Up (2009)

UpUp reminds us just how brilliant Pixar is and why the studio has been leading the way in modern animation. Not to mention some the church’s greatest theologians. Up is the story of Carol Fredricksen (Ed Asner) who grieves the death of his wife, Ellie, as well as the death of life as he knows it. A major company has bought up most of the land around his house building parking lots and skyscrapers. Mr. Fredricksen does not what to change. Due to some unfortunate events, Mr. Fredricksen has to leave his house. However, he does not go quietly. Using a large number of helium-filled balloons to move his house to the beloved Paradise Falls.

What makes Up a summer blockbuster isn’t just the adventure, it is the amazing story that goes along with it. Which is what Pixar does well. The images alone are so beautiful it welcomes you into the story. The beginning of the film is itself a short film telling the story of how Carol and Ellie met as children, fell in love, got married, dealt with the unexpectedness of life, and eventually Ellie’s death. Most of this is told without a single word being spoken. The images are so powerful they communicate exactly what needs to be communicated, leaving you laughing or crying.

What follows is the story of Mr. Fredricksen refusing to move from the home that he and Ellie built together. The man who once loved adventure, has become a grumpy old man. He is not only grieving the lost of his wife, but also all of the dreams they had of great explorations. When he is forced to leave and join a retirement home, he decides to take matters into his own hands, and move his home to Paradise Falls. Russell, a Wilderness Explorer Scout, ends up on this helium filled adventure with Mr. Fredricksen as he tried to earn a “helping a senior citizen” badge.

Mr. Fredricksen comes to realize that even though he is older, it does not mean that adventure and following your dreams is over. He still has much to give to the world. This is the gift that he gives to Russell. His knowledge, his experience, his care, his mentoring, are all things that Russell benefits from. It is a strong reminder to the Church for the necessity of intergenerational ministries where young and old come together.

In the film, Russell opens up about his absent father. Mr. Fredricksen becomes a father figure to Russell. One of the warmest moments of the film is when Mr. Fredricksen is present when Russell receives his badge, standing on stage with the other proud fathers. More importantly, the two discover that they have a few things in common. They are both lonely, and they both need each other.

No matter our age, we have something to offer, and we need each other. Let us not forget what a grand adventure a community can go on when it embraces all the generations.

Top Ten Disney Animated Songs

Mickey MouseMoviepilot, an amazing source for all things pop culture, recently posted what they thought were the top ten disney songs from their animated films. You can read their list here. Just for fun, I thought I’d ponder with some folks on this Memorial Day what some of the top ten Disney songs would be. To be honest, it was a hard list to come up with, and we know this is not THE list, but it is A list.

10. That’s What Makes the World Go Round This song from one of Megan’s favorite films, The Sword in the Stone, Merlin gives some sound advice. “It’s up to you, how far you go. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.” In other words, live into your vocation, and don’t passively wait for things to happen.

 

9. Tale as Old as Time Mrs. Potts provides the soundtrack to Belle and the Beast’s first official date in The Beauty and the Beast. The love that the song sings about is as old as time, as it speaks of the depth and beauty of a relationship, where change is unexpected yet rewarded.

 

8. Heigh-Ho This classic from the first full-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Each dwarf with his own personality also has perfect pitch as they sing to and from work.

 

7. A Whole New World Aladdin and Jasmine’s magic carpet ride won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1992. Again, when we think of two individuals becoming one couple, it is a whole new world. It’s pretty good theology, when you think about it, for a couple who is getting married.

 

6. The Bare Necessities The Jungle Book was the first animated film made without Walt Disney. Though he touch is evident in the film, including the inclusion of this jazzy tune, and others. Baloo’s philosophy of life is not unlike Jesus’ phrase, “consider the lilies, they do not toil or spin,” in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Not to mention Baloo’s advice to the young man-cub not to search for what he thinks he needs, but to do without. In a time where consumerism has dictated so much of the American Dream, this is indeed sage advice.

 

5. Part of Your World The Little Mermaid in 1989 brought back to the Walt Disney studio the classic touch and magic of the original Disney animation films. This song of Ariel’s longing to be apart of the human world, and not a part of her own sets the stage for the film.

 

4. Hakuna Matata The Lion King is by far one of the best films ever . . . . at least in my humble opinion. This motto of Timon and Pumbaa introduces a new life philosophy to young Simba. Similar to Baloo’s Timon and Pumbaa’s Hakuna Matata means “No Worries.”

 

3. Be Our Guest The enchanted house own items throw a dinner party for their unexpected guest, Belle. While their master stews in his chambers, the servants extend the arm of hospitality, a lesson for all of us to be welcoming to all of our guests.

 

2. Friend Like Me Aladdin discovers the genie’s lamp for the first time, rubs it and the Robin Williams-voiced Genie makes his appearance. Genie tells Aladdin that he has never had a friend quite like him. And while Genie is bound to the three-wishes rule, he really is a friend, which is a major theme of the film.

 

1. Circle of Life In my book, this is the best Disney song from the best Disney film. The Lion King, after all these years, still is the best film to me. There is something sacred about all of the animals in the kingdom coming to pay respect to the newborn prince. When you see it on Broadway, it is even more powerful and sacred. The primal yell that opens the song (and the movie) is what grabs you and pulls you into the song, and as a result into the film. This song was passed over for the Best Original Song Oscar for Elton John and Tim Rice’s other Lion King song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” The song is the soundtrack to the baptism of infant Simba by the priest/prophet like character Rafika.

 

Alright, so, what did I leave out? What Disney songs would you add to the list? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

An American Tail (1986)

American TailAn American Tail is the second animated film from director Don Bluth after he left the Disney studio. The first was The Secret of NIMH. Both of these “mouse” films try to recapture the magic of the classic Disney films like Snow White and Pinocchio. Yet, it struggles to compare. The music and lip-singing is distracting. The animation is detailed and full. It makes use of computer animation in a way that was unique at the time. But, it is clear, that the vision comes from the early Disney films.

The hero of the film is the second child, Fievel. His and his family undergo hardships being ruined by an oppressive government of cats in 19th century Russia. Homes are destroyed and burned. The cats chase the mice away, and the mice decide to migrate to America, where there are no cats.

The journey proves to be dangerous and difficult. The conditions are the greatest. And when a storm comes through and damages the ship, Fievel is separated from his family. As the family reaches the New York shore, they assume that Fievel has died. Actually, Fievel is very much alive and doing his best to try and find his family. Along the way he ends up working in a sweatshop and meeting a new friend Tony. He gets involved in advocating for freedom from the cats (yep, there are cats in America).

Fievel comes up with the idea to have the myth of the Giant Mouse of Minsk, a story that his Papa tells at the beginning of the film, get rid of the cats. The Giant Mouse of Minsk is a legendary rodent so massive that cats are terrified. The mice work together to construct the Giant Mouse, and after a few hiccups in the plan, the cats end up on a cargo ship headed for Hong Kong.

The story is very much a Jewish tale. The Mousekewitz family, like so many during the Holocaust, found refuge in another land during a time of great oppression. The film, however, does not bother to tell us that this is a Jewish tale. Steven Speilberg – who has told many a Jewish tale – brought the story to Bluth. But perhaps the film does not come right out and say that it is a Jewish tale, because we are like the mice.

At some time or another, we all feel like we are tiny creatures who are lost in a huge, confusing and at times oppressive world. And the journey that we are on as people of faith becomes dangerous and difficult.We often tell ourselves that when we reach the Promised Land, there will be no more hardships (cats), and find ourselves disappointed when we reach that Promised Land and find hardships. The Exodus story reminds us that as Moses led the people of God out of Egypt, it was not easy. The journey to freedom was hard, dangerous, and difficult. And once they reached the Promised Land, they were faced with more oppressive powers that caused more hardships.

But the journey is not done alone. The Church is the community through which we journey together, walking along side each other; praying for one another; nurturing each other along the way; and on occasion walking ahead to prepare the way for those coming after us.

Lent is reminds us that even though we enter a journey with the Savior, there will be still be hardships. There will be still cats. But, the hope is that there is community, and in that community, we support one another.

The Tigger Movie (2000)

The_Tigger_Movie_filmSince 1961 when Walt Disney bought the rights to A. A. Milne’s children’s book Winnie the Pooh, Disney has had a steady line of featurettes and television films. The Tigger Movie is the first feature film bringing to another generation Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, and Piglet too.

The film is the story of Tigger wanting to do what Tiggers do best: bounce. But no one wants to bounce with him, because they are all preparing for the coming winter. Tigger begins to wonder what it would be like to have a family of Tiggers just like him. Roo tries his best to cheer Tigger up, but to no avail. The group of stuffed friends decide to craft a letter to Tigger from his family. Upon receiving the letter, Tigger is overwhelmed with joy, which makes Roo very happy. But then Tigger starts talking about his family coming to visit, and the group gets nervous.

They design costumes and dress up to look like Tigger and pretend to be Tigger’s family. But when Tigger finds out that they are all wearing masks and costumes, he becomes disappointed again. And so, he sets out, once more, looking for his family tree.

The film’s main downfall is that it tries to be like Aladdin, with the songs and Tigger morphing into various pop culture icons. But the Pooh stories are Aladdin-like. What the movie lacks is an appeal to charm children.

Even so, the theme of family is a strong and rich one in this film. While Tigger is lonely because there are no other Tiggers in the Hundred Acre Wood, he does learn by the movie’s end that his stuffed friends make a family, even Rabbit. We don’t have to look or act alike to be family. Especially when it comes to the family of God. Diversity, in the many forms that it takes, is a rich addition to any family. Throughout the Old Testament, we see evidence of God teaching the Israelites to be welcoming to aliens, those who are different from them. Ruth, for example, was welcomed into the family of God even though she was a Moabite, and would become a major part of Jesus’ family tree (see Matthew 1).

Our diversity unites us. And we are all family.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

wfrrIt’s hard to believe that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is twenty-five years old! The film hit the big screen in 1988. I was eight when I saw the film. Three of my cousins and I along with our Papa went to see the film. An amazing thing to see at the time on the big screen. These actors and animated characters sharing real space with one another.

The film is set in 1947 Hollywood, where Marvin Acme, the gag-gift king of town and owner of Toon Town, is murdered. The police come after animation film star Roger Rabbit as their main suspect. Private Investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) gets caught up in the middle of it, and eventually figures out that Roger is being framed. But by whom? And why?

Everything about this film – the plot, the dialogue, the look, the feel—is a 1940’s crime film. Everything, that is, except the Toons. Roger Rabbit is the first film that flawlessly combined real actors and animated cartoon characters. Walt Disney studios collaborated with Steven Spielberg (a known lover of animation) to make this flawless presentation possible. With direction by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and animation by Richard Williams, we get a film that presents the animation in such a convincing way that it doesn’t distract from the plot. And that is the brilliance of this film. On the surface, it has a pretty seamless plot, but combined with new technology, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The cartoon characters appear on screen occupying real space, just as the human actors do. And we are not talking about computer animated cartoon characters, these are hand drawn cartoon characters. The real deal.

Toon Town is a ghetto. When Eddie visits a club, where is going to snap some pictures of Acme and Roger’s wife, Jessica. There is sense that the toons who are working there are doing so for the humans. In fact, Toons are not allowed to patronize the club, though they serve drinks and provide the entertainment. R. K. Maroon tells Eddie at one point that Dumbo is working for him, on loan from Disney, and he works for peanuts, as he throws peanuts out the window. There is a certain level of prejudice and injustice directed towards the Toons. In fact, Acme is the one who owns Toon Town.

Eddie has had a strong dislike for Toon Town and its residents, holding on to his own bit of prejudice. It all stems from his brother being killed by a toon. You can see Eddie’s discomfort in the mere fact of Roger’s presence, not to mention working with him. But as the film continues, Roger grows on Eddie. Eddie learns that he cannot continue to hold a grudge against a whole population of “people” because of the act of one. Where grief had left him bitter and angry, his developing friendship with Roger helps Eddie learn to smile again, to enjoy life, and to see individuals—human or toon—for who they really are. In the course of it all, Eddie is finally able to make peace with his brother’s death.

It is through spending time and getting to know a Toon, that Eddie’s prejudice is curbed. Eddie’s own perspective of Roger and Toon Town changes, and he helps them assure the rights to Toon Town. Eddie is a lot like Jesus. Jesus spent a lot of time in his earthly ministry with sinners, outcasts, and the poor. Jesus spent time with and got to know the people that nobody cared about. Jesus saw past the social labels of individuals and saw the person. Eddie’s journey with Roger Rabbit empowers him to do the same.

Who have we restricted to a ghetto? Who do we need to spend more time with and get to know?

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

Pirates reminds us why we love British comedies. The film, one of the best stop-action animation films I’ve seen, is absurd in all the best ways. Just imagine the best of Monty Python in a stop-action animated film minus the dirty jokes.

The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) sets out to win the Pirate of the Year Award. All he wants is some recognition from his peers that he is good at what he does. This sets him out to find the largest booty (insert PG jokes here), but always landing on the wrong ships; a ghost ship, a ship of school children on a field trip, a ship of lepers, and a ship of nudist. Finally, he attacks the ship carrying Charles Darwin (David Tennant), yep you read that correctly. Charles Darwin.

Darwin is journalling about his ship-filled scientific discoveries. Upon meeting Pirate Captain and his Polly, which is really the only surviving dodo bird, Darwin (whom Pirate Captain starts calling Chuck) convinces the pirate to go to London to present the bird at a scientific gathering to win the prize money. Darwin is seeking not so much recognition by his peers, but recognition by Queen Victoria. Pirate Captain is blinded by the deceit because of his own ambition to receive recognition from his peers.

Seeking approval from our peers is not something that ends with adolescence. It is a struggle that continues well into adulthood. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave.” (1:10, Common English Bible)

What Paul wants the church to know is that what he is preaching is not to be popular among humans, but it is to be right with God. At the same time, Paul calls all of those who hear/read these words to consider the same question in their own lives. Are we doing what we are doing for the sake of our relationship with God or “to win over human beings?”  And at times we will do anything to achieve that recognition. The Pirate Captain is motivated to seek the largest treasure there is to receive recognition  by his peers as a great pirate. Pirate Captain sells his beloved Polly to Queen Victoria for a boat-load of gold. In the process, he loses the faith of his trusted crew, is stripped of his title as pirate, and banned from the community, left out in the rain.

It is through the faithfulness of his crew, and in particular Number Two (also called the Pirate with a Scarf voiced by Martin Freeman) that Pirate Captain  learns that he is a good pirate when he is himself. He tells Pirate Captain as the film ends, “It’s never been about the trophy or the treasure. It’s about who you are on the inside.”

What’s on the inside is important to God as well. When God sends Samuel out to find a new king, Samuel is sent to the home of Jesse. As he looks at the eldest son, Samuel is told: “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”(1 Samuel 16:7, Common English Bible) Samuel goes down the line, looking at each son, and each time God says the same thing. It is not until Samuel reaches the youngest son, that we learn that this son is a man after God’s own heart. The son was David, the greatest king of Israel.

The matter of the heart is one that repeats itself throughout the scriptures. From the prophets to Jesus to Paul, we read how it is not what we do, but rather the attitude of the heart.  Pirate Captain is not a pirate because he brings in the largest booty, he is a pirate because his heart’s in it. A lesson for all of us striving to live a holy life.

The Lorax (2012)

The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss’ lesser know, yet deeply powerful, parables.  In the film adaptation of the 1971 book, Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) has a huge crush on Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift).  In order to impress her and win her over, he sets out to find her a tree.  You see, trees no longer exist in the town.  Grammy (voiced by Betty White) tells Ted about a mysterious figure who lives on the edge of town.  He will know how to get a tree.  The mysterious figure is the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) who begins to tell Ted about his journey and his encounter with the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito).

In case you missed it in 1971, The Lorax is about saving trees.  Whether you call it being green or being good stewards of God’s creation, there’s no way around it.  It’s about saving trees.

But it’s about more than that.  It’s about making decisions – good or bad – and the consequences of those decisions.  And about how those decisions affect other people.

The Lorax is the voice of the trees.  The Lorax provides voice for those who are voiceless.   The Lorax is a Christ-figure in the film (he ascends and descends to the forest via a bright beam of light originating in the sky).  Ted, having heard the story has a calling to be a voice for the trees.  And, as the film ends, we too are challenged to discern our call and respond to it.  As the Lorax says: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The film isn’t great, but it’s not bad either.  It’s an entertaining film from the creators of Despicable Me.  Some of the more entertaining moments were from the dialogue-free forest creatures.  Oh, yeah, and it’s a musical.  You didn’t really get that from the trailer.  Ed Helms as the Once-ler is great.  Imagine an animated Ed Helms a la The Hangover with a guitar in hand singing songs that could have been easily adlipped and still great.  There are a few awkard large ensemble pieces and are laughable (whether they were meant to be or not).  The closing number, “Let It Grow,” is a gospeleque number that’s about letting the last Truffula seed grow into a tree.  This number alone could viewed from a faith perspective as many more than just a tree seed.  Ed Helms and Danny DeVito are great casting choices.  Betty White was great as Grammy, but there just wasn’t enough Betty White. But, is there ever?

The Lion King (1994)

The theater lights slowly dim and the dark screen slowly comes to life with rich, brilliant colors. The African landscape spreads out before us on the big screen, and we are reminded that this is how we are supposed to view The Lion King. Walt Disney’s 1994 animated film is currently in theaters (only one week left!) in 2D and 3D.

As the tribes of African animals migrate to Pride Rock to witness the baptism of young Simba, we are filled with peace. There is order in the land. As Simba grows up, his innocence deteriorates. After a lively musical number (“I Just Can’t Wait to be King”), Simba and Nala roll playfully into the elephant graveyard. The bright colors have suddenly left us, and we are filled with the darkness of the graveyard.

The graveyard is the place Simba is not supposed to be. Yet it was the elegant temptation by Uncle Scar that raised Simba’s curiosity that seeks this place out. And no matter how brave Simba attempts to be, this dark place is too much for him to handle. Cornered by the hyenas, there seems to be no hope. Refuge from the graveyard is only found when Mufasa shows up and scares off the hyenas.

It is during Simba’s walk of shame home that he experiences grace. For as much as Mufasa is upset and disappointed, he is loving and gracious. And it is in this moment of grace that Mufasa tells Simba to look up at the stars. In an Abrahamic kind of way, Mufasa reminds Simba of all the kings who have gone before them. Mufasa tells Simba, “Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.”

As the film progresses Simba is tricked into believing that he was the cause of his father’s death. Not able to handle what his mother would think, he runs away from home. His journey crosses the path of Timon and Pumbaa who share with him their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.” Eventually Simba is discovered by Nala (cue Elton John love songs), and is challenged to answer his call as King of Pride Land. After receiving a few bumps on his head from the priestly prophet Rafiki he accepts that calling. And Simba returns home to challenge Scar.

Returning home to face Scar means Simba has to face the past he left behind, including his mother. We can see in his animated face all the guilt and shame returning to Simba as he meets his mother again for the first time. It’s a bittersweet reunion. But it is this reunion where Simba finally learns that the truth he has carried with him for some long was a lie crafted by Scar. Scar is the one who is responsible for Mufasa’s death, not Simba.

As the rain begins to fall on the barren and broken Pride Land, new life is bound to arise. And we are reminded that we are Simba. We are tempted into the elephant graveyard where life does not exist. We are cornered until there seems to be no hope. We are recipients of grace: a grace that reminds us who we are and whose we are. We abandon our callings in life for “Hakuna Matata.” And we find ourselves returning home to new beginnings.

The Lion King is one of the best epic films of our time because it is the story of all of us. Prodigal, but welcomed. Wayward, but returning. And so, let us all take our place in the circle of life.

This post was written for hollywoodjesus.com and can also be found by clicking here.

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Not the best movie I’ve seen recently.  Dreamworks did a better job with Kung Fu Panda.  The animation left a lot to desire.  There were some great, humorous lines.  The cast was a great line up, but felt that the writing didn’t take advantage of their talents.

Overall, its a story about a girl who almost marries the wrong guy for the wrong reasons.  Her whole identity – the way she sees herself – is wrapped up in the relationship she was in, complete the pretty bow on top.  Everything changes when, due to a visiting alien, she becomes a classified “monster.”  When put in a prison for monsters, she begins a journey of self-discovery.  Through the various misfit monsters whom she befriends, she learns that the person she really is, is way cooler than the person she was pretending to me.  For the first time she feels free to be herself.

So, despite the negatives, it was a good story.

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