Do Not Let It Go: Freedom and Community in “Frozen”

June 9, 2015

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By this point, every parent has heard (probably more often than they would like) the anthem of Disney’s Frozen, “Let It Go.” The song is extremely catchy and not nearly as annoying as it could have been. Even my six-year-old boy, who swears he hates Frozen, is often caught singing the song as he concentrates on his Legos.

The lyrics of “Let It Go” are relatively straight forward. Elsa has spent most of her life trying to hide her powers. But, now that she doesn’t have to hide, she can “let go” of the past, use her ice powers, live in isolation, and be happy. Superficially, the song seems like the typical postmodern celebration of individuality to the point of severing ties with family and community. Elsa simply wants to be who she is and damned be anyone who questions this freedom. But, if you’re actually listening, the song gets weird around the second verse when Elsa declares, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me; I’m free!”

This is, of course, completely absurd.

The irony here is that this song, despite its popularity, stands in total opposition to the real message of the movie. This becomes clear when Anna confronts Elsa about the icy desolation she’s left in her wake. Elsa tries to ignore the deadly consequences of her desertion by telling her sister, “I’m alone but I’m alone and free. Stay away and you’ll be safe from me.” To this, Anna sheepishly responds, “Actually we’re not.” She means they’re not safe but she could also easily mean “and you’re not free either.” At this point, Elsa’s initial elation over her “freedom” fades and she angrily laments, “I’m such a fool I can’t be free. No escape from the storm inside!” Indeed.

Still, Elsa tries to maintain her freedom in isolation. She injures her sister again and locks her ice palace doors. But the past is not yet in the past. Soon, the past knocks on her door once more and Queen Elsa finds herself locked away in an icy prison. We can see here that there is little difference between this new prison and the ice palace of her own creation. Both are cold fortresses meant to isolate the Queen. But it is in prison that Elsa begins to understand that isolation and libertinism are not freedom.

Curiously, Elsa doesn’t do anything to earn or find her own freedom. Instead, the curse is broken when Anna sacrifices her own life for her sister’s. Freedom, then, is never in isolation but in the profound acts of love that bind us to each other. It’s not entirely clear that Elsa learns this lesson. A reprise of “Let It Go” would have been nice. Elsa could have sung something like, “Everything I said the first time was 100% wrong and I’m sorry I misled you. You can’t be both alone and free. Right and wrong totally matter. Selfishness isn’t freedom. Real freedom actually means loving other people.”

Maybe I’ll work on those lyrics and send them to Disney for them to use in Frozen 2.

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