From the Archives: Frozen 2: Can the Christian Church Hear its Gospel Song? by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

This was originally posted on March 5, 2020

The first time I saw Frozen 2, I was impressed by the ecofeminism and the efforts to respect the Sami culture. The second time, I thoroughly enjoyed the superb music and the character development. The third time… was a religious experience.

Other contrubutors have written wonderful reviews of Frozen 2, and I agree wholeheartedly that its animation reinforces the sexist idea that females should be tiny compared to males, except for our eyes, which should be larger than our wrists. These disempowering representations saturate today’s media, and I regularly spend a whole lot of time deconstructing them with my daughters.

However, there is a lot to love about Frozen 2, and as a Christian, I found myself resonating with several of the symbolic truths the film offers. I spent some time looking into the Sami religion, to see how much of it was incorporated into portrayals of the Northumbra. I knew that Disney had consulted with Sami representatives to portray their culture with respectful accuracy. The Sami history is an all too familiar tale of violent imperial conquest allied with Fundamentalist Christian Dominionism. The wounds of Sami history certainly give me terrible grief as a white American and a Christian, and I hope that the anti-colonialist messages of the film spread awareness of such violence in my country. 

While Methodist history includes a hefty share of anti-Indigenous violence, the founder of my Methodist tradition, John Wesley, was neither Fundamentalist nor Dominionist. Though his early years were more evangelical, Wesley did not view foreign indigenous cultures as in need of Christian European “civilization;” quite the opposite. He praised the indigenous people and cultures of India, Africa, North America, and elsewhere, as far superior to the so-called “Christian” cultures of European nations. Wesley railed against European imperialism, greed, and exploitation, and even attempted to go live among Native Americans to “save my own soul” and see what they could teach him about a simple life in harmony with nature. He characterized indigenous foreign cultures as ethically and spiritually superior to the industrialized, colonizing Europeans.[1] For example, see this sermon from 1783:

Look into that large country, Indostan. There are Christians and Heathens too. Which have more justice, mercy and truth? The Christians or the Heathens? Which are the most corrupt, infernal, devilish, in their tempers and practice? The English or the Indians? Which have desolated whole countries, and clogged the rivers with dead bodies? “O sacred name of Christian! How profaned!” O earth, earth, earth! How dost thou groan under the villainies of thy Christian inhabitants.[2]

Frozen 2 was well received by Sami communities; it is not my place to analyze how well the story portrayed Sami religion. I will mention only that traditional Sami polytheistic animism believes that all of nature, including rocks. is alive. The Sami consider themselves descendents of the Sun itself, and they understand ancestors to be alive and actively engaged in the lives of their descendents, regularly communicating with them. Here is a wonderful description of the religious symbolism of Frozen 2 as experienced by someone of Sami descent.

From my own mystical, ecofeminist, Celtic Cornish Methodist viewpoint, several theological themes resonated with me during my third viewing: 1) Sacrificing one’s life for justice/liberation, 2) Death/Resurrection, 3) Transformation/Rebirth, 4) Bridging of humanity with divinity, 5) Bridging and transcendance of human divisions.

These themes are pretty easy to identify once we name them. Elsa sacrifices her life in order to reveal the truth about the oppression of vulnerable people by exploitative empire, as part of her quest to expose the system of oppression and bring liberation and healing. Similarly, Anna puts her life on the line and challenges the power/authority structures of her culture, to bring justice. Jesus did the same thing: knowing he would be executed for sedition, he nonetheless kept speaking truth to power, refusing to bow to his culture’s leaders, in order to be the voice of the oppressed, of liberation and justice.

In the poetic scriptural story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, my faith tells me that death is not a final ending. Nothing is more powerful than Love, which never ends.[3] Similarly, Frozen 2 declares that while life holds many changes, Love never changes. Similarly, just as Jesus’ resurrected self is different from his pre-crucifixion self, Elsa is permanently altered by her own crucifixion and resurrection into her divine, truest self. Elsa is baptized in the (glacier) river Ahtohallan in order to step into her role as an incarnation of divinity, just as Jesus is baptized by John before beginning his ministry as a “Christ,” which means “annointed one.” Similarly, Anna’s walk through the Lonesome Valley of grief prepares her to take on her new role as the leader of her community. The two sisters, described as two sides of a bridge uniting humanity and divinity, and uniting different human communities, parallel the scriptural representation of Christ as a bridge between humanity and divinity as well — or as one who reveals that bridge, the divinity within each person, and as one within whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek.”[4]

Wesley would also approve of the message Elsa receives: “You are the one you’ve been waiting for… Grow yourself into something new.” Wesley taught that we each have a true, divine self, which we embody fully whenever we release our chains and “step into our power.” For Wesley, sin is disease, and Divine Grace is healing and liberation. When we allow Grace to heal injustice and brokenness, we spread wellness and JustPeace throughout all Creation[5]— and, like Frozen 2, Wesley taught that we must pay attention to wilderness and nature in order to understand the Divine:

God is in all things, and …we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God… who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and activates the whole created frame, and is in a true sense the soul of the universe.[6]

As Frozen 2 shows, and as my faith teaches, individuals and communities sometimes need to undergo death and rebirth in order to find liberation and JustPeace. The Bible is a long chronicle of humans getting things terribly wrong… and then trying again, learning, and getting things beautifully right… and then mucking it all up again. We have wise and fearless prophets speaking uncomfortable truths to us all throughout the Hebrew Bible, Christian (New) Testament, and ever since. As modern Methodist prophets such as Bill McKibben and Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee urge us to confront Climate Change with courage and faith, my prayer is that the Church admit that deep down, we’re not where we’re meant to be. That we brave our deepest fears, make that choice to hear that voice, and do the next right thing. That we grow ourselves into something new— our true, brave, Divine selves, who join together with our entire Earth kindred — especially with Wilderness and Indigenous communities — in spreading liberation, healing, and JustPeace. For in this River, All is found.

[1] Jennings Jr., Theodore W. John Wesley and Empire
[2] Wesley, John. Sermon: Mysteries of Iniquity c.f. Ibid
[3] See 1 Cor 13, Romans 8
[4] Galatians 3:28
[5] Maddox, Randy. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s practical theology. Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1994.
[6] Wesley, John. Sermon: Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount III, (1748)

BIO: Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

Categories: Christianity, Earth-based spirituality, Ecofeminism, Film

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1 reply

  1. I have not seen this movie, but what you write about it makes sense. Bright blessings to you and to John Wesley!


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