Warning: there will be spoilers about both Frozen and Tangled in this post.
Note: this entry has been revised after a reader helpfully pointed out my complete misinterpretation of an article on The Gospel Coalition that I’d originally linked.
I can’t say enough good things about the movie “Tangled”. I think it’s a brilliant movie because it deals with something very close to my heart: leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. Anyone who has made that difficult journey will be moved by the scene where Rapunzel vacillates violently between joy and shame over defying her mother. Ultimately, the decision is vindicated and she gets her real family back, with a handsome rogue by her side to boot, but along the way it is not an easy journey.
“Frozen” is a little bit different. While the heroine’s decision turns out for the best in the end (these are Disney movies, after all), she is not quite as inspired as Rapunzel: she gets engaged after only one day with a man. This leads to a blow up that ultimately plunges the world into an eternal winter and causes her sister to fatally wound her.
Rapunzel and Anna have a lot in common. Both were isolated and weary with unhealthy, intimate family relationships. The difference is that in Rapunzel’s case the relationship is with an abusive, evil person, and in Anna’s case it is with a good, but equally unhealthy and hurting person. However, from either woman’s limited perspective it would be hard to know the difference. Both spent years with their emotions neglected and decided to deal with their pain when opportunity presented itself. That takes more strength than pretending the pain doesn’t exist, and that for me is the great takeaway from theses stories.
I like both movies because they are about unhealthy people wrestling with and overcoming years of abuse and neglect. Rapunzel learns how to take control and responsibility for her own life and become and adult, while Elsa and Anna find that they are stronger together and the value of sacrificial love (amazingly, not found in a romantic relationship, but a sisterly one). I’ve recently been reading the book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud, and in it they discuss the important of being good stewards of ourselves. When we ignore or stifle our emotional pain, we are not tending well the gifts God has given us.
Sometimes when we give voice to our pain, we break free from people who hurt us like Rapunzel did. Sometimes, like Anna, we ultimately get to work things out and grow close again. Elsa was attempting the impossible by stifling her identity, and in the end she found acceptance and love in her sister that empowered her. Anna received the relationship she’d longed for with her beloved sister.
For better or worse, even when we get it wrong (like getting engaged in only a day), it is better to do the hard work of digging into our pain and discovering it is trying to tell us than it is to pretend it doesn’t exist. Perhaps our pain is telling us that our relationships are not what they should be. Perhaps it is telling us we are being abused. Or perhaps it is telling us that we are selfish people who are fighting against God’s will. But we will never know if we don’t engage and deal with them. We must be good stewards over our bodies, and that means dealing with anger, pain, and all of the other emotions God has given us. It takes strength to do that kind of work, the kind of strength that Rapunzel and Anna both show through these two delightful movies.