Looking for negative subliminal messages lurking in children’s media is so common these days, it’s started to feel more punk rock to just embrace whatever it is your kid likes regardless of how problematic the story or themes might be. We all know The Little Mermaid sends terrible messages to kids about conformity, but at least the songs make sense. Which, isn’t the case with Frozen. The biggest song from Frozen — “Let It Go” — the one your kid sings at the top of their lungs, is totally nonsensical, at least relative to the plot or themes of the film. In fact, it sends a contradictory message that is maddening to the point of almost ruining the whole movie. If this song has been driving parents crazy, we assert that the song’s logical fallacies are the reason you’re going nuts. Let’s get into it.
The specific sentiment of the lyrics “let it go” are ostensibly about Elsa embracing her true nature, and not caring what other people are going to say. (“I don’t care what they’re going to say.”) But her way of dealing with this is to “slam the door” and live in an isolated ice castle. She describes this isolation like this: “The snow glows white on the mountain tonight. Not a footprint to be seen. A kingdom of isolation. And it looks like I’m the queen.”
Sorry, but how is a song about embracing your true nature and flying your freak flag also a pro-isolation song? On the one hand, you’re supposed to “let it go,” the “it” being, what other people think, societal norms, and, in fact, interactions with people who can harm you, etc. But, after you let “it” go emotionally, you’re supposed to physically lock yourself in a Fortress of Solitude. Yeah! That will show them! Hide forever. What kind of message is this exactly? Run from your problems and flip a middle finger at those problems from behind closed doors?
Further complicating this contradiction is the fact that the story of the film, proves the sentiment and result of “Let It Go,” to be false. Elsa not only can’t “Let It Go,” because it turns out she does care about fitting in. Her triumphant Walden-esque isolation lasts like three seconds before she’s pulled back into the plot. The song doesn’t really service the story at all, because Elsa never really sings a song that says, “hey, it turns out I can’t let everything go, some things you have to still care about.”
The confusion exists with which “it” the song is talking about. If “it” equals WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF YOU, then “Let It Go” is great. But if “it” equals EVERYTHING ABOUT SOCIETY, that’s trickier. Based on Elsa’s actions only, the real “it” feels more like the latter “it,” and again, seems to suggest the best way for an iconoclast to embrace their non-basic selves is to pack up and move. Obviously, the movie doesn’t leave Elsa in the ice castle forever, but on some level, maybe it should have? In Frozen’s defense, you can’t end of a kids movie with one of the characters just ditching everyone and living in an ice castle forever, but because the song “Let It Go” draws so much attention to this theme, and then contradicts its message, the song feels flippant in retrospect.
Also, because Elsa doesn’t live in isolation very long, the theme of her breaking with society doesn’t work because she never really grapples with the consequences of that choice. In 1982’s Superman II, another character who lives in an ice palace also decides to “let it go.” In that movie, Christopher Reeve’s Superman gives up being Superman and tries to live in the Fortress of Solitude with Lois Lane. Like Elsa, he’s pretty quickly drawn back into his old life, but at least his “let it go” moment seemed to change him and his story. He has to live with his decision to let it go longer. Elsa really doesn’t. The song and the moment are symbolic only, but the character doesn’t really live with her choice for very long.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the line “let it go” is uttered by none other than Sean Connery, playing Indy’s father. As Harrison Ford claws at the cup of Jesus Christ, his father gently says “junior, let it go.” The cool thing about this is that Indiana Jones does, in fact, let it go, and his character changes as a result. Like Frozen, Indy is able to save himself and heal his family by letting something go. Again, this “let it go” moment affects the plot and the themes of the story in a way that makes sense. If The Last Crusade used Frozen logic, Indy would have run back into the crumbling canyon two minutes later and snatched up the cup. Haha! Just kidding! I let go of my ambitions for like two seconds, but now I’m back!
None of this nitpicking about “Let It Go” makes Frozen a bad movie, but it does prove that the song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is infinitely better, if only because it works with the story and is way more specific. To a certain kind of mind, “Let It Go” is frustrating because it’s so vague. Maybe the pronoun “it” is the problem! In The Little Mermaid, we understood that “part of your world” could be a metaphor for a lot of stuff, but it was also specific to the story; the “your” was a character and symbol, kind of like “you” and the “snowman” in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Having a song centered on an “it” is really confusing. If an adult like me is having a hard time understanding what “it” Elsa is singing out, imagine what’s going on in a kid’s brain?
Because “Let It Go” is such a huge song, and such a damn earworm, it feels somehow outside of the plot of the movie, a power ballad that could have fit into a million other stories. In fact, if there does end up being a new Superman movie at some point, this song could easily work there. Or, literally in any other story about someone feeling like they don’t fit in. Does this prove “Let It Go” is brilliant? Maybe. But it also seems disconnected from reason.
“Let It Go” having a generic sentiment doesn’t make it a bad song. At all. It’s probably why it’s good. But, if you think about the song relative to the characters it supposedly explains, this whole ice castle of the story melts faster than our kids can sing. The worst part is of course, the only way to get over “Let It Go” making no sense, is to sing “Let It Go,” perhaps at the top of your lungs, but more likely, quietly, under your breath while making coffee at 4:30 in the morning before your kids wake up.