Four Lessons I Learned from Disney
- Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Recently, Allen Yeh wrote an article titled, "Why Disney Princesses are Bad", where he asserted that Disney's portrayal of princesses sends a harmful message to little girls. I really enjoyed reading the article, though I think calling The little Mermaid "Faustian" was going a bit overboard (no pun intended). Still, the article did get me thinking. You see, I grew up as the only boy in a house full of girls, so I got acquainted with the Disney princesses at an early age. Once in a while though, I'd get control of movie night, and we'd watch my favorites like Aladdin, Robin Hood, and The Lion King.
As I trolled through Yeh's article, it amazed me how different our experiences had been. For me, the Disney heroes served as role models during my early walk with Christ, teaching me lessons I often failed to learn at Sunday school. In fact, it was partly thanks to these movies that I learned what it meant to be a man after God's own heart. Maybe its nostalgia talking, or maybe I just feel obligated to defend the Disney classics, either way; I want to share the lessons I learned with you, the four qualities of a true Christian.
1 Showing Courage
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9
At some point we've all read Joshua 1:9, where God calls us to be "strong and courageous". Unfortunately, many of us have a hard time understanding the difference between "courage" and "toughness". In the beginning of The Lion King, Simba makes the same mistake. He wants to be brave like his father, so he breaks the rules and sneaks into the Elephant's Graveyard, where he and Nala get chased by hyenas. In one of the movie's best scenes, Mufasa arrives and sends the hyenas running with their tails between their legs, but then turns his attention on Simba. Mufasa scolds Simba for putting himself and his friends in danger, but also gently explains that being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble. Even as a kid, I can remember being captivated by those words. True courage isn't just about being strong; it's about taking responsibility for your actions, and doing what's right even when you're afraid. Sometimes, it's the small choices in our lives that require the most courage.
2 Acting Justly
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8
I was never very good at memorizing Bible verses, but for some reason I've always been able to remember Micah 6:8. Appropriate, I think, since it fits well with my favorite Disney movie, Aladdin. You'll remember, Aladdin falls in love with Jasmine after rescuing her off the street, but since she's a princess, she's basically out of his league. So naturally, the first thing he does after releasing the Genie is wish to become a prince, but he also makes a promise. "I'll use my last wish to set you free." He tells the Genie. Things don't go as planned though, Jafar gets a hold of the lamp and undo's all of Aladdin's wishes. Even after Aladdin defeats Jafar and saves Agrabah, he still has decide between staying with Jasmine and keeping his promise. The Genie offers to let Aladdin off the hook, but Aladdin chooses to do the right thing and frees the Genie with his final wish. How many of us have ever been in that situation? We desperately want something, even though it'll cost someone else. Then, just like the Genie, that person gives us the excuse we're looking for. It's easy in those moments to take what we want, but that is not the kind of person God calls us to be. Selfishness has no place in the Christian lifestyle. Instead, we are to act justly, keeping our promises and treating others as we hope to be treated.
3 Having Compassion
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."- Colossians 3:12
Robin Hood may not rank very high next to other Disney classics, but there are two parts of the movie that always stuck with me. The first is when the chicken plays football against rhinos after Prince John yells "Seize the Fat One!", talk about hilarious! But the second (and probably more meaningful) scene is when Robin Hood attends Skippy's birthday party. If you remember, Skippy is celebrating his seventh birthday party when the Sheriff of Nottingham arrives and steals his only present, a single gold farthing. Just when it looks like the day is ruined; Robin Hood surprises the boy and cheers him up by giving him a new present, his very own bow. Skippy is thrilled with the gift, but his sisters begin teasing him since he looks nothing like Robin Hood. So Robin gives the boy one more gift, his own hat, promising "You'll grow into it." Colossians 3:12 tells us that as followers of Christ, we must cloth ourselves in compassion. Sometimes this means giving generously, and other times, it means taking a step back and allowing a small child to be the hero of the day.
4 Be Self-controlled
"Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled" - Titus 2:6
Like I said, I grew up watching a lot of princess movies, and Beauty and The Beast was a popular choice around the household. I can remember the first time I saw The Beast appear on screen I nearly jumped out of my skin. The guy was terrifying! Worse, you never knew what would set him off. He'd explode at the drop of a hat then go rampaging through the castle in a fit of feral rage. Everyone was afraid of him, even the castle staff who were always saying "You must control your temper!". As a guy, I'm not supposed to like princess movies, but I've got to say Belle had some serious guts standing up to him the way she did. However, toward the end of the movie we see a complete shift in his character. He's calmer, more approachable, and treats others with more respect. Even when the castle is invaded and he's attacked by Gaston, The Beast chooses to spare his life. He does not let his anger control him. The sad truth is I've known a couple guys like The Beast. They show no restraint, love to pick fights, and are angry all the time. We all have in us the potential to be monsters. That is why Christ constantly warns us to exercise self-control. For guys, this is one of the most important lessons we can learn. No one can act justly when they are blinded by rage, and there is no room for compassion or courage in a heart filled with anger.
No matter where you stand on the Disney debate, I hope these lessons gave you something to think about. As Christians, we are meant to reflect the character of Jesus in a world that is entirely self-consumed. God has made us heroes in his own story, let's be sure we have the qualities to make a happy ending.
*This article first published 6/15/2011
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