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**Movie spoilers ahead**
I watched the new Disney movie Encanto with my kids last month. It is cute… catchy… just so long as we don’t talk about Bruno! As I was watching it, I realized that I don’t remember seeing a villain… like a real, evil… Maleficent type villain… in a Disney movie in a long time. My husband and I started thinking about it.
There are antagonists- The Grandmother in Encanto, The parents in Luca, Death in Soul, the Curse Dragon in Onward, the Rock Monsters in Frozen 2. But no villains… no Ursula, Maleficent, Hades, Scar, Hans… no one that we ralley against and root for the good guy to conquer!
The struggles have turned inward. The “My Truth, Your Truth” movement has crept into Disney movies… the all is relative… the post-post modern age if you will.
In Encanto, we meet Mirabel, a beautiful young woman who is part of a magical family. When each member comes of age, they receive their gift. Spoiler alert… Mirabel doesn’t receive a gift. She is… *gasp*… ordinary. The closest we come to a villain is an unsympathetic, scared grandmother who is terrified of losing the magic and therefore sees Mirable as a hinderance to be swept aside rather than a valuable member of the family. Even still, there is sympathy to be had for the grandmother because her life experience states that magic is what saved her family from tragedy and without magic, there will be pain and sadness.
In Luca, we meet Luca, a young sea monster, who is curious about life above the surface. He knows deep down he is meant for more than this provential life (wait… that’s Belle). His parents are the only thing holding him back from experiencing the big, big world. With the help of a new found friend, he defies his parents wishes and lives his truth above the surface. His parents are the closest thing we have to a villain… they want to keep him below the surface because they are afraid of what the people might do to him. But there is sympathy to be had for the parents because their life experience has taught them the people who live above the surface are cruel killers.
In Frozen 2, Elsa and Anna return and are seemingly living their best life. Hans is long gone, Elsa has accepted her powers, and Arandelle is thriving. However, Elsa begins to experience inner turmoil and hear a voice calling to her. Spoiler alert… the mysterious voice is her mother who died in a shipwreck. She calls to Elsa to learn the truth about the past and discover a land under enchantment. The spell can only be broken when a wrong is made right. Elsa and Anna have to live their truth to make the wrong right. While the movie does have some great themes… it also falls into this “live your truth” world we are currently living in. Elsa lives her truth when she wrestles against the icy Attaholan on her own and discovers she is the fifth element. There is no real villain… only the internal struggle…. and shoes. Apparently once Elsa discovers her truth, she is free to not wear shoes or her fancy princess dress.
I could keep going, but why? Why am I even bringing this up?!?!
A conversation that comes up in our house a lot when choosing good books to read or good movies to watch is all about the desires and longings that are innate. We are hardwired to want good to triumph over evil. We want someone who is going to come in and save the day. We want good to win. We want evil to be squashed. We want a hero. We want a Savior who comes and saves the day and reminds us that we are going to be ok. In my opinion, every good story comes out of this place of longing (because we really do need a savior and God really did set eternity in our hearts)… whether it is written from a Christian point of view or not.
There is a reason why, all through the Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, we get angry at Tash and his minions as they mascarade and try to convince everyone that Aslan has abandoned his people. There is a reason we cheer and breathe a sigh of relief when Alsan shows up and destroys the darkness… then he leads the children further in and further up into the true Narnia.
There is a reason why we cheer when Simba arises victorious from his fight with Scar. Or when Gandalf sacrifices himself as Gandalf the Grey only to come back later and as Gandalf the white.
There is a reason why we celebrate when Harry Potter finally battles and wins again He Who Shall Not be Named. Why we root for the prince on his way to Sleeping Beauty in his fight against Maleficent. Why we boo at the bad guy and cheer for the good guy. Did you really want Thanos to win?!?! Did you feel some despair when we were all left hanging at the first snap when our heroes turned to dust one by one? We want good to triumph over evil.
With a noticeable lack of villains in today’s movies, we are left looking inward to fulfill these desires. And quite honestly, when we look within for truth, we are left woefully wanting. We are broken people and simply do not have the ability to save ourselves… no matter how true I believe “my truth” to be.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon bemoans that there is nothing new under the sun. This idea of salvation from within… or all that we need comes from within is nothing new. It is just being packaged a little differently.
Gnotiscism is a heresy that appeared in the 2nd century church. In a nutshell, it is a belief that we all contain a little peice of God- the highest good or divine spark- within ourselves. Many of the questions that come with Gnoticism are similar to existentialism- Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is my true self? They believed the human body to be evil and focus on the spiritual/ intellectual.
A quick side note on that… we are seeing this come around in arguments for abortion, the gender spectrum and more. People are promoting a disconnect between the physical body and the emotional one. Your physical body can betray you so you must be true to your feelings despite your biology. And when does a human actually become a person? There is some scary philosophy creeping into the mainstream. But that’s another topic for another day.
Back to the villains.
In the Renaissance, we saw a shift in focus from the looking to God for meaning to looking within. This is when Humanism came on the scene (although it wasn’t called that until later). People looked within themselves for answers to all life’s questions. The began to believe that all they needed for life and salvation could be found within. There was a huge focus on nature- landscapes and such- and the human body during this time.
I’ve heard the current age we are living in referred to as the “post- post modern age.” Logic and reason are being pushed out and experience and feelings are being elevated and promoted as truth.
So…. what does this all have to do with parenting in the current culture. Sister…. (or brother)… I think we need to have our eyes wide open to know what our kids are being hit with on a daily basis. Music, movies, books… this current culture is seeping into everything. I don’t think we can afford to be ostriches with our heads stuck in the sand.
Over the summer, I was blessed to meet with a group of moms and go through the book, Mama Bear Apologetics. If you haven’t read it… stop … go order it (or check it out. I think it is available on Hoopla). They also have a podcast. If you get a chance, listen to their podcast about the Chew and Spit method. This is a great way to teach our kids how to take in all the massive amounts of information they are hit with every day. Without going into much detail, think about when you are eating some baby back ribs and you want to get all that delicious flavor. You eat all that meat and sauce… dare I say you suck it off the bones… but you don’t swallow the bones… you spit them out.
Apply that idea to a movie or book or song you are listening to. How can you take in the good without swallowing every bit. Let’s take my example of Encanto. Some questions I asked my kids (ages 10, 12, 15, 16) after they watched it included:
- How did you notice the mixing of religion and magic in the film? What does the Bible say about magic?
- What message do you think the writers of Encanto wanted you to take away?
- Did you notice a villain in this movie? Why do you think there was or wasn’t one?
- What were some examples of kindness we saw in the movie?
- What were some unhealthy/ toxic things we saw in the movie?
- Could you see a clear good and evil?
- Did good triumph in the end? How do we know?
- What was something unexpected you saw?
- What are some behaviors/ thoughts you think were good? What weren’t so good?
There are other questions. We ultimately talked about how this movie is indicative of our culture and how life experiences are taken as truth and not to be questioned. The grandmother experienced a severe trauma and magic was the only savior. Whenever a trauma or hint of a trauma came again, she turned to the magic and would not accept there could be other options. Her trauma response informed her actions. This is becoming acceptable behavior in our culture… and to question it means you are an oppressor and intolerant and unloving. We also talked about the “my truth” elements of the movie and the salvation from within.
I am not downing Disney movies… not at all. We regularly have Disney music playing in our home. We often watch movies together. Watching and listening together are great jumping off places for conversations with your kids. Conversations help you understand how your children are taking in and processing information. It gives a glimpse into what lens through which they are viewing the world. Am I saying to watch everything with no filter… that anything and everything goes… no… if you heard me say that, I’m sorry… we do have limits and kind of go on a case by case basis with what movies are acceptible.
Car rides are great for conversations with your kids. They are a captive audience and don’t have to make eye contact. Share with them the things you are learning and invite them to share with you. Francis and Edith Schaeffer (amazing Christian apologists… look up Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live) were known to have an open invitation at their table… no question is off limits. There was safety in answering questions and a willingness to have hard conversation.
I tell my kids all the time that I love them enough to be awkward with them. I love them enough to ask hard questions and dive into hard topics. I’m still in the thick of this parenting thing. Time will tell how it all turns out. I, for one, am thankful that God is so much bigger, so much wiser, and so invested in my growth and the growth of me kids!