As I was growing up, I lived in awe of my best friend's family vacations. Every March, Melinda's father (who ran a large automotive parts stamping facility) would take his family for ten days to Walt Disney World. They would return with exotic souvenirs and endless happy stories of their latest encounter with Mickey or Goofy.
By the time I finished college and began working, I encountered several more devoted Disney fans. The vice president of research and development at the professional typesetting and page composition firm where I started out made a pilgrimage to WDW twice a year. He identified each of our company's networked computer stations with a Disney character name and rubber-cemented an appropriate plastic figurine (purchased at WDW) to the monitor.
My next position was with a science publisher whose lead proofreader was a brilliant 30-year-old Disney addict. She took unpaid leave every year so she could spend a week in WDW each with her parents, her husband, and her best friend. Every piece of clothing she owned had some Mickey Mouse adornment; even her wedding dress had mouse-shaped pearl buttons.
When I flew to Los Angeles to interview over several days for the software development position I now hold, the president offered me Sunday off at Disneyland to test my work ethic (very tempting, but luckily I didn't bite). He is now planning a real Disneyland excursion for the software users' group and staff to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the company's flagship product later this year.
Both of my daughter's God-families have been to WDW several times, and are planning to go back. God-sister Michelle has a Disney Beauty and the Beast collection she adds to regularly. Godfather Eric and his family spent a week in Disney with a grandmother diagnosed with terminal cancer, who wanted to see Cinderella's castle once more. Our parish's former council president, a successful accountant, has a diverse collection of Mickey Mouse ties, watches, and fancy pens... not to mention golf apparel.
Now that I think of it, everyone I know loves that mouse, and has been to a Disney theme park or covets some piece of Disney magic, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to 101 Dalmatians to Fantasia. The Walt Disney organization is masterful in its conversion of young and old, rich and poor, into smiling, card-carrying Mouseketeers. And after our family's first trip to WDW, we're hooked, too! Animal Kingdom and the Disney Magic cruise line open in 1998, and we want to be there.
Sound a bit obsessive? Don't worry, the red flags have gone up for me, too. What hole in my life am I (and millions of others) trying to fill that makes a six-foot tall mouse in shiny red pants and a bow tie so appealing? I'm very worried about my reaction to the Disney entertainment and propaganda machine, and the impact it could make on my daughter. There is a dangerous and none-too-clear line between the Disney experience and outright idol worship, I think!
The Disney vacation our family took just after the Nativity, I am embarrassed to say, cost more than we give to our local parish in a year. Why is it easier to save a bit for vacation every month or dedicate a pay bonus or other windfall toward getting away and unwinding than it is to give to the Church each week? We are taught that the FIRST portion belongs to God, since he provided everything to us: our skills, the materials we use to build things, the foods we eat. The establishment of God's Kingdom on earth is certainly a more worthy use of our family's hard-earned money than an admission ticket to Disney's Magic Kingdom.
My husband an I were very proud that our two-year-old Katie could pick out the animals, baby Jesus, Mary, and the Three Kings from the icons and crèches this past Christmas. She could even make a clear distinction between the Christian St. Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus. But how much of an accomplishment is this when she can identify all of the characters from her Winnie-the-Pooh books, the Toy Story, and The Lion King?
Katie can say grace (Bless, O Lord, the food and drink of Thy servants for Thou art holy, now and forever. Amen) and even cross herself, sort of. But she can sing every line of every song on the Disney Classics Collection, Volume II, tape we play in the car. What are we exposing her to? What are we emphasizing? Perhaps we need to sing the troparia more often, and read a bit more from the Gospels. Maybe we should add "Disney videos" to the items we abstain from during Lent and Advent.
In the Disney universe, good still always triumphs over evil. Scar and his hyenas, Cruella DeVil, and the wicked step-mothers never win, no matter which network or audience the Disney production is targeting. (Adult Warner Brothers cartoons seem to "give the devil his due" with great regularity.) The Disney definition of "good", however, doesn't always agree with the one I'm trying to live up to myself, and instill in my daughter.
Disney "heroes" are too often not acting on principle, but reacting to punishment, or the threat of punishment. Pinocchio lies repeatedly, and only stops when his nose is too long to see. Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, Arial (the Little Mermaid), and The Lion King's young Simba are all willfully disobedient, and must suffer dire consequences before reforming their ways, usually in the last scene of the movie. Authority figures, though always proven right as the story unfolds, are often mocked as sticks-in-the-mud or blathering idiots, from Jiminy Cricket to Sebastian the musical crab and majordomo/bird Zazu. I am very uneasy with the "you can do anything as long as you don't get caught" message that runs through so much of our popular literature, television, and film - Disney included.
The morals are there in every story, though, and as a parent reading or watching some part of Disney lore with my child, I must take the initiative to explain them. I am the one who will ultimately educate my daughter in Orthodox beliefs and interpret the world's garbled messages for her until she can do it herself, with what I hope are Christ-centered principles to guide her.
In desperation, I have started looking for threads of Christianity in unlikely places, to open conversations on Orthodox beliefs with both my daughter and my husband. Surprisingly, there are quite a few you can find in Disney blockbusters if you look.
Pocahontas believes that every flower, tree, and animal "has a spirit, has a name" - read: everything has been created by God! But the Indian princess is not Christian, and has never heard the Word. Captain John Smith is likely the first Christian she has encountered, and how firmly he holds to Christian beliefs is not explored. Is he Roman Catholic? Anglican? There are many people in the world who are not Christian, but have "stumbled upon" some of the same guiding principles. Pocahontas is an environmentally-conscious young lady; what about God's earth has inspired her to wish to protect it without knowing Christ?
In The Lion King, the "ghost" of the murdered King Mufasa speaks to his son Simba: "You have forgotten who you are. You are my son. You are more than you have become." This appears to be a scolding to the adolescent lion, who ran away from his home when his father died and lived a responsibility-free life with two vagabonds. It seems quite secular, but doesn't every page of the Scripture speak to us in the same way? We were created to share the Kingdom with God, but we ran away. Our sins have separated us from the Kingdom, but God keeps inviting us back: through Christ's death and Resurrection, through the Eucharist and confession. We can become what we were intended to be with His help.
by Nichola Toda Krause
© 1997 by Orthodox Family Life and the original
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