Frozen II’s Anna is a Model for the Spiritual Life
It’s difficult for me to overstate how excellent Frozen II is—and not just because I’m a huge fan of Disney movies. Frozen II is quite mature, suffused with Catholic themes and questions; it’s a deceptively deep movie, full of wisdom about the Permanent Things, namely, God, love, justice, forgiveness, and sacrifice.
Not bad for a movie putatively pitched at seven-year-olds!
Olaf, a fan favorite, has changed quite a bit from Frozen; he has matured (apparently magical snowmen age much more rapidly than humans do!) and is now possessed of a sober, reflective nature. From the outset, he expresses a healthy fixation on the Permanent Things. In the opening scene, as he and Anna laze about under a tree on a warm day, he asks a question that shapes the course of the entire movie: “Do you ever worry about the notion that . . . nothing is permanent?”
A quizzical Anna replies, “I don’t worry because . . . well, because I have you, and Elsa, and Kristoff, and Sven, and the gates are open wide and . . . I’m not alone anymore!” Then, breaking into song (after all, it’s Disney), she belts out, “Some things are always true / Some things never change / Like how I’m holding on tight to you.”
Olaf is satisfied with this answer, but only for a time. He remains uneasy about whether anything really lasts, and he searches for the answer to that dilemma throughout the film.
Anna, for her part, reveals a profound truth: Friendship is an expression of Permanency. She roots her stability in friendship and camaraderie, fellowship and sisterhood (she and Elsa are locked at the hips).
We learn that Elsa has been hearing a voice, and it leads her and the rest of the group into the Enchanted Forest. Before they enter, Olaf quips, “Did you know that the Enchanted Forest is a place of transformation? . . . I can’t wait to see what it’s gonna do to each one of us.” Translation: When one is touched by the Divine, one is necessarily transformed.
The film’s narrative climax is when Anna goads the massive Earth spirits into breaking the dam to free the forest, its trapped inhabitants, and Elsa. But this would not be possible without the preceding spiritual climax, which comes in the most unexpected of places (cf. Lk. 1:46-55).
That spiritual climax is when Anna, cut off from Elsa, is in a dark cave with Olaf, who has begun to melt as Elsa’s magic falters. Just before he disappears as a wisp of snow, he tells Anna that he’s “thought of one thing that’s permanent.” A distraught Anna asks what it is, to which Olaf tenderly replies, “Love.”
In her grief, Anna begins to cry and call softly out to Olaf and Elsa; she is crushed by her profound isolation, curled up, cloak drawn close to her chest, defeated. And then she begins to sing through her deep spiritual crisis, something akin what spiritual masters have called “the dark night of the soul”—that this-worldly purgative process by which God, through His (felt) absence, draws and calls His saints into even deeper, more perfect union with Him:
I’ve seen dark before / But not like this / This is cold / This is empty / This is numb / The life I knew is over / The lights are out / Hello, [D]arkness / I’m ready to succumb /
I follow you around / I always have / But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find / This grief has a gravity / It pulls me down (emphasis added).
Then—“But a tiny voice whispers in my mind / ‘You are lost, hope is gone / But you must go on / And do the next right thing’” (emphasis added).
Anna slowly slides off the rock that has supported her in her sadness and falls on all fours; her realization, while true, is not yet enough to lift her from her despair, for Elsa remains her lodestar: “Can there be a day beyond this night? / I don’t know anymore what is true / I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone / The only star that guided me was you / How to rise from the floor / When it’s not you I’m rising for?” She has yet to translate this potential freedom, this grace, into an actuality, for spiritual truths are absorbed piecemeal and need to be returned to and received time and time again if they are to “stick.”
However, Anna’s spiritual crisis does have a solution. As her knowledge of it grows, she is strengthened, bit by bit, and her song becomes one of hope and courage, crescendoing as she confidently ascends to the cave’s exit.
Just do the next right thing / Take a step, step again / It is all that I can to do / The next right thing /
I won’t look too far ahead / It’s too much for me to take / But break it down to this next breath / This next step / This next choice is one that I can make.
This is the moral––the fully human––life in a nutshell. Grace and habits must be translated into action, over time, in our daily acts of fidelity (cf. Matt. 6:34) to the One Who loves us with a burning, tender compassion strong enough to obliterate even death.
Anna recognizes, in a halting sort of way, that it is only by abandoning herself to Providence—committing minute-by-minute to doing “the next right thing” exactly where she is—that she will walk the path to happiness and truth, even if and especially when she can’t always apprehend in the moment what that entails with perfect clarity: “So I’ll walk through this night / Stumbling blindly toward the light / And do the next right thing.”
Finally, she finds the exit, and the bright light of the morning washes over her, illuminating what’s happened: “And with the dawn, what comes then / When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again? / Then I’ll make the choice / To hear that voice / And do the next right thing.”
Anna is transformed by her experience of being stripped of everything that once provided her with comfort and meaning, chiefly her sister; in the cave, she is forced to rely solely on God and the conscience He has given her, and it is there she finds True Permanency—not in friends, a spouse, community, or even a sister, but in God Himself. He alone proves to be enough. Not only this, but Anna’s interior struggle makes the triumphant temporal ending of the movie a foregone conclusion, just as Christ’s Paschal Mystery secures victory once and for all, even as evil must still be dealt with in the here and now, by recourse to His then-but-always salvific sacrifice.
Because of Anna’s painful purification, the deepening of her relationship with the Ground of Being and Truth, she is empowered to risk her own life for her friends, family, and neighbors; she becomes a model of justice, and this opens up space for remembering the wrongs committed by her own family, a remembering which makes forgiveness—and healing—possible.
I’ll say it again: Not bad for a kid’s movie.
Deion A. Kathawa is a 3L in NDLS Class of 2020. He can be reached at email@example.com