Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: disney

YouTubevotinal: Trick or Treat

YouTubevotionals are designed to be used in personal devotion time, with small groups, youth groups, or Sunday school classes. To see other YouTubevotionals, click here


In the 1952 Disney short, Witch Hazel observes from her broom as Huey, Dewey, and Louie ring the doorbell of their Uncle Donald’s house. Donald has decided to trick the boys instead of giving treats. Donald is having fun with it, but Hazel feels sorry for the three boys. She attempts to get a treat from Donald, but he only offers a trick.

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Pete’s Dragon and the Magic of Believing

The little boy wanders through the forest, alone and scared. Unsure what to do or where to go, he clings to a book about Elliot the dog. It is the only source of comfort he has. There is a wide range of dangers lurking in the darkness. Among them  lurks a little magic.

This is how Disney’s new Pete’s Dragon begins. It is gripping, demanding the audience to settle in to their seats and throw a few more pieces of popcorn in their mouths. Before the title appears on the screen, we have been introduced to the main character, a little boy named Pete, and met the mysterious creature in the woods. This magical creature shines compassion, erasing any fears we may have.


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Into the Woods (2014)

Into the Woods posterDisney brings the popular Broadway musical to the big screen doing very little harm to the story. Into the Woods is a mash-up of popular fairy tales, almost all of which have been animated features made by Disney. From the opening musical number, we learn that each character is wishing for something more. They are barely satisfied with the life they have.

They wish for more.

If you’re not familiar with the story, the plot centers around the Baker and his wife, wonderfully played by James Corden and Emily Blunt. The couple has sadly not been able to have a baby, the one thing they wish for the most in life. The Witch (Meryl Streep), who happens to live next door, explains that she is the cause of their infertility. It seems that in retaliation for something the Baker’s father did to her, she cursed the couple. She is, however, willing to reverse the curse if they collect four objects in three days:

‘The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold.’

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Million Dollar Arm (2014)

“Baseball isn’t just about business. You should have fun, too.”

MV5BMTYzOTcyNzA4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDYwMTA2MTE@._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_AL_One of my fondest memories growing up is tossing a baseball in the yard with my dad. There were days when I would toss the ball against the large brick side of our house (and a few times hitting a window or two). These memories are what make movies like Million Dollar Arm a fun, family film. It reminds us of how baseball has planned a role in our lives and relationships. Million Dollar Arm has the potential to be one of those Disney family film classics. It’s compelling story that is graceful and kid-friendly.

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An American Tail (1986)

an_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.

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Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. Banks received nomination for Best Original Score.

Ponderings - Saving Mr. Banks reviewIn 1961, P. L. Travers, the acclaimed author and creator of Mary Poppins, spent two weeks at the Disney studios in Burbank. Walt Disney had courted her for twenty years for the rights to make the Mary Poppins film. Travers had consistently said no. She came to Burbank as a last-ditch effort to put this project to rest, either by making it or destroying any hope of its existence.

Emma Thompson plays P. L. Travers to Tom Hanks’ Walt Disney. Hanks’ Disney is warm and welcoming. He insists on being called “Walt,” not “Mr. Disney.” Thompson’s Travers is cold and critical. She will not allow anyone to call her “Pam” or “Pamela.” They must call her “Ms. Travers.” Travers, herself, was a bit of a shock to screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak).

The film does an amazing job of recreating what it was like to work with Travers and the mostly unknown difficulties the filmmakers had. Many of the conversations held in the studio were taken directly from over thirty-nine hours, which by the way, you should stay through the first set of credits, where the original recordings are shared. This provides a glimpse into how cold and difficult Travers was, but also how well Emma Thompson portrayed the author.

Despite what the trailers communicated, you quickly figure out that this film is about so much more than the making of Mary Poppins. More than once, Mrs. Travers tells Disney and his team that the Banks’ are like family to her. The flashbacks to her own childhood suggest that the Banks family is really her own family. Colin Farrell plays the father, Travers Robert Goff, and he’s good at it. Farrell’s Goff is a loving, playful father who loves being around his children. Unfortunately, he does not love to be at the office so much. He struggles with his own dark side, all while seeking the bottom of a bottle.

Travers’ Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) comes to save the family when Goff gets sick. From the moment she appears on the screen, you know that Travers based Poppins on her aunt. Aunt Ellie gets to work on empowering the family to clean the house and to get things in order. The only thing that Aunt Ellie is not able to fix is Goff. Travers was extremely close to her father. She had left to go get him pears and when she came back, he had died.

The death of her father would shape Travers. The life she as aspired to as a child no longer seemed possible. The carefree, imaginative world of her father only led to death. As she worked with the Disney team on the film, these memories come flooding back to her. In one heartfelt scene, Travers goes outside the studio, sits in the lawn, and begins to construct a small house out of sticks and leaves. Her driver for the week, the only fictional character in the film played by Paul Giamatti, comes over and helps her. Here in the lawn, these two adults recall and reclaim childhood.

Travers finds it hard to break free from the past. While Walt Disney and Travers are at odds on so many things, this they have in common. Disney can relate to having a less than perfect relationship with his father. Our pasts can haunt us, but they do not have to control us. Travers, through the two-week film making process, claims her past as part of her story. And it is her story to tell.

Ponderings - Saving Mr. Banks review - Disney and Travers

It is in relating his father to Mr. Banks, that Disney realizes that Mary Poppins comes to the Banks family not for the children, but for the father. It is figures like Poppins, Aunt Ellie, and Walt Disney to help point us in the direction of reconciliation with our past. We too can wrestle with our past, claim that part of us, and tell our stories.

There is a lot of Oscar buzz around this film. Tom Hanks will undoubtably get a nod, but my money is on Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers. The film is really her story and Thompson frustrates us, makes us a laugh, as well as makes us cry. I also think Colin Farrell should get a shout-out as supporting actor.

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.

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