“Let it Go” — Relativism for Kids

In 2013, the Frozen phenomenon took the world by storm. The Disney animated film earned over $400 million in the US and over $1.27 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing movie of its year, and holding the crown for highest-grossing animated film of all time, until the 2019 Lion King remake. Simba’s reign may be short-lived, however, as Frozen II releases soon. In preparation, let’s revisit the highlight of the original movie, the immensely popular and award-winning song, “Let It Go”:

 

As seen in the video, Elsa has magical powers that enable her to create things from ice. As a child, Elsa accidentally harms her sister, Anna, with with an ice blast, so their parents decide to lock Elsa from the world and even from Anna. When the girls are teenagers, their parents are lost at sea, leaving Elsa—and Anna—even further isolated. After Elsa is crowned queen of Arendelle on her twenty-first birthday, she loses control of her powers and becomes exposed to the people of the kingdom. Elsa runs off in shame, building an ice castle of her own, which leads to the above song.

Relativism for Kids
While “Let It Go” is a memorable and beautiful song, it is also contains some concerning themes, especially for a children’s movie. It is Elsa’s declaration of independence, proclaiming freedom from the pressures of monarchy and the expectations of being the “good girl.” It promotes moral relativism, individualism, and selfishness, which can be seen in the following lines:

Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

While “Let It Go” sounds strong and empowering, it is really about Elsa abandoning responsibility for her family and kingdom, living only for herself. This is definitely not acceptable. The most telling lines of the song are “No right, no wrong, no rules for me / I’m free.” While this sounds like freedom and liberation, this kind of attitude is dangerous, especially for someone as powerful as Elsa. If Elsa truly believed there were no right or wrong, then it wouldn’t be wrong for her to hurt her sister or forsake caring for the citizens of Arendelle. She could rule over her kingdom as a ruthless ice queen with no one to tell her otherwise.

But the flip side of this is that if there truly is “no right, no wrong,” then it would not be wrong for others to make Elsa feel so much pressure—whether inadvertently or on purpose. And that is the problem of moral relativism: it cuts both ways. If right and wrong are simply a matter of opinion, then who cares what any individual thinks? However, if you cannot wrong others, then others cannot wrong you either.

Thankfully, the movie does not end after this song. Elsa is pursued by her sister, Anna, who will not abandon her to isolation. It is only upon witnessing an act of sacrifice—Anna offering her life to save Elsa’s—that Elsa realizes that love is the key to controlling her powers. This reverses the never-ending winter that she had brought upon Arendelle, and Elsa promises never to isolate herself—or her kingdom—from the world again.

Raising Relativists
In “Let It Go,” Elsa complains about the wrongs done to her, and they are perfectly valid complaints. Her frustration is due to her parents’ decision to lock her away from the world. The lyrics, “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” are a phrase Elsa’s father told her as a child, reminding her to keep her powers a secret. Thus, the pressure of being “that perfect girl” only increased her desire for independence. Elsa’s parents planted such an anxiety within her that she eventually snapped when her worst fear of her powers being exposed came true.

The pressure instilled in Elsa by her parents should make us wonder, how much of our culture’s acceptance of moral relativism is simply reactionary? Feelings of isolation, oppression, and fear may lead people to reject morality altogether. Yet, imagine what a society would look like if people truly believed there were no right or wrong. It would tend toward utter chaos and lawlessness. While we may view rules and boundaries as oppressive and restrictive, they also exist to protect us. This is the lesson Elsa’s parents should have taught her instead of locking her away. They could have helped her manage her powers in a safe environment, possibly avoiding all of the troubles her unrestrained powers caused Anna and Arendelle. And as mentioned above, love is the only means for Elsa to control her powers.

The Truth of Relativism
The irony of “Let It Go” and Elsa’s turn to relativism is that she did not really believe in it. The whole reason why she isolated herself was to prevent her from hurting her sister or anyone else again. She obviously knew hurting others was wrong. This teaches a critical lesson about moral relativism: no one truly believes it. People proclaim relativism when others judge them of wrongdoing, but they also cry foul when others harm them. Elsa thought the pressure of being the “perfect girl” and queen of Arendelle was unbearable, and she also knew it was wrong to harm her sister and her kingdom. She eventually learns from her sister the greatest good of all: love, displaying itself through self-sacrifice.

If we reject moral relativism, then what foundation do we have for right and wrong? Moral realism, which means that there is a real and objective moral code by which we are all held accountable. In spite of what people may claim, everyone has a deep moral intuition that certain things are really right or wrong. How do we make sense of this? Christians believe that the best explanation of an objective moral law is an objective moral Lawgiver: God.

Moral relativism is popular within our culture and in media for both adults and children. But denying right and wrong only leads to greater harm, as Elsa learns the hard way. It makes us reactionaries, hiding away our pain, instead of leading us to face these wrongs. The only way forward is to admit the existence of true objective morality, grounded in a good God and his truth.

Sign up here to receive weekly Reflect emails in your inbox!