This past weekend, I did it. I took my four year old daughter (and my 7 and 9 year old sons) to see Disney's latest rendition of the Beauty And The Beast.
In case you've been MIA, the latest Disney picture has drawn the ire of many Christians around America, with a few influential Christian leaders (such as Franklin Graham) encouraging others to not just boycott the movie but to boycott Disney altogether.
The controversy surrounds what many are deeming to be the first "exclusively gay moment" in a Disney movie. Although all of the talk caused me to balk for a moment and do some research on the scene in question on my own, there was little doubt in the end I was going to take my daughter (and family) to see this movie. I did feel good however that I wasn't walking into the movie naively and I was prepared to answer whatever questions would come from our movie experience.
(Full disclosure: To be perfectly honest, the scene in question came and went and I hardly even noticed it. In my opinion, I didn't sense a "gay agenda." The character in question, "Lefou" doesn't have a husband or boyfriend, nor does he overtly say he is attracted to men - although there are hints to it. According to the director of the film, the character in question "is confused about what he wants...somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings." Therefore, if there is a "gay moment" it is merely the point that gay people exist. Oh and by the way, my kids didn't pick up on it. I received a grand total of zero questions. The reason why is that nothing was out of the ordinary. My kids know gay people. We have gay neighbors and friends. We love them equally as much as we do our heterosexual neighbors and friends. Our family prays for Jesus to save all of our neighbors and friends, not just those who are gay, as if they were in a different category of "sinful" and "lost.")
Now I'm going to tell you why I took my daughter to see the movie.
- I like Disney movies. They are (historically) wholesome, funny, witty, intelligent, well-written and well-crafted. Thematically, Disney movies are a one-trick-pony so there are usually no surprises. They tend to center around one key issue: the human struggle to be the best version of ourselves as we can be. This is noble but at the same time limited. Therefore it brings about so many gospel conversations because of all the potential gospel implications (thanks Disney for giving me a platform to talk to my kids about the gospel).
- My daughter LOVES Disney movies (especially those with princesses, pretty dresses, and lots of singing). And as selfish and sinful as I am, I love giving good gifts to my children ("If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." Matthew 7:11).
- To boycott a Disney movie for an "exclusively gay moment" would be a tad bit hypocritical, don't you think? If we boycott for a 5-second "gay moment," then we should boycott for Disney's past sexism (women have been often portrayed as weak, incapable, and overly feminine while men as macho, cocky, sort-of dumb, and overly masculine); or it's imbalanced views of body image (women are portrayed as super skinny while men as super muscular); or how social status (what people think of you) matters more than almost anything (see Cinderella); or how a physically unattractive person makes them untrustworthy (see almost every villain in old Disney movies) or vice versa (how a physically attractive person makes them trustworthy - appearances are everything); or how the racial stereotypes are too plenteous to count. I think you get the idea.
- I desire for my daughter to know her culture. The goal isn't to shelter my daughter from the world around her (that is impossible...and foolish). Rather, the goal is to engage culture with her, teach her about culture, and apply the gospel to it so that she can be a part of redeeming it as a follower of Jesus. Contrary to what a lot of "conservative Christianity" thinks, there is something truly God-glorifying and imago Dei-ish about Disney movies. The themes of beauty, struggle, love, hard work, friendship, emotions, hope, and faith jump out of many a Disney movie. Yet, in so many ways Disney misses it, but don't we all? Disney forces us to consider the thought that things just aren't right in this world, that something has gone terribly wrong. For Christians, we understand this to be sin and that no amount of true love or prince charming or circumstantial change will ever fix it. This causes us to realize ultimately that humanity's only hope is Jesus; that He is the fairy-tale ending we all need in the end!
- I desire for my daughter to tap into her imagination. One thing Disney does well is spark a child's imagination and creativity. It teaches children to go BIG with life - That it's great to dream big dreams, set big goals, and love and care in a big way. It teaches that nothing is impossible. We believe this as Christians. Now, where Disney gets it wrong is the source of doing the impossible (mankind rather than God).
Finding the Gospel in A Disney Movie
There is one final reason why I took my daughter to see Beauty and the Beast. Did you know that Disney movies (and many other forms of viewing entertainment) can be used as wonderful gospel teaching moments between you and your kids? Yep, that's right, you can find the gospel within Disney movies!
Let's take, for example, one specific line from Beauty and the Beast that I feel is THE climactic moment of the entire movie (SPOILER ALERT!!!). The Beast realizes that he has to let Belle go (out of his captivity - even though her affections are growing for him and there are hints at a future together). In the exchange before he allows her leave, the Beast asks Belle "Can you be happy?" alluding to whether or not she could be happy with him. Her response is profound: "Can anybody be happy if they aren't free?"
This is such a powerful moment. Even though Belle has taken a liking to the Beast and has found him to be endearing, she and the Beast both come to realize there could never be a true expression of love between two people when one of them feels as though they have been forced into the relationship.
So what are the gospel implications of Belle's statement? How can we find the truth of Jesus and His promise of redemption hidden within the words of a Disney princess? The truth is nobody can ever be "happy" unless they experience freedom, so we affirm Belle's statement.
But at the same time, happiness is fleeting (because it is circumstantial) so Belle gaining her independence again and the happiness that it brings is momentary. Even with the movie ending on that "happily-ever-after" note (the one where everybody has been "freed" and is singing and dancing), we know that the day will come when Belle is not "happy." Her prince charming will forget their anniversary or forget the milk from the store on his way home causing her to be unhappy.
Therefore, more than happiness is needed and more than being freed from physical imprisonment is needed (I have witnessed this from a neighbor of mine who spent 17 years in jail and was released recently and who is still searching for "happiness."). True happiness (or should we say joy - which is a position, not an emotion) comes only through freedom in Christ. Jesus said in John 8:32 that "anyone who practices sin is a slave to sin." This is the bad news. But then we read the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:1 and receive hope: "For freedom Christ has set us free." That, my friends is the good news. Apart from Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for our sins, dying the death I deserved to die, I am only defined by my sin and the consequences that come from it. Because of Christ's redemption, I am now defined by His love for me and therefore I am no longer a slave to sin!
THAT is how you find Jesus in a Disney movie.
I would love to get your feedback on this post. Was it helpful? What additional questions did it spark in your mind?