Tag Archives: Faith

Pixar’s got the Moms!

On Tuesday, I questioned the lack of mothers in the Disney animated universe.  It is interesting to note that that trend is not shared by Disney’s newer branch of animation, Pixar Studios.  Out of 17 animated features, 11 of them include moms of those 11, in 7 of them moms are major characters.  Let’s look at them, briefly.

It all starts, of course, with Andy’s mom.  In all three “Toy Story” films she is a major part of the action.  She brings home Buzz Lightyear, she tries to save Woody from Al, she takes the toys to the daycare.  More importantly, she is gives Andy the time and space he needs to develop his imagination by playing with his toys.  She doesn’t have a name.  She is simply, Andy’s Mom.

As the years have gone on, we have had a wide variety of moms.  In “A Bug’s Life”, the ant queen is ruler and mother.  Mrs. Incredible kicks butt.  Literally.  Neither “Monsters, Inc” or “Finding Nemo” have moms, but their sequels both do.  Russell talks about his mom often in “Up” though we only see her at the end.  “Brave”, Inside Out”, and “The Good Dinosaur” all have active, involved moms whose relationship to the main characters anchors them.  Moms are missing in both the “Cars” franchise and “WALL-E”, but this is perhaps to be expected of movies in which the main characters are machines.  In fact, the only movie that is about a human and doesn’t have a mom in it is “Ratatouille”.  Linguini is an orphan, Pixar’s only orphan.  If we set that against Disney’s record it is startling.  And before you say “Disney has been around longer, of course there’s more!”  Since “Toy Story” was released, Disney animation studios has produced eight theatrical releases in which the main character was an orphan (“Tarzan”, “The Tigger Movie”, “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Lilo and Stitch”, “Brother Bear”, “Meet the Robinsons”, “Frozen”, and “Big Hero Six”).  By any standard, that reflects a trend.

Pixar is often credited for both saving and revitalizing animation as a genre.  One of the ways they have done that by using creative story telling that is not heavily reliant on existing tropes.  Giving characters families connections deepens their character.  The writers have to work a little harder to get us to care about them, but they always seem to get it right.

Thanks, Pixar, for not being afraid to tell the wider story.  Maybe as the two studios become more permeable we will see a rise in Disney moms as well.



Featured image by Dan the Pixar fan at danthepixarfan.com


The Case of the Missing Moms

It is probably safe to say that you all know that Sunday was Mother’s Day.  My grand plan was to do a post about all the great Disney moms in celebration of the day.  However I encountered a problem with my plan.  If you have seen a fair number of Disney movies you will realize my problem.  Disney is very short on moms.

A recurring theme in Disney films is the loss of mother.  Major characters in the animated features have in common that their mothers are dead (Snow White, et al), removed (Dumbo, Aurora, etc), or disengaged (Mrs. Darling).  Then of course, there’s the whole Bambi drama that scarred oh so many of us for life.  In fact, the first mother character that is actively involved in her children’s life for the entirety of a film is Perdita in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” in 1961.  She was followed by Duchess an impressive nine years later in “The Aristocats”.  You may notice, in addition to being well spaced out both of these characters are animals.  In fact we do not get an active, engaged and present human mom until “Mulan” in 1998.  (Though a case could be made for Hercules’ adopted mom a year earlier.  However he was forcibly removed from his real mom, so I’m putting him in the mom-less category.)  This trend is much bigger than storytelling coincidence.

Why does Disney actively avoid giving their main characters moms?  It is a question that bears looking at.  Even when they choose to give their characters a single parent it is overwhelming a single father.  The evil step mother trope is used repeatedly as is the story of the stolen child.  And while it is not surprising that certain stock story forms are repeated in an 80 year old history, the single mom doesn’t appear until “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009.  (You’re going to say ‘Andy’s Mom’ to me and I’m going to say Pixar films break this trend and I will talk about them separately on Thursday.)  The poor widow woman raising her child is also an established trope that Disney has entirely ignored in their 80 year history.  Again I ask, why?

It can’t be about marketing.  If you look around movie theaters, Disney parks, and stores it is the moms who are there.  If fact, moms are the primary decision makers for purchases involving children and family.  We are who Disney should be marketing to.  It’s not about demographic.  Disney fans are predominately female.  We are predisposed to  be interested in Disney products and services.  In fact, Disney has a solid lock on the mom demographic.  So why are we not on the screen? It makes no sense.

I have no answers about why Disney vanished the mothers from their stories.  I don’t know if anyone does.  What I do know is that it is past time for that trend to change.  Bring on the the moms!  We are here and we are wating.


And the Rain Rain Rain (came Down Down Down)

The Princess & I have the somewhat dubious honor of experiencing both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in the rain. (Mr. Mouse could have had this honor as well, but he went back to the hotel to sleep, the lightweight.)  As you could probably guess, Disney Parks in the rain are challenging.  Not all lines are covered.  Several ride shut down entirely.  There are puddles both on the sidewalks and in some of the actual ride vehicles. Shows and parades are canceled. Characters are not out.  In spite of ponchos and umbrellas there is no real way to stay dry.  It is surprisingly fun.

Lines are short: lots of people have left for someplace warm and dry.  Other guests are in good moods: people knew what they were getting into when they made the choice to stay.  Cast members are even more attentive, almost as if we earned bonus points by staying in the park and toughing it out.  It’s fun dripping on rides and dashing from cover to cover with strangers.  There is a shared experience among everyone who stays in the park whether cast member or guest that creates a different feel.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are definitely drawbacks.  Last time the Princess and I braved the torrential rains of Orlando it took 3 days to dry out my shoes.  About a third of the contents of my ‘bag of wonders’ had to be thrown out when we got back to the hotel room.  And the soggy bus ride back to the resort is not a good time.  But none of those things are enough to send us running for shelter when the rain starts (Except for Mr. Mouse.  He likes being both dry and well rested, the slacker.)  Some of our funniest and/or weirdest Disney stories start with, “So we were in the Park when the rain started…”  Is that how we plan our trips to go?  Absolutely not.  But if a small (or a large) amount of rain shows up, we deal.

Life isn’t perfect.  No matter how much we might want it to be it just isn’t.  Plans go awry.  Disasters happen.  Things don’t go the way we plan.  Relationships fail.  People get sick.

We have a choice when these things happen.  We can give up or we can deal with it.  Giving up is easier and less stressful in the short-term.  Walking away from a painful situation is the easiest way to protect ourselves.  But in the long-term, toughing out through the rain can sometimes bring us new and unusual gifts.  We may meet people whose lives never would have touched ours.  We gain experience that, while perhaps painful at the time, may help someone else later.  We are changed on a fundamental level from the person we were before.

The rain will come down and it will be okay.  It may ruin your shoes, but it will be okay.  No one is alone in the rain.  We huddle together staying dry the best we can.  We share shelter and our stories with each other and we are made better by it.

Mini-blog #10 — Why we love: Maleficent

We love Maleficent?  Really?  I wasn’t quite sure about this one when it was suggested.  First of all, she’s a villain.  We’re not supposed to love the villains.  Secondly, I hadn’t seen the movie.  I had to actually watch “Maleficent” to be able to write this blog.  Probably why I saved it for last.  Third, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to love Maleficent after seeing the movie.  And you know what?  I don’t.  But that doesn’t mean that other people don’t.

“Maleficent” is never going to be my favorite Disney movie and Maleficent is never going to be one of my favorite characters.  But I can see the appeal of her character and I was fascinated by the new take on the Sleeping Beauty story.  It’s amazing how a little bit of backstory can shift a perspective.  The character of Maleficent shifts from ‘the mistress of all things evil’ to a wronged and damaged person dealing with her need for revenge.  Her actions aren’t different, but her motivations change how we might view her actions.

Backstory matters.

When we come in contact we people we make decisions about them based on how we react to their actions and appearance.  We basically decide what their backstory is and treat them accordingly.  We had a heavily tattooed and pierced young woman visit one of my churches on a Sunday.  A well-meaning and considerate soul asked me why I thought she hated herself.  Based on nothing more than her appearance this woman had decided that our visitor had extreme self-esteem issues and came to church for help.  She was wrong.  The young woman in question was looking for a way to get involved in community service and thought a church would be able to help her make connections and we could.  Her backstory?  She had her first full-time job, was living out of her parents’ home for the first time and wanted service to others to be a solid part of her new independent life.

What we see on the surface is never the whole story.  People are much more complicated than we can know.  That is why people love Maleficent.  She is a reminder to us not to judge a book by its cover and to look deeper for the person underneath.  Their story might be more complicated than we know.

More than the Bare Necessities

If you’re like me, you probably dislike call centers.  I would rather do anything other than sit on hold listening to horrible music and hearing how important my call is to the people who aren’t answering.  Once they answer, it rarely gets better as the person on the other line begins to read to me from a script.  If I interrupt the script with a comment, a question, or (heaven forbid) a pleasantry the wheels come off the bus.  I am stuck with someone who has no idea how to converse with me like I’m a real person and tries to make the available script fit the situation he or she finds themselves in.  It’s painful for both of us and it is why I dislike call centers.  There are, of course, exceptions.  Given the nature of this blog, you can probably guess that Disney is one of them.

I have had the most wonderful conversations with Disney call center employees.  I never feel like they are reading from a script.  They listen to me, respond to the questions I am actually asking, and ask me questions about the experiences I want.  I also never feel like they are trying to get me off the phone as quickly as possible.  I once called to make three meal reservations and spent 10 minutes talking to the Cast Member about how fun it is to watch teenagers relax and enjoy themselves at the parks.  (Yes, Princess, we were talking about you!)  I also had a conversation with a different Cast Member about how the only song we ever heard when we were on hold was “It’s a Small World”.  Interestingly enough, the next time I called I heard the song from Haunted Mansion instead.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Needless to say, I love calling Disney.  I once had a Cast Member who just did her job in a professional and straightforward way and I felt gypped.

I spend one morning a week in a coffee shop which happens to be a gathering place in my community.  Very often people from other churches will come in and I eavesdrop.  As I listen to church people discuss church things it is amazing how much it sounds like they are reading from a script.  If the person they are talking to asks a question that isn’t on the script they flail and do their best to get back on the script.  Every time I see this happen, I watch the person they are speaking to detach from the conversation.  I have also, unfortunately seen this in my own church and it makes me question how I speak to people.

I know I read from an internal script much more than I should.  I also know I am guilty of not giving people my full attention and as much time as they need.  I do not always give people the experience that I want.  I give them stock answers and standard replies.  Not only do they deserve better than that, but so do I.  I am better than a script reading call center employee.  I do care about the people who come to me with their questions and concerns and I need to do a better job of letting them know that.  I don’t want to be a person that people either dread talking to or avoid as a waste of time.  I want people to look forward to talking with me and come away from a conversation feeling better for it.  I think we all do.

We need to step away from our church ‘script’ and say things like.  “That’s a hard question.”  “I can see how you think that.”  “I don’t know the answer to that.”  And of course, “Tell me what you think about that.”  We need to be brave enough to have real conversations with people that dig deeper into our faith and theirs.  We need to be able to make real connections in whatever time we have with someone.  We need to let people know that they truly matter.

What comes around goes around

CarrouselI have a particular dislike of this little phrase.  It implies this beautiful world in which good things happen to people who do good things and bad things happen to people who do bad things.  I get this image of a carousel where we hop on, pick our horse, and ride around and around in circles forever.  If you pick a good horse, you have fun.  If you’re stuck in the chariot, oh well.  Too bad for you!  You just have to keep going around with the choice that you made.  It’s Karma.

I have to say it’s just not true.  Karma is a myth!  I wish life was like that, I really do.  But in spite of my obvious love of faith, trust, and all things pixie dust, I am a realist.  You can do wonderful things for people and still get figuratively kicked in the teeth.  You can also do horrible things and end up with no consequences whatsoever.  There is no real way we can live our lives to insure than the bad things don’t happen.  People will be mean.  The wicked will sometimes win.  Cheaters will prosper.  It is sad, but true.  It is also OK.

The fact that bad things happen to us is not a sign that we have done something wrong, lived our life incorrectly, or not been good enough.  It means that bad things happen.  Sometimes no matter how much we get right in life, we are stuck with the results of someone else’s poor choices.  And somehow, they are not.  Don’t get me wrong, a positive attitude can do wonders in your life.  It helps tremendously when dealing with the inevitable awfulness.  But the idea that disasters come into our life because we have not ‘put enough good into the world’ is just plain wrong.  It is also damaging.

Life is not a carousel.  We don’t just go round and round riding our own choices up and down in life.  We can get off.  We can change our path.  We can get back on and choose a different horse.  We can say this ride was boring, I’m going to Thunder Mountain! What comes around doesn’t always go around and sometimes that’s a good thing.  Sometimes what comes around is forgiveness instead of grudge, hope instead of fear, love instead of anger.  Sometime we send it, sometimes we receive it, but we have to power to change our story and walk away from the carousel.

“To all who come to this happy place, welcome.”

I was not born in 1955 when Disneyland was opened. But I know Walt’s speech to his guests. It is short and sweet. It celebrates the past while looking fiercely toward the future. It is inspiring. It is welcoming of all. It is a guiding principle that has shaped that park and all that followed it. It is also belittled and demeaned by some in the name of faith.

I am a pastor serving in a small church. I am not an expert in anything. I am not published. I have no great theological credits. I don’t even have my doctorate. I do have a deep and abiding love of Disney; the movies, the parks, the attitude, the lifestyle. I find it fascinating that one of the things I love has been called everything from anti-Christian to Satanic because, “Magic can’t take the place of prayer”.

I grew up in an age without VCRs, DVDs, Blu-rays, or even the Disney Channel.  Getting to see a Disney movie was a treat.  I loved them!  I absorbed their messages like a little sponge.  Good conquers evil.  Love is powerful.  No one is truly alone.  I laughed, I cried, I wanted to be a princess (but I wanted to be one with a sword.  That’s a different blog.).  At no point did I ever really believe that magic was going to save me.  I believed in Santa until 5th grade, but never thought I had a fairy godmother or thought an evil witch was going to lock me up somewhere.  I also never learned anything I had to unlearn at church.

All of this has made me something of an apologist for Disney and faith.  So I have taken this space as my forum.  Disney teaches the big stories of love, transformation, and triumph that the Church used to teach.  Disney reaches out in welcome and inclusion in the way the church should reach out.  I will be taking this little bit of time and space to explore these ideas.

I am a pastor.  I wear Mouse ears. And I am unashamed.

“To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”