Arts / Entertainment

Getting Upset About the Wrong Things in Disney Movies: A Christian Tradition

What hyperventilating moralists didn’t notice about "Frozen."

Getting Upset About the Wrong Things in Disney Movies: A Christian Tradition


I wasn’t going to write anything about Frozen.

Heck, I wasn’t even going to watch it in the theaters — the atrocious U.S. marketing had me assuming it was a goofy animated story about a talking snowman (been there, done that). But one positive review made me realize there was a lot more going on. My wife and I went and saw it; to say we loved it would sound like an understatement, because people use the word so liberally these days. It might have been the most beautiful animated movie we’ve ever seen (including sights and sounds, from the ice castle architecture to the medieval choral music — when was the last time you heard that in an animated movie?).

Then I started seeing the things religious people were writing about it. There’s the gay conspiracy theory. (WOW. I can’t even dignify that one by talking about it further.) On the more sober side, more thoughtful people have criticized the song “Let It Go,” because of its themes of selfish individualism. But after about the sixth of the “Let It Go” critiques, I cracked. I was starting to think nobody gets this movie. I had to write something — because two things absolutely have to be said.

Before I get to those, though, you should read Greg Forster’s review of the movie. This is the one that got me to go see it. Disney animation, as you know it, is gradually ceasing to exist. More and more Pixar people are flooding the shop. (And most of them, by the way, went to BYU — they’re not your typical Hollywooders, as movies like WALL-E and The Incredibles ought to have been proof.) Pixar mainstay John Lasseter is now heading up Disney Imagineering and was the executive producer of Frozen. So don’t make the mistake of automatically lumping this in with the Disney tradition of subversive movies.

“Disney tradition of subversive movies.” About that.

The first thing that absolutely has to be said pertains to the fact that Christians, particularly but not exclusively of a fundamentalist stripe, have been getting upset about Disney movies for a long time. The Little Mermaid didn’t wear enough clothes. The Hunchback of Notre Dame made religious people look bad. Pocohantas was a pantheist. Lots of the movies had good guys who perform magic. The list is very long. (Of course, this is part of an even longer and broader tradition of caring a great deal more about a total absence of bad things in a movie than the presence of good things, which is partly why the Christian films we’re all “supposed” to go see are almost universally clean, safe, and horrible.)

Disney made the best animated films around, for pretty much forever (as far as the film industry goes), and stamped a lot of great values and memories into kids’ minds. But there are some legitimate parental complaints on the list, especially since these are children’s movies that act upon impressionable young people. But as a Millennial who grew up on these movies, I think our parents got upset about most of the wrong things and utterly missed the most fundamental way Disney was shaping their kids. While Mom and Dad were worrying about overt things that were realistic (Ariel dressing like a mermaid, a Native American revering nature) or a normal part of fairy tales (magic), Disney was installing a value system into us that was apparently too subtle for them to notice.

Nearly every Disney animated film for decades taught us the same core moral principle. In most contexts, it looked like “love is a feeling that must be acted on at all costs.” At a more fundamental level, though, it was “following your heart is always the right thing to do.” Disney didn’t make most of us a witch, or a pantheist, or a nude sunbather, but boy did it teach us to value nothing above our own desires. (In fairness, many of our parents