Frozen II’s Worrying Embrace of Pseudoscience

I wrote in my review that I thought Frozen II was a very well-made movie. However, there was one thing in the story that I strongly disliked and even found inappropriate for children in a weird way. (Not in the ways you’re probably thinking—don’t worry.) This was the repeated (and plot-relevant) assertion that “water has memory.” So let me say it right now:

Water does not have memory.

I feel like I need to say that loud and clear because this notion of “water memory” plays word for word into the pseudoscience of homeopathy, and homeopathy is a very pernicious form of alternative medicine that is especially annoying to scientists and science enthusiasts because it has zero scientific basis.

And it may seem silly to criticize a children’s movie for this—especially a fantasy movie—and to be clear, the use of the phrase in the story has nothing to do with homeopathy. However, the big problem with homeopathy and a lot of other alternative medicine is that it often prevents people from seeking out proven treatments, which can even lead to lives lost in severe cases (not to mention promoting scientific ignorance). And because of that, I felt very uncomfortable about the talking points of homeopathy (even though it’s just the talking points and not homeopathy itself) being given a platform as large as this.

Okay, so what am I talking about? What is homeopathy, and how did Disney stumble into such a troubling mistake? (And I do think it was a mistake and not something more purposeful.)

Homeopathy, at least in modern times, involves mixing a small amount of a substance that may or may not be harmful, but purports to have therapeutic effects, with a large amounts of water. This mixture gets diluted again and again with more water until there are no molecules of the original “medicine” left in it.

How does this make sense? Homeopaths literally claim that “water has memory.” That is, they claim water molecules retain some pattern of the other molecules they had in them before, but have now been diluted away…a pattern that somehow retains the purported beneficial effects of the treatment without any of the harmful effects…and doesn’t carry any of the effects of pollution, animal waste, dirt, and whatever else it’s had in it.

This, simply put, makes no sense. The fact is, there is nothing in the laws of physics that remotely supports the idea that water has memory, and if someone, somehow managed to come up with a repeatable experiment that proved it did, we wouldn’t have a clue how to explain it. The “faster than light neutrinos” debacle would be a drop in the bucket (no pun intended) compared with how outrageously against physics-as-we-know-it “water memory” is.*

Frozen II does not use the notion of water memory in this sense, but the fact remains that it is a major plot point of the story, and I find that troubling. And I’m not the only one. It hasn’t gotten a lot of play online, but it did receive attention from someone who works at Disney himself.

I initially considered the possibility that the writers at Disney didn’t know about any of this. The details of homeopathy aren’t exactly common knowledge. But the actual story is more interesting. Disney insider Ross Blocher has a podcast called Oh No Ross and Carrie in which he discussed this very issue. (See here at about the 20-minute mark.) Blocher says he made a serious push against including the line “water has memory” in the script, saying that it is “a phrase people use to sell a lot of sham products.”

And the writers did pay attention to him. In response to Blocher’s letter, they gave Olaf an additional line to the effect of, “Many experts dispute it, but I know it’s true,” to try to hedge a bit.**

The problem is that in my mind, this actually made things worse because that is also something homeopaths love to say to their skeptics. “It’s disputed by experts” is more often a way to weasel out of being debunked than an honest caveat. It may have hedged their assertion, but it also made them sound even more like the people they should be distancing themselves from. The fact that Olaf presents it as a “fun fact” alongside other actual scientific facts is another red flag.

Unfortunately, water having memory was such an important part of the story that it would be difficult to work around, but it could be done. Maybe magic has memory instead. Or maybe the spirits are helping direct Elsa to do what needs to be done (that would make her final act at the end more “miraculous,” anyway). I just wish Disney had put in more effort to fix this problem when it was brought to their attention.

*Okay, yes, there is a weird quantum sense in which everything has memory, not just water, but if everything has memory, then there’s nothing special about homeopathic treatments in particular, and the point still stands.

**Granted, they also included a joke about water remembering passing through the bodies of animals and that being kind of gross. That really does distance themselves from homeopaths somewhat, but I think the other problems still outweigh it.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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