In the canon of Disney heroes and heroines, there is a full spectrum of personalities, ethnicities, and settings. There seems to be a singular ideal for both the male and female physiques, but that is another question for another day.
The issue at hand is the remarkably persistent plot that is introduced in so many Disney films. That is, the death and resurrection of a hero figure. Surprised? Read on.
Now we all know that Disney is not a Christian company, and it can hardly be argued that they have any other ethic aside from making a profit. The Walt Disney corporation is distinctly secular, and has always been secular. This is not debatable. Any depictions of religion are only inserted if they are necessary to move the plot along, and then they move hastily on to the real action.
So where are these death and resurrections seen in Disney films? As we look at them, you will see them clearly. (CAUTION : SPOILER ALERT)
1. Beauty and the Beast: Here, we have the beautiful Belle, who is at first repulsed by the Beast. The Beast bungles every effort to win her affections, and the story looks hopeless. In a wonderful Disneyesque turn, the Beast is counseled by his now living household appliances that he needs to win her with love and courtesy. He puts this advice to marvelous success, and Belle falls for him.
Everything is looking rosy, until Belle discovers her father is in peril. The Beast, now transformed by a heart of love, allows her to leave, thus sealing his own fate to be a hideous creature for eternity. Belle leaves, The Beast’s heart is broken, and Gaston shows up with his hoard of useful peasants (complete with ignorance and pitchforks). The Beast, though stronger and able to dismember Gaston, instead shows mercy to the handsome, muscular doofus. Gaston repays the mercy by stabbing the Beast in the back.
The Beast sees Belle one last time, gives up the ghost and all hope is lost. Except all those kids in the theatre need a happy ending. The Beast is resurrected in a stirring, spectacular, tear jerking whirlwind of a scene. Light beams shoot out of his feet, fingers and face. He is transformed from a hideous creature to what he really is: a Prince. The Son of a King. Belle is now completely taken by the comeliness of this one she loved, now manifested in his true beauty. The Bridegroom takes the Bride, there is a wedding feast, and they all live happily ever after
2. Tangled: Here we have Rapunzel, oppressed and trapped (though unwittingly) by her supposed mother, who is really just a narcissistic Disney Evil Queen. She is kept captive, and her life is one of small scope, confined to a tower, threatened with great sorry, and misery, and danger if she ever leaves. She stays.
Through a hilarious and wildly entertaining story, she is rescued by Flynn Rider, and is within reach of her rightful parents: The King and Queen of the realm. The Evil Mother intervenes in her near happiness, and confines her in the tower again. Flynn shows up to rescue Rapunzel, because he really, really loves her. He disregards the danger. He is stabbed in the back (are we seeing a pattern here?) by the Evil Mother. Rapunzel promises to stay with Evil Mom, if she can only heal Flynn’s wound with her hair, which conveniently has magical power to provide youth and healing.
Dying, Flynn then cuts Rapunzel’s hair, thus sealing Rapunzel’s freedom, but his own death. Evil Mother dies due to the loss of her fountain of youth (the hair). Flynn dies, and Rapunzel is free, but heartbroken. She sheds a tear, which also carries the power of healing. Flynn is resurrected in a scene reminiscent of the Beast, light beams shooting out if his wound, his skin becomes rosy and pale, and the music swells with the beautiful and wonderful reunion. They Bridegroom takes the Bride, there is a wedding feast, and they all live happily ever after.
3. Frozen: Here we have a bit of a twist. Two sisters are Princesses (what else?). They have a great life together, until it is discovered that the older sister (Elsa)has magical power that freezes everything she touches. She hides this secret with gloves. She is eventually outed, and lives in self-imposed exile, preferring solitude to hurting others. Her sister Anna, seeks her out, hoping to restore their relationship.
The icy curse can only be broken by the manifestation of true love. We are now all expecting a handsome prince to provide the kiss and break the spell, but here, Disney provides a surprise. The younger sister, Anna, shields Elsa from a fatal blow, and is turned to ice. Elsa’s icy, lonely heart is broken, and she embraces Anna. Anna is thawed from her frozen state, and is resurrected to her rightful place as a Princess. She falls in love with Kristoff, and they live happily ever after.
So, what can we learn from all of this? I haven’t done an exhaustive study on Disney resurrections, but have just pulled down these examples like so much low hanging fruit. These are obvious death and resurrection tales. Without question. And all of these movies have been box office smash successes. Why? I think we can find a clue by looking at another death and resurrection.
In the Bible, Jesus is presented as the Son of a King (God). He is therefore a Prince. He appears to bring a Bride (Princess) to Himself, and be married to her forever. This Bride is the complete collection of all people who will ever take Him as their Friend and Savior. He is betrayed by a friend (stabbed in the back), and condemned to death by evil men. He dies to save other people, who are powerless to save themselves. He gives up His freedom, and status as a Prince, to rescue and restore others to a state of sons and daughters (His brothers and sisters) of his Father, the King. His death is real, and He is mourned. On the third day, He is resurrected. I am sure that the Disney scenes in Beauty, Tangled, and Frozen give us some inkling of what the resurrection of the Son of God was like on that beautiful Spring morning 2,000 years ago.
So why does Disney use and reuse the death and resurrection theme? I believe it is because it is written in our souls that this has already happened, and we desperately want to believe that it is true. But since the Bible’s account seems to be too good to be true, we turn to stories, and tales that hint at the love of God. These stories get so very close, and they are artistically beautiful, and stunning works of art, but they omit the very heart of the issue.
God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (live happily ever after).
Happy Easter Season!
Your Brother Tom