This past weekend my family joined scores of others in attending a screening of Frozen, Disney’s latest “princess” movie. The story is a substantial reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. We were there with the youngest of our clan, who were prime targets for this sort of breezy, musical entertainment.
I am not much of an aficionado of these films, as I have grown weary of the entire “follow your heart” mantra of so many of their ilk. Indeed, in Frozen, one of the primary characters is harmed gravely and the means of healing is sought desperately. A proposed solution: “true love’s kiss.” When this was uttered, I groaned out loud, as did several other adults near me. I’m sure I rolled my eyes as well.
Yes, yes, very nice. The answer to society’s problems is obvious: not enough people following their hearts or running around kissing strangers. (I would counter that Jeremiah 17:9 holds a more accurate view of what is wrong with us.)
As Frozen’s climax unfolds, however, the solution is neither a kiss nor a pursuit of the heart. It’s a semi-prophetic, selfless act that ends up requiring one character’s sacrificial death.
The film’s world had been plunged into the deepest darkness of winter, families were torn apart, evil was sneering and shameless, everything was falling apart and when the young woman dies, it looks like all is lost. Then something amazing happens: We realize that her death was the antidote for all that was wrong. She returns to life. And spring returns. And relationships are healed. And evil is exposed and brought to justice. And joy returns. In our theater, the audience erupted into cheers.
I was dumbfounded by the movie’s final twenty or so minutes. It was an astoundingly clear parable of the Christian Gospel, perhaps even superior to that of the Stone Table scene in the first Narnia film in terms of simplicity and clarity. In fact, I suspect that when the film is released on video, it will become a staple of evangelistic presentations to children.
As my heart swelled with the reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, I flashed back to a similar feeling when we saw Enchanted, another Disney princess movie. I noted in my book God as Author how it follows the contours of the Gospel, as I pointed out that the basic formula of balance-imbalance-restoration of balance is the framework of most stories (click on the link to page 181 for a more lengthy explanation). As my wife put it back then, “It’s the only story we really know.”
I would be remiss if I did not assert that a Christ-less Gospel is a defective and incomplete Gospel; stories like Frozen do not bring an understanding sufficient for salvation, of course, and they are impure as well, carrying mixed messages and even distractions that can lead away from the legitimate news of Christ’s sufficiency. Such stories are riddles that long for a correct answer. Our responsibility as Christ-followers is to listen for these riddles and to provide the achingly longed for answer.
For all of the weariness we certainly feel from the worldly admixtures that fill these sorts of tales, where our efforts or our supposed innate goodness solves the problems of an imbalanced world—and the Disney franchises certainly are chief among these offenders—I was reminded that their breathtaking reach is a kind of pre-evangelism that we must mine for the sake of the Kingdom.
Narnia. The Lord of the Rings. So many other stories that anticipate the true Gospel, planting seeds and tilling soil until the true story comes along and fulfills the longing for eternity that is in our hearts. A former student of mine traveled widely in a country that was closed to the Gospel, collecting the folktales of the people on a recording device. Missionaries then listened to the tales and prepared Gospel presentations in advance of storytelling opportunities, using points of contact between the Gospel and those folk tales. As C. S. Lewis might term it, they were preparing to share the “story” that was actually true.
If Billy Graham is the great evangelist of our age, we can number Lewis and Tolkien among the greatest of our pre-evangelists. We would be remiss, perhaps, if we did not include at least some Disney films as being among our greatest pre-evangelists. They may not intend their stories as such, but the bird that drops seeds into a field unaware is still a sower nonetheless. The prudent farmer reaps fields that are white unto harvest, no matter how they were planted.