As you know, many movies nowadays– especially those made by more secular producers– usually don’t have or want much to do with God, Jesus, or even faith; this especially holds true for animated movies. Why? Because children are especially influential. You rarely hear about a child’s faith-based movie anymore, unless it is coming straight from a Christian company (and let’s face it– Big Idea’s VeggieTales sold out loooonnngg ago… Ah, how I miss the old days…). So where can our kids and middle-schoolers get some faith-based inspiration from in the media?
Personally, at the risk of being nostalgic… Old-school Disney. That’s right, I said the D word. But note: Old. School. Those two words are even more imperative, although not all of the old school ones are 100% beneficial (for instance, they often preach pure self-confidence and self-reliance, rather than relying on God or faith in Him, which saddens me greatly). BUT. I feel like there were less PC filters back in the day, so more of the good stuff got through. Or rather, the GODLY stuff. (No, not talking about Hercules, here… 😛 Although, given mythology, even though it was off, it was not… all that terrible. LOL.)
Anyways, without further ado, here are the top three Disney (there are some similar-company ones that also make mentions of this, like Dream works, but I’ll get to those in a week or so!) “old-school” movies that make a powerful mention of God, prayer, or faith:
3. The original Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (I think this was an especially pivotal moment, considering it was Disney’s very FIRST movie!) Yup, there was a “faith/prayer/God” moment in this movie, even though it was kept short– long enough for viewers to see, but short enough to forget. Which is a shame, because it really is an important part. After young, 14-year-old Snow meets the dwarves officially, and before they head off to work the next day after meeting her, she kneels at their beds before going to sleep at night, asking God to bless the sweet little men she’s staying with, and to please soften Grumpy’s heart and attitude towards her. This has been shown to work, as after she kisses them all good-bye, including him, he warns her to be wary of strangers, and not to let anyone else inside the house (which, as we all know, she does anyways– out of the goodness of her sweet, naive little heart), and she exclaims in her innocent, joyful way that he DOES care, before he grudgingly harrumphs and goes about his merry way after his men. Granted, while I don’t think teaching kids that letting questionable strangers into your home is the right thing to do, I think here it shows them the horrifying (though not always realistic ) results of such an action, warning them to be cautious. I also think that there is something of an Adam and Eve and even a Salvation hint playing around in this movie; perhaps something the original Brothers Grimm took inspiration from, as well (I need to do more research on that, so standby for updates!)– the young lovers meeting in a garden-esque setting, the temptation of forbidden fruit and desires, the instant death, and the resurrection into new life. This makes Snow White and the Seven Dwarves one of my favorite Disney Princess movies– much more than Frozen. The motifs and themes are just better, generally cleaner, and more family-friendly, if for a couple scary moments in the woods and in the witchy queen’s lair. And let us not forget the powerful influence of Snow’s prayer!
2. The Rescuers. Again, God is not explicitly mentioned, but very explicitly implied. You older Disnerds– you know the scene I mean. This scene is a much bigger deal than the beforehand one of Snow, and more prominent in the film overall. The scene where precious little Penny kneels to pray before bed (even positioning her Teddy to do the same! :’) ), at her lowest confidence point, asking God to bless her friends back home at the orphanage, her Teddy, and Rufus, as well as to provide a way of escape for her through her bottle, since running away isn’t working any more. She ends with an audible, “Amen,” and then starts to cry, because she is beginning to doubt her own faith. You see, throughout this movie, faith is a rampant motif, for as Rufus the cat says, “Faith is like a bluebird. You can’t touch it, or buy it, or wrap it up tight, but it’s there just the same, making things turn out right.” He says this to her when she is in a moment of severe self-doubt, thinking that she isn’t pretty enough, good enough to adopt, forgetting God is always there for her, regardless if she gets adopted or not. Rufus acts as a kind of guardian angel in this sense, gently nudging her back towards faith, and cheering her up. Her faith and courage go through stronger trails with Medusa and bumbling Snoops, however, as she is frequently belittled by both of them; Medusa even ridicules the poor girl’s appearance, calling her “homely”. Penny caves to doubt again, but this time turns directly to God in prayer, with no intermediary. When she breaks down, it is then He answers– He has sent a team of mice to help rescue her, via her bottle.
If you ask me, that’s a big jump away from praying to/wishing upon a star and having a “blue fairy” rather than an angel come into your home. This has become a more frequent theme– sometimes, instead of even praying to God, the characters will excuse themselves at bedtime to “wish upon a star,” instead– praying to the created rather than their Creator. Not a good thing.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Granted, no, I do not condone Gypsies’s beliefs of fortune-telling, etc. I actually think this is a better faith movie for “older” kids and even teens, rather than little ones, because not only does it possess more adult themes and issues, it is quite controversial in several of its themes, many which revolve around the church and sinners. In fact, before Disney got its hands on the story, the deacon and Frollo were initially one character– Frollo was initially a benevolent figure who took in Quasimodo, but only became warped by his own lusts and sin, and Quasi killed him in the end. Of course, that all was altered, due to wanting avoidance of avid objection from the Catholic Church. But the themes of sin and forgiveness, being an outcast in others’ eyes, and seeking God’s face are all themes in the movie. There is a particular Pharisaical-quality to Frollo that makes him cold and foreboding, as well as hypocritical, and we would do well to warn ourselves and other believers so as not to go down that route, throwing stones at the nearest gypsy or harlot we find. Ironically, though he considers himself “pious,” Frollo finds himself victim of his own lustful desires, and, as according to Scripture, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15, NIV) Of course, due to the previous verses, Frollo knows he cannot blame God, but he does not wish to blame himself, either (“It’s not my fault, I’m not to blame,”), not owning up to his own sin; instead, he passes the blame of his sin onto the woman he cruelly lusts after, craving her. And true to the nature of the verse, the sin indeed bears him only death, as he “burn[s] down all of Paris to find her,” including innocent lives. This is a prominent warning to all believers not to let sin and temptation get a hold on our lives.
Additionally, there are themes of praying and sanctuary. Esmerelda is encouraged to pray for help after the deacon orders Frollo to leave the cathedral. Even though I don’t entirely agree with her theology (“I thought we all were children of God,”– we’re all Image Bearers, yes, but only those who accept Jesus into their hearts and receive Him become actual Children of God– yes, that is Biblical!), she has a point about caring for the downtrodden, and makes a VERY poignant and pointed point when she asks if Jesus was once an outcast, too (I wonder if any believers helped with this film… He not only WAS an outcast in His society, He hung out with and healed them!). She prays aloud in song for Him not to help her but her people specifically, which I think is very selfless of her, given her situation.
Lastly, the theme of sanctuary runs solidly through the whole movie, between Frollo providing “sanctuary” for Quasi in the bell tower, Esmerelda (or Phoebus, for her) and gypsies claiming “sanctuary,” in the cathedral, and gypsies claiming “sanctuary” in their so-called, “Court of Miracles”. The theme, while often physically relying on actual places, had a deeper, underlying meaning to it: People. The real sanctuary the characters received would be in the presence of others, showing who they really were, if they were actually a “sanctuary,” a safe place, for those others to be with. For instance, Phoebus and Esmerelda were both safe with Quasi or the deacon, but all three of them were endangered when near Frollo. Interestingly, some people’s sanctuary was not all that safe for other characters– when Phoebus and Quasi drop in at the Court of Miracles–a gypsy safe haven– to warn of Frollo’s upcoming attack, they are attacked, captured, and nearly executed before Esmerelda steps in to save the day. This made me think hard about the kind of sanctuary we as believers are supposed to be providing for other people, in Christ’s name. It should be one of holiness, but also of protection, love, courage, and wisdom. A sanctuary is not a physical place, it is a people. And how we treat people reflects on whether we are really a “sanctuary”. I was often told, growing up, “Church isn’t a club for the righteous. It is a hospital for the spiritually sick.” And looking at this movie, it is so true. It is a safe haven to minister to the outcasts. Heal the broken, the spiritually sick. Provide for the impoverished. Frollo evidently missed the memo, but seeing Quasi holding an unconscious and almost-dead-because-of-Frollo Esmerelda and screaming out, “SANCTUARY!” repeatedly hit that message homeward for me.
What childhood Disney movies do you recall having a God-or-faith-based message?