Disney movies are powerful. Yes, they can have negative effects at times, but if you look close enough you can find many hidden gems about relationships, individuality, strength and much more. I recently saw two Disney movies. The stories are on opposite ends of the Disney spectrum, but both spoke to me in the same manner about the same thing.
What is that thing? It is the power that comes when you are yourself and no one else. Individuality.
Back in December, I took my 4-year-old niece to see “Moana.” I like to think I have simple taste when it comes to movies, and most of the time I like watching kids’ movies more than a movie for my age group. As I sat in the small theatre in Texas, Moana’s story scrolled across the screen and pulled me in. I felt as if I was in Polynesia. As Moana struggled to find her own way and figure out what she was willing to risk in order to ensure her people’s survival, I realized I am a bit like her. She is brave and adventurous. She wants to make her family proud, but she feels torn between them and what she truly wants to do. She looked at her island dying around her and the food running out, she looked inside herself and heard the call to go find a way to help her island. (Yes, this is where the mysticism and magic components of almost all Disney stories come into play, but the gist of the movie remains the same.) She decides to set off, but she encounters the opinions and instructions and cultural standards and every other obstacle that could have come her way. Yet at the end of the day, she had to stay true to what she felt in her heart was right. She had to go and take a risk, a chance at success. Otherwise she would always be looking back, wondering what would have happened if she had listened to what she knew and believed to be true rather than what everyone wanted for her. (I will shamelessly admit I teared up quite a few times when I was watching this movie; it is somewhat emotional.) She was herself no matter the cost.
This past Sunday I saw another Disney movie, this time with my roommate. “Beauty and the Beast” is one of those classic Disney movies I had not watched when I was a child, and people always seemed genuinely shocked when I would divulge that little detail. (I did not grow up as a Disney kid, sue me. There are many other classic Disney movies I still have not seen, and I am not ashamed.) However, “Beauty and the Beast” is somewhat special because although I do not quite favor the old cartoon, I did love the stage version. When I was a sophomore in college, my best friend and I got dressed up and drove to Hollywood to see “Beauty and the Beast” live on stage, and it was amazing. So obviously I wanted to watch it in theatres since it was made into a live-action film. As soon as I saw the trailer however many months ago I added the movie to my list; I wanted to see it. And then it came out (no pun intended) that the film would have scenes depicting a homosexual lifestyle. Well, I decided to see it anyway; I am glad I did. Belle is portrayed as a fiercely loyal and loving woman, one who would much rather venture out into the world than settle down the way everyone thought she should. She desires more for herself than what everyone in her village was pursuing. She loves her father and sacrifices herself so he can be free in his old age. She is intelligent and loves to read. Even though she is living with the Beast, she never lets his horrible moods and cruel actions determine how she is going to feel or what she is going to do. She is also greatly misunderstood by the people who do not bother to look deeper into who she really is. But she never lets their opinions or criticisms stop her from being herself and doing what is right.
As I sat in this huge theatre on Sunday, watching Belle’s story play out on the equally huge screen, it struck me: People are drawn to Disney movies because almost every story line has a moment where the main character realizes they cannot do anything unless they are true to who they are. You can say these princesses were self-aware (the fancy term people use when they are amazed at how well you can evaluate yourself and your own life). Translated to the Christian life: You cannot do anything if you are not true to the person God created you to be.
Translating this into the present moment, why was I driven to write about this particular topic? Because it is important to know who you are as a person. I am not simply talking about knowing what you like and do not like (movies, music, values, hobbies, jobs, interests, political views and on and on and on). No, I am talking about the reasons behind each of those things. Okay, you like this genre of music and not another; why? You have this political view; why? What are the reasons, the deep reasons, you hold things in your heart? If you have a strong opinion about something, what is the reason?
Without knowing who you are, life is difficult. Without knowing the person Christ created you to be, you wander through jobs, relationships, churches looking for something or someone that is going to give you a purpose, make you feel fulfilled, make you feel on top of the world. And when you cannot find those things, you too easily move on without truly engaging.
Knowing who you are gives you wisdom. I could (and probably will) write an entire post just about wisdom in the future, but right now I will try to keep it basic.
Wisdom is security, wisdom is strength, wisdom is determination, wisdom is faith, wisdom is time. Operating with wisdom at the forefront of your thoughts and words and actions yields nothing but godly results. Wisdom can decide how a situation plays out, how your life plays out.
But what is wisdom’s opposite? Foolishness. I will give you some examples: when foolishness says to act harshly toward your friend who forgot to call you back and forgot about your plans, wisdom says to give them a chance to explain and forgive them; when foolishness says to give up when something gets difficult, wisdom says there is something bigger going on and control needs to be given to God alone; when foolishness says to make a spur-of-the-moment decision, wisdom says take your time.
In my last post, “Lasting Friendship,” I talked about selflessness, how all lasting friendships consist of two selfless people committed to looking out for the other person more than themselves. A huge amount of selflessness, though, can be attributed to knowing who you are and having the courage to simply be yourself. Moana and Belle both had joy in their lives because they knew at the end of the day they did what most people would never have the courage to do: They stayed true to who they knew they were.
Too often in this world we find reasons to compromise. We compromise on our ethics, values, beliefs, opinions, feelings because we encounter people and situations who tell us that what we believe, what we are pursuing, what we want, what we are praying for is not worth it. We take jobs we do not truly desire, we maintain friendships and relationships that only grate on our nerves, we decide to stay home when we do not have anyone to do anything with when really all we want is to be out. Knowing who we are gives us wisdom, which in turn gives us an expanded tool belt when working on lasting friendships. Knowing yourself also lends much self-respect and helps you respect others better. When you respect yourself, others will respect you.
There is something powerful and enchanting about someone who lives their life while staying true to who they are. (Maybe the magic in Disney movies is not anything mystical, rather the way they inspire viewers to simply be themselves.) They exhibit strength and determination different from the world around them. They have peace. They have hope for things everyone else fails to understand. They are the steady people who will walk with you through your storms. They are the people you want beside you.
I am not usually one who encourages people to be like Disney princesses, but be inspired by Moana and Belle. Let their characteristics and knowledge of who they are encourage you to do the same. And remember: The ones who truly love you simply want you to be yourself.