[toggle]’The power of prayer'[/toggle]


[toggle]In Snow White, Disney’s great first feature, the first in English and in Technicolor, and one in many ways he always sought to outdo, the eponymous heroine teaches the dwarfs as a mother would, about manners, cleanliness and music. There was supposed to be a scene of her showing them how to pray. The scene was cut and instead Snow White is merely seen passively, patiently praying to an unknown god for her prince to come along and rescue her. [/toggle]


[toggle]In a book about famous people who prayed, Disney said, “I am personally thankful that my parents taught me at a very early age to have a strong personal belief and reliance in the power of prayer for Divine inspiration. Deeds rather than words express my concept of the part religion should play in everyday life. I have watched constantly that in our movie work the highest moral and spiritual standards are upheld, whether it deals with fable or with stories of living action. … Both my study of Scripture and my career in entertaining children have taught me to cherish them. … Thus, whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and my lifelong habit of prayer.” [/toggle]


[toggle]After being tricked by the Evil Queen in the guise of an ugly hag, and having fallen into a stupor imitating death (it doesn’t get any more passive than that!), Snow White is rescued from death with a kiss from her prince. Snow White won an honorary Oscar (along with seven miniature statuettes) for being “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” [/toggle]


[toggle]In his next film, Pinocchio (1940), Disney put the little puppet through temptation, and preached salvation by works, especially truth-telling. It’s a classic story of the creature rebelling against its creator, and is rife with the consequences of sin—Pinocchio’s nose growing longer, the “bad” boys turning into donkeys, etc. Meanwhile, the film’s Blue Fairy has been compared to the Virgin Mary, and the boy’s conscience, Jiminy Cricket (whose name became a replacement curse for another “J.C.”) calls himself the “still, small voice that people won’t listen to,” echoing the analogy for God’s voice within us. [/toggle]


[toggle]The characters being swallowed by a whale references Jonah, of course, but Disney writes his own gospel in the song lyric that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. This is the opposite of Christian theology that when you pray to God, His dream for you comes true. The film was not as great a success as Snow White. [/toggle]


[toggle]Fantasia (1940) showcased Disney’s love for music, while highlighting Greek mythology, the occult, evolutionary science, and a frightening depiction of Satan and his minions dancing through the night, only to be thwarted by the sunrise, the chiming of the Angelus Bell (representing the Incarnation), and a parade of monks carrying candles to Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” (Interestingly, the original script had the procession enter a church; the Fantasia Anthology bonus disc includes numerous concept drawings of gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and statues of the Virgin Mary. But Disney deemed this ending as too overtly religious, and scrapped it.) Fantasia did not fare well at the box office, perhaps because of the religious syncretism, but more likely because of the format, decades before music videos became commonplace. [/toggle]


[toggle]Dumbo (1940) may have the least religious or spiritual references of any Disney film, although it does teach tolerance for people’s differences (despite some Mickey in ‘Fantasia’ troubling racist scenes with the crows and roustabouts), turning your weaknesses into strengths to take flight, and, very strongly, proclaiming the Disney gospel to believe in yourself to succeed. [/toggle]


[toggle]Bambi (1942) led many to despise hunting and love nature with its adorable animals and horrendous hunters with their guns. Since Aesop, fables have been a classic vehicle for storytelling, as well as for morality-imparting. “The fable is the best storytelling device ever conceived,” Disney told Wisdom magazine, “and the screen is its best medium. And, of course, animal characters have always been the personnel of fable; animals though which the foibles as well as the virtues of humans can best and most hilariously be reflected.” [/toggle]


[toggle]Cinderella (1950) is another passive female who is saved by a prince, although the princess shows a bit more pluck in winning her man. Like the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother descends from the heavens when Cinderella has lost all hope, despairing, “There’s nothing left to believe in!” Her faith in herself is ultimately rewarded when the glass slipper fits. [/toggle]


[toggle]Disney did not fare so well in trying to adapt Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece Alice in Wonderland (1951), a box office failure. Peter Pan (1953) fared better, but still was problematic in its treatment of native Americans (some of whom protested), and of the weak, bumbling father Darling, manipulated by the mother (albeit one of the few mother figures in any Disney film: they are either dead, absent or replaced with evil stepmothers). Lady and the Tramp (1955) showed the mixture of the classes, and highlights Disney’s themes of tolerance and love overcoming powerful obstacles. [/toggle]


[toggle]But it wasn’t until Sleeping Beauty (1959) that a religious theme—resurrection—was restated, in an echo of Snow White’s ending, and with fairy godmothers making references to shields of virtue and swords of truth, echoing Paul’s “armor of God.” The battle of Prince Phillip with Maleficent turned into a dragon calls to mind the legend of St. George, which, though not scriptural, does have religious overtones, as does the feature Disney made a few years later patterned after the legend of young King Arthur, The Sword and the Stone (1963). [/toggle]


[toggle]101 Dalmatians (1961) returned to animal characters, as did The Jungle Book (1967), which was finished after Disney’s death, but still showed his influence. Surprisingly, when the bear Baloo apparently dies defending the boy Mowgli from the evil tiger Shere Khan, Mowgli’s friend Bagheera, the panther, actually quotes a line of Scripture to him—in fact, the words of Jesus himself, saying, “Greater love hath no one than he who lays down his life for his friend.” The seriousness of the scene is deflated, though, as Baloo awakes, and urges that the praise of his sacrifice continue. [/toggle]


[toggle]Disney, a chain smoker, died in 1966 of lung cancer and, counter to popular legend, was not cryogenically frozen, but cremated. In his lifetime, he received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Légion d’Honneur, a special medal from the League of Nations and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His legacy lives on and always will—so as long as children continue to believe in wishing on stars, magic fairy dust, and that believing in themselves will help make their dreams come true. [/toggle]







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