The Heroic Sacrifice in Family Films: A total cop out

Disney movies are the ultimate example of heroic sacrifices. Tangled, Frozen and a host of others display this. The problem: it's a total cop-out. (Flickr/Scarlett1854)

The “heroic sacrifice” is a trope that I’m sure everyone has seen before. Basically, a hero saves another character from being harmed, and is injured or more likely killed in the process. Sound familiar? This emotionally manipulative trope is often used in family-friendly films to pull on the audience’s heartstrings, and usually the sacrificed characters come back to life even better than they were before.

For instance, in “Tangled,” Flynn Rider is stabbed by Mother Gothel, who tries to take away Rapunzel and leave him to die. Rapunzel promises to stay in lifelong captivity with Mother Gothel if she’s allowed to heal Flynn with her magical hair. However, unwilling to allow Rapunzel to be imprisoned forever because of him, Flynn slices off her hair, turning it from golden blonde to brown, destroying its magic, and performing a heroic sacrifice of his own.

Of course there’s still a happy ending. As Flynn dies, one of Rapunzel's tears, which still contains the sun's power, lands on him and brings him back to life.

In “Frozen,” Elsa accidentally “freezes” her sister Anna’s heart. The only thing that can save Anna is an “act of true love,” naturally. As Anna grows more and more frozen over the course of the film, it becomes clear that she needs to be saved as soon as possible. However, Anna decides to sacrifice a kiss from Kristoff in order to allow herself to freeze to death to block Prince Hans’ attack on Elsa. This ends up being the “act of true love” that saves her. She thaws and is restored to life a few moments after her sister gets the chance to cry in anguish over her death.

In “Pinocchio,” the puppet gives up his own life in order to save his “father” Geppetto from the giant whale Monstro after the man begins to sink into the sea. Pinocchio makes this sacrifice in spite of Geppetto's plea that Pinocchio swim to shore and save himself instead. However, the Blue Fairy, who brought Pinocchio to life in the first place, decides that the puppet’s sacrifice has proven that he’s brave, unselfish and truthful. Because of this, she allows him to be reborn as a real human boy.

The “heroic sacrifice” is probably one of the most irritating tropes to me because I think it’s often used to merely manipulate the audience’s emotions, and it’s usually completely see-through. I find it incredibly frustrating and lazy that family film after family film continues to employ this over-used trope of a character sacrificing their own life for someone they love, which anyone over the age of eight knows will be reversed within five minutes so that the movie can have its storybook happy ending. 


Helen Stec is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at helen.stec@uconn.edu.