Robert Lopez is having a great couple of years. A Yale graduate and Tony Award winning songwriter, Lopez co-wrote the lyrics to the smash hit Broadway musicals Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. This year, he has had even more success as one of the songwriters for the new Disney animated film Frozen.
As different from each other as Book of Mormon and Frozen seem, they actually explore some similar issues. Both are marked by a quest to overcome self-doubt, suppression, and repressive misunderstanding to find the true self. One works through the avenues of spiritual quest while the other focuses on the pressures of family and society, but ultimately they are both about letting your true self shine.
At the center of both the movie and the stage show is a fantastic, show-stopping number that screams out these themes to the world. The thing is, while both numbers are rousing, they present opposite sides of the spectrum.
In Frozen’s“Let it Go,” lead character Elsa powerfully resolves to stop suppressing who she is. She gives in to the power she holds and defiantly creates a new life for herself. The song is masterfully sung by Broadway superstar Idina Menzel and it is masterfully animated with gorgeous images of Elsa magically creating her new sanctuary.
“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind but I’m too relieved to grieve
Let it go, Let it go
Can’t hold it back anymorLet it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway”
“Turn it Off,” just like it sounds, is exactly the opposite. Where “Let it Go,” celebrates the expression of your inner self, this song encourages you to shut it down. Like all good satire, the tragedy in the message is hidden in humor and incongruity. All of the characters are clearly feeling the sadness of the things they are suppressing, yet they gleefully tap dance in pink, sparkly vests while praising their inner lies.
“Turn it off, like a light switch
just go click!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
and turn ‘em off”
These two songs contradict each other, and as much as we’d like to celebrate Elsa’s joyful self-acceptance, she’s actually running away from a problem she created. Her self-absorption obscures her responsibility to her kingdom, which is suffering under the artificial winter she created. The cold may not “bother her,” but it’s killing her people. They’re a little bothered.
But you can’t ignore your true self either, and the crystal clear satire of “Turn it Off” makes it quite obvious that this song’s advice is anything but helpful.
“My sister was a dancer, but she got cancer,
My doctor said she still had two months more
I thought she had time, so I got in line
for the new iPhone at the Apple Store.
She lay there dying with my father and mother
Her very last words were ‘where is my brother?’
Turn it off!”
A large part of my Path is the path of balance. I seek to walk in this world as well as the world of spirit. I seek to be magickal, but also pay the bills and be a good husband, brother, uncle, son, and friend. I seek my Highest Self, sure, but not at the expense of denying physical reality. In fact, my spirituality should enhance my experience of the physical world, not detract from it. Whatever your Path, you probably seek a similar balance.
There are times when we have to turn at least some of it off, but that’s dangerous. We’ll be just as unhappy as the musical tap dancing missionaries if we shut down too much. Yet, we risk alienating our friends, family, and employers if we let it go more than we should. Especially as members of a minority group of religions that is commonly misunderstood, that fulcrum between the two needs becomes ever finer and ever more difficulty to locate.
Sometimes we feel like we have found it, then some experience tells us that we’ve gotten off course. But I think the conscious searching is the true path. We walk that windy road between self-expression and polite quiet, and each new experience at work or at a family dinner or with a person with different spiritual ideas can cause us to lose sight of that road. Perhaps if we are always consciously looking for that narrow, twisty road it becomes easier to keep walking in the right direction.