FROZEN, Olaf, and Damning with Faint Love

From my review of the original Frozen:

Olaf, the anthropomorphic snowman, is the comedic highlight of the film. Practically everything he said or did had me in stitches. I don’t want to exaggerate, but Olaf may be my favorite Disney sidekick, right up next to Pixar’s Dory.

My opinion has not changed. Olaf’s antics in Frozen serve to caress my funny bone like a giddy six-fingered tickler. The prospect of seeing and hearing more from him in Frozen 2 is exciting.

As we prepare for another narrative romp with the world’s favorite magical (literally) princess, I’m reminded of a scene in the original film that has stuck with me ever since 2013. For reference (and your viewing pleasure), here is the clip:

I’m sure you remember this segment. Olaf sings of his eager anticipation of summer’s arrival, when he’ll “find out what happens to solid water when it gets warm.” He imagines all the enjoyable activities he’ll participate in, blissfully unaware of what summer will actually do to him.

Near the end of Olaf’s musical musings, Kristoff says, “I’m gonna tell him,” and Anna slaps his arm and retorts, “Don’t you dare!” It’s a funny moment, but it’s followed several seconds later by a somber coda: Anna, Olaf, and Sven all eagerly head off on the next leg of their journey, leaving Kristoff by himself, watching the retreating snowman. After a mournful pause, he says, “Somebody’s gotta tell him.”

This moment provides a powerful piece of social commentary (albeit, inadvertently so). It gives us a peek into the dangers of our culture’s overemphasis on individualism.

In the movie, it’s funny when Anna wants Kristoff to let Olaf have his moment. In real life, it’s tragic when someone “respects” her friend’s pursuit of harm or detriment simply because “it’s what he wants, and we don’t want to keep him from being happy.” One example of this would be the growing public approval of assisted suicide as a humane and loving approach. The so-called right-to-die position goes against not only a Judeo-Christian ethic, but also a foundational American ethic: that humans are endowed by their creator with unalienable (unable to be taken or given away) rights, the first of which is Life. But I digress.

The issue is not that individualism, autonomy, and personal rights are unchristian or un-American. The issue is that overemphasizing these ideas leads to dangerous abuses. When the individual’s wishes are granted deity-level status, the fences of universal truth get kicked down, leaving us much more vulnerable without the safeguards and boundaries that once kept us from wandering off to our detriment (or death). When autonomy reigns supreme, the flimsy criteria of consent becomes the standard by which everything is judged. Right and wrong become “right (or wrong) for me.” Absolute truth becomes “my truth.”

When this perspective rules our collective convictions, we interact with others with Anna’s mindset: we don’t want to intrude on someone else’s truth, even if we know their so-called truth will hinder, harm, or hex them. Such a response is interpreted by the modern mind as love, but it is most decidedly not love. It is not caring for others as we ought. Rather, it is elevating their feelings over their fate, their wants over their well-being, their desires over their destination. It’s like watching an excited child rushing toward a busy intersection and refusing to get in the way of their pursuit of happiness.

That is indifference. That is moral negligence. That is hatred.

So sure, we can laugh when Anna slaps Kristoff’s arm so Olaff can finish his howler of a song. It’s a perfectly-timed comedic moment. But let’s not allow that small incident to define our moment-by-moment interactions with others. Let us avoid, as Tim Keller says, “Love without truth [for it] is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.” Instead, let us be brave and loving enough to seek the true and lasting benefit of those around us. And let us be willing to receive love and care from others when our flaws may blind us or our desires may otherwise lead us astray. The wounds of correction may hurt, but faithful are the wounds of a true friend.

photo credit: Loren Javier via flickr, CC