedom, a person need not break the shackles of law (rules, morality, etc), but rather submit to the “regulations” that are more-or-less programmed into reality by God, the Creator.

Lesson from Marlin and Dory

Let me provide an example from my favorite Disney flick, Finding Nemo. Remember the EAC, or the Easter Australian Current? This is the highway (so to speak) on which Marlin and Dory ride in order to make it to Sydney. In order to be “free” enough to make it to Sydney, however, they had to submit to the rules and regulations that govern EAC travel. Sea turtle, Crush, and his incredibly cute son, make sure Marlin and Dory understand these rules, so that they can be “free” to travel successfully to their destination. These EAC rules and regulations are programmed into reality, that is, the rules are accurate descriptions of how this fast-paced ocean current works, and how one would go about taking successful advantage of the current for quick travel. So in this case, freedom required submission to “right, wrong and rules.”

This illustration points to the bigger idea that all real freedom requires some type of submission. The submission is typically to that which is “right,” and not that which is “wrong.” Rules must be followed for freedom to flourish.

Elsa learned this in Frozen. In order to find true freedom to be herself and use her gift in the proper way, she had to submit herself to true love. She was restricted by love in how she used her gift, and when she submitted to the rules and regulations of love, she actually benefited society with the use of her gift. Trevin Wax caught this interesting contradiction between Elsa’s song and her later actions in his blog post on the same subject: “Are We Missing the Point of Frozen’s ‘Let it Go?’

The Lyric Is Concerning

Okay, what is my real point with this analysis? First, I must confess I am concerned with the lyric in the song. Though I understand the context of the plot, and I don’t think Disney is promoting anarchy (though they might be) with the lyric, nonetheless, when a chid hears this lyric, do they understand all this? The primary target for the song – girls 12 and under – may very well hear this lyric and take it at face value. They may hear the connection between, “No right, no wrong, no rules,” and “I’m free,” and believe that true freedom comes about via breaking free of all rules and regulations.

Free to Obey

Second, I want to use this lyrical analysis as a pointer to the Gospel. Christ made both of the following statements, which when analyzed as a pair prove the point I’m making:

John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

It seems clear to me that in the mind of Christ there is no contradiction between these two statements. Keeping the commandments (right, wrong, and rules) is not enslavement, but freedom. One might believe that obedience to God is restrictive, since He tells us not to do certain things, like commit adultery or steal the property of others. But in keeping these commands, people are actually set free from the bondage of sin. Keeping God’s commandments allows for successful living because it allows a person to live according to the fabric of how creation actually works.

Again, consider the EAC from Finding Nemo – follow the rules and you are free to travel quickly to your destination. In the same way, keeping God’s rules allows freedom for successful living.

True freedom is the product of true and willing obedience. Again, I think Elsa learned this in the movie. She could not live apart from right, wrong, and rules. She had to submit herself to the rule of love in order to be truly free.

Unable and Unwilling to Keep the Rules

As to real life, our biggest problem is our inability and unwillingness to keep God’s law. This unwillingness and inability leads not to freedom, but bondage. Many people actually like and celebrate Elsa’s lyric in relation to God. They think that God’s law is slavery, and that people should break free from it. But ironically, it is the breaking free of it that creates a slave and one who reaps horrible consequences in this life and the next.

This is why “God so loved the world that He sent His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Sinful people want freedom so they break God’s law, but this action makes them slaves and condemns them. This is exactly what happened to our mother, Eve, in the Garden of Eden. For freedom’s sake, she disobeyed, but became a slave in the process.

So we need a Savior who can forgive us and enable us to obey.

Christ is that Savior. He kept every rule of God without fail. Thus when He died on the cross, His death became the sufficient payment for justice, allowing God to forgive people for breaking all the rules. Further, He gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey for His glory and our good.

Crazy Train or Freedom?

Now I realize that many people will consider this entire post an elaborate exercise in nit-picking. But I also know anyone who feels that way has not read this far down, so I’m not too worried about it. The truth is, I like Frozen. It is a fun movie with a good storyline. And I like “Let it go.” It is a moving song with even a tinge of inspiration. No bricks being thrown. But that particular lyric is sung with such force and aimed at an audience that seldom thinks below an inch deep, that something needed to be said about it.

The question of “right, wrong, and rules,” is an absolutely crucial question for our children to be able to answer. If they answer wrongly, they will be “riding off the rails of the crazy train.” If they answer rightly, they will be free indeed.