I have a young son who loves dinosaurs. I remember watching his eyes widen and brighten as he first saw the trailer for the new Disney movie, The Good Dinosaur.
Shortly thereafter, we received a copy of The Good Dinosaur children’s book containing the general plot and themes of the story. The characters were introduced, the setting was made and the plot was about to unfold.
Before the plot could even get out of the bag, however, one thing had to happen: (spoiler alert) the dad dies.
This has become a continual point of discussion between my wife and me as we have been reintroduced to the fantastical Disney movies we recall so fondly from our youth and introduced to new tales and characters. It seems at the beginning of every one of them, a parent is killed, captured, or missing.
I could barely contain my eye-roll when we watched Frozen together (she made me…) and the parents came in at the beginning preparing to leave on a boat. “Here it comes…” I said. The boat set sail, the lighting crashed, a wave rolled and (spoiler alert) the parents died.
While I find this idea troubling, it’s not something I can simply let go (see what I did there…Frozen…). As I run through my memory, this becomes less of an idea or plot point and jumps out to me as a major theme. Here are just a few examples:
- Sleeping Beauty – mom is dead
- Frozen – parents die
- Finding Nemo – mom dies
- The Jungle Book – wolf mom dies
- Beauty and the Beast – mother is dead
- The Lion King – dad dies
- Toy Story – father absent
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame – mom dies
- Aladdin, The Rescuers, Peter Pan, Lilo and Stitch – orphans
- Cinderella – mom is dead, dad dies
- Bambi – mom dies
- Mulan – runs away, boyfriend’s father is killed
- Tarzan – parents die
- Brother Bear – mom dies
I could go on and on and on (perhaps, to infinity and beyond…). In fact, more than half of Disney movies since 1938 have featured a dead, missing, or single parent.
So what’s my point? My goal in considering this is certainly not to villainize Disney or try to resurrect the ill-fated Disney boycott of the late 1990’s. In fact, this is not even a trait localized to Disney studios. Grimm’s fairy tales and other legends often include evil, absent, or tragically taken parents.
I highlight Disney movies because they have mastered the quality of breaking through firm barriers in the human psyche. It’s not just the funny characters and mind-numbing songs that get inside of us. In many cases, what makes Disney so effective is their unique ability to reach into a subconscious place where wounds are raw and often unaddressed in each of us.
Whether it’s the wound of lost childhood innocence exposed as Toy Story‘s Jessie sings her lament, “When She Loved Me” or the loneliness encompassed in the metallic eyes of the wandering, yet dutiful Wall-E, Disney movies tell us more than a story. In many cases, they retell stories of ourselves we have long forgotten or tried to suppress.
This brings me to my question. In reflecting the human experience to us, why does Disney continually feel the need to kill parents, remove the comfort of a home, make authoritarians evil, or simply wrap each plot with the idea that we are alone, we are in danger, and we are uncovered – blindly finding our way through a world that is not as it should be?
Our church has been going through Genesis recently. As I have been immersed in the unfolding creation narrative and been awed by the sovereign, ordaining hand of God, I am struck by the reality of the opening chapters.
The story opens with the beauty and creative majesty of God. It introduces the role and duty of man – God’s beloved creation. A setting is provided. All is well. It is good. And then it happens.
We lose our Father.
It is not as though God is taken, absent, or even killed. Rather, we seek to forge a direction and life outside of His word, provision, and goodness. We are estranged. We find ourselves hiding in the woods, covered in leaves, ashamed and afraid.
This is the heart each of us feels in a fallen world. Things are not as they should be. We were made to be loved in perfect relationship, but that relationship has been broken. The rest of the Bible shows a people wandering, falling, tripping and trying to navigate a world we don’t recognize with our God-made eyes.
This is the experience – the story – that Disney and so many like them have unknowingly tapped into and continually retell.
We sense it at this time of year as we look towards the hope and yearning of the Advent season. We want to be back home with our good Father. We look for a Savior.
But the story does not end there.
It is into this darkness that our Father speaks. Just as He came to Adam and Eve, He comes calling to us through His Son Jesus. He penetrates the history of a wandering people who are seeking direction in the dark from other wanderers. He not only comes to us, but He comes to bring us home. He comes to restore the relationship.
While it is many who believe our Father has left and is dead, Jesus comes to show us it is we who have left – who have died. He has come to give life eternal at home with God in the reality to come, and the comfort and guidance of God the Spirit as we walk with him now.
This is the story not even Walt Disney in his wildest imagination could dream up. This is the Gospel.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:4-7