Caritas in Disney’s Frozen

It takes but a casual observer to note that love is the theme to one of Disney’s largest franchises, Frozen. One can look at the theme of self-love, in the case of Elsa, romantic love, in the case of Anna and Kristoff, or sisterly love, in the case of Anna and Elsa. But as in any sort of literary analysis, it is too simple to look at just one level of love within the movie. Instead, one must look further and above to find a more central theme that courses through the whole piece. To get the best perspective on the value of love in Frozen, we must look at the character with the most amount of connections to others: Anna.

Of course if you take my mother’s view, there is no point in overanalyzing a cartoon, but the substance here is too much to avoid.

Anna begins in the first movie as one of the most innocent and naive characters. The creature in most need of human contact and care is the most isolated for a large part of her childhood. While she has her parents for some part, there is a significance to the fact that she is deprived of love for a significant part of it. She never comes to know what it means to truly be loved by someone else, and when the gates are finally opened for the first time in forever, a naive and delicate figure is launched at the world. She literally is throwing her love at the first handsome figure she meets because it’s the little amount of love that she has learned about.

The first franchise installment is important to Anna’s character development because she comes to understand what healthy and loving relationships can even look like. While Elsa is singing, desperately, “Let it go,” Anna is desperately singing ‘Let me in.’ She has been shut out from those that were close to her, and to even know how to form relationships and love someone, you have to have the opportunity to be in other peoples’ lives. Eventually the first movie shows the viewers that healthy love consists of a two-way street. You have to be in other people’s lives, and you have to let people in. Anna also grows in her understanding of love by understanding the key notion of sacrifice.

Reflected in all characters is the beauty that love is based first in sacrifice. What? What does sacrifice have to do with love? Sacrifice is the act of denying oneself (perhaps to the extreme degree of death) so that someone else may find a benefit of some nature. When the self is denied, the other is elevated. True love, the first movie teaches, is just such a love, where the good of another person is willed with disregard to one’s own benefit from the act or situation. True love is more powerful than evil and is bigger than any romantic relationship.

This notion of selfless love, willing the good of the other, is an ancient one: in Latin it is known as caritas (from where we get the word charity), in ancient Hebrew it is known as chesed. It is the most true form of love that we can describe, and it is the love that God extends to humanity and all of creation. He wills our good without benefit to Himself. There is nothing we can do that benefits God, but he chooses to love us anyway.

So this sets the stage for the real point of focus I want to take for this article: Anna as she appears in the second movie. While Anna learns about charity in the first movie, she ends up displaying an extension of her original naivete. The opening song, led by Anna, demonstrates that her love is fragile. In other words she does not have caritas, she has a lesser form of it. She has delectatio.

In no way has Anna’s love for her family decreased. If anything, her attachment has increased. With the immediate threats of the first movie’s finale gone, Anna’s sincere caritas took a step down in devolution and instead became delectatio. Instead of truly willing the good of the other without return expectation, we see that Anna’s love has devolved into total dependency on those she loves. She now requires their returned affection and gratitude in order to feel okay. She does not truly love them as much as she is delighting in them. They bring her delight, and the delight that she receives from them is what motivates her. This is what makes her love fragile, and what drives her through the first part of the second movie.

To the casual observer, Anna’s actions are eccentric and unnecessary. She goes way too far to make sure others are okay with the same sort of disregard for her own well-being, but it is not purely sacrificial, and it is not within full awareness of what is good for those she loves. At the slight appearance of Elsa’s discomfort during charades, Anna is sent herself into great internal turmoil, questioning every one of her recent actions towards her. At every one of Kristoff’s bumbly lines she perceives a threat in loss of his affection. When Elsa is even slightly in physical danger, Anna feels the need to dash brazenly into the fray, regardless of Elsa’s capacity and Anna’s incapacity. And finally, of course, when she believes Elsa is dead, Olaf is gone, and Kristoff has deserted her, Anna also believes she has nothing left that is precious and worth living for. That is how fragile her love is, and it is because it isn’t true love, it is a fragile delight in her family’s affection. Without their present affection and her inability to bring them back to where she can receive that affection, she is completely lost.

Important to note is that delectatio is not an inherently bad form of love. It is, however, a lesser form of love than caritas. It is not bad to delight in something or someone, but if that delight becomes more important than the good of the other, than it becomes a disordered and harmful love.

We see this exact problem between Anna and her sister. Elsa’s role in the second movie is about actualization, or becoming a more complete version of herself, or a higher or better version of herself. This actualization is definitively good for Elsa – she is lacking a knowledge of a powerful part of herself, and needs it to serve not just her own people of Arendelle but her ancestral people of Northuldra by discovering her side of the ‘Fifth Spirit.’ Anna explicitly hinders this development in Elsa. Every time Anna feels her loss of control over Elsa and restrains her so that she can still bring Anna delight and comfort, Anna keeps Elsa from fully engaging her development. In effect, Anna fails to will Elsa’s good, even though she thinks she is loving her in the best possible way.

Of course this strange perception of love that she has adopted is mostly fictitious. Kristoff certainly had a true love for her. Need I mention his constant and sincere sacrifice of self for Anna’s well being? Elsa never once doubts the strength of their bond. Olaf knows he can rely on Anna. Anna is the one who doubts, and who perceives her relationships in such a fragile way. At the end of her song she follows the advice she heard from around, to choose the next right step. Her delights have abandoned her and now she is alone with herself, and nothing else. Her option? To move forward. And since she has literally hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up and out into the light. Behind in that cave she leaves her attachments and her desires, exiting a better person, for she now seeks something entirely external to herself, rather than internally seeking delight. Actualized herself, she rediscovers that sense of bravery that she first experienced when she sacrificed herself for her sister against Prince Hans. With no thought of seeking delight in her mind, she seeks not what is directly good for her but what is good for everyone – the destruction of the dam that sowed such harm between her two ancestral peoples.

Funnily enough, this means she engages once again in the act of true sacrifice, knowing that she might be destroying her home of Arrendelle, i.e. herself, and destroys the dam in a heroic fashion. As she engages in this sacrifice, she realizes that she is not actually alone. Kristoff sacrifically serves her (and saves her from the giants) and she is reminded of his sincere caritas and delectatio for her. Later Elsa returns and she is given comfort for the fact that she was separated from Elsa for a time. She even has Olaf return to her.

The more she restricted her family’s movements so that she could hold on to their delight, she limited their good. But by letting them go and allowing Elsa (specifically) to become more actualized to the good, she finds that delectatio came anyway, and she needn’t have such a fragile love. More importantly she realizes that the love she has for her family is beyond momentary struggles and pain, and that the love persists beyond it, meaning that she can have hope in a more objective love and reality. As Kristoff tells her, “My love is not fragile” (“slap in the face, because yours was”). And as Olaf encourages her before his passing: “Anna, I finally found something that is permanent: love.”

Of course, following this logic, we see that Anna’s love is still not fully actualized in and of itself. She regains her independence, and relearns to love and will the good of the other without being dependent upon the delight she gets from them. Having the abstract object of their mutual bond as the higher object of her desire, rather than the more tangible object of their affection, she still has a materially bound object for the understanding of purpose in love. Her love is still dependent upon the people of her experience.

Observing Anna’s move to independence, most viewers might objectively agree with her choice to do the next right thing, and to base her love on more long term and abstract notions instead of affections, but what is it about the higher notion that we all assent to? The truth is that we assent to an unconditional love higher than any of us, but that would be a singular, unconditional, love that Anna does not have the virtue of exploring (due to her nature as a character of Disney property that would never explore theology lest they be cancelled by culture). A singular, higher, objective love that is independent from any of us and therefore can be inspiring to us, regardless of how dark our current situation might be, is of course God. He is Himself the fullest act of love, and therefore is Caritas and Delectatio. When all the fleeting pleasures of the earth fade away, as they inevitably will, what hope do we have that is left? What do we look forward to? How to rise from the floor when it’s not these we’re rising for? The answer is that we have to put stock into something, and our natural inclination as humans is to put it not into just some abstract and impersonal deity, but in someone that is capable of loving us at all times, regardless of whatever pain we face. The Christian God is such a God.

And so, we see, that a major underlying theme of Frozen I and II is not just any love but caritas itself, inviting us as the viewers to not be shallow in our relationships but to push deeper and to find a love not based in the people immediately pleasing to us but in some higher love that can motivate us when our delights inevitably fail us.

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