I’m not sure where I am on the spectrum, but I would say that five years ago I was somewhat anti-Disney and now I am actually a Disney person. As I learn to enjoy God in all things, I see that there is so much to worship Him for in the movies and in visiting the resort. There are some really good opportunities at Disney for having rich and meaningful discussions with the kids. (Also feel free to read 8 Ways Disney Helps My Soul.)
Here are just a few discussions to be had:
The concept of “story” is so rich because it appeals to what’s inside virtually every human being. Here’s a way to explain it to kids:
“We are all very different, but on the inside our hearts have a lot of things in common. We all want to see and enjoy something bigger than ourselves. We all want to be part of something important. We all want to feel like we belong. The Bible says eternity is written on our hearts.
When Walt Disney first started making movies, he figured out that the most important part of a movie is the story, and he created a whole department of people who were in charge of making sure the story was really great.
When we’re watching Peter Pan fight Captain Hook, our hearts are telling us that we want good to defeat evil. When we see Anna give her life to save Elsa, our hearts get excited that love can be so strong. When we admire Mulan’s courage and see how she helped protect her people, something in us wants to be part of something big too. And when we are amazed fireworks in the sky or see things that make us go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, it’s because we were made to behold things that are bigger than ourselves. God made us so we would want to know Him. God made us want to see goodness win and evil defeated. We were all born with a desire to be loved. And God can meet every single one of those needs for us in a way bigger and better way than you can ever imagine.”
I don’t really know anything about music, but I know that the music in Disney movies and the live music in various big or small venues at Disney World is awesome. Since my husband is a drummer, he always makes us pause to appreciate whatever is being played, and that usually ends up being one of the day’s highlights.
Here’s something we might say after hearing a beautiful song or seeing the mariachi band in Epcot’s Mexico:
“Did you hear those musicians singing? One man’s voice goes high and one man’s voice goes low, and together their voices sound really good. Let’s try it.” (We then will sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” or something with different high or low voices. It still sounds bad because none of us can sing, but the point is still made.)
“Harmony is when two different things come together to make something beautiful. A good marriage is harmony; Mommy and Daddy are very different and we have different skills and responsibilities, but when we work together God uses our differences to shape our family! The whole family of God is harmony because everyone in the Church has different gifts and struggles, but we all use them together to live for God together, beautifully.”
I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can deny that the creativity of Disney’s writers, artists, Imagineers, etc. is exceptional. The aesthetics, the variety, the thoughtful consideration…most Disney movies were not just made to make money but because the creators really believed in the story and poured their hearts out into making excellent storyboards and dialogue and animation and soundtracks. It’s all so brilliant. And most of the stuff you can see at Disney World is the same; it’s hard to even fathom how much work and research and inspiration was put into the architecture or shows or decor or even meals. (Why can’t you find themed restaurants or hotels outside of Disney or Universal?!)
Here’s a way you can explain this to your kids:
“Someone [John Calvin] once said, ‘There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.’ God has made us to enjoy Him through pretty flowers and bright colors and lovely music and fancy buildings. Even when people make things, they’re using the brains and supplies that God gives them, so we can think, ‘Wow, how much more creative God must be!’ He made the whole universe out of nothing, and He did a perfect job designing you. He made you with the desire to make beautiful things too, and that’s why you like coloring/dancing/building/writing/etc..” Find a way to show your child how he or she can prove that God made people in His image, because even at a young age he/she wants to create. Talk about how in Heaven we will get to create beautiful things without worrying about sin messing things up. And, above all, point out how through looking at other people's creative endeavors or at breathtaking landscaping, we can see that God is such a wonderful creator.
My children are very sensitive, so they are not too excited about any rides or movies that have any dark or scary parts. Of course we won’t force them to try things they’re not ready for (Disney has some downright-scary rides and shows), but we want them to see the purpose in scary or sad parts. Here’s what we said before watching Tangled:
“We’re about to watch a movie that has some sad or scary parts, but that’s actually not a bad thing. Every good story has sad parts. We need to really feel how things are getting bad before we can appreciate it when they get better in the end. If the sad things never happened, the ending wouldn’t be so happy!
If Adam and Eve had never sinned in the garden and sin and death had never entered the world, things sure would be happier, but guess what? We wouldn’t know the rescuing love of Jesus. And when God makes all things new, He’s not just going to start over from scratch, but He’s going to fix all the things that were broken. That’s called redemption, and redeemed is better than new.”
One thing Disney does great is diversity. I am an emotional mess whenever we go to Epcot because there are people from so many nations and each culture is so beautiful that it’s just overwhelming. Here’s how I might discuss that (and this conversation can also pertain to watching different movies; Mulan versus Brave, for example):
“Did you notice that China is so different from Italy? And Norway is so different from Mexico? What are some differences? (Allow them to discuss the differences in food, toys, nature, clothes, music, language, appearance, etc. Just be careful to make sure you’re valuing and not dehumanizing other cultures. This is also an opportunity to talk about how different cultures have different religions, but they’re all searching for the same thing, and Jesus can offer the hope and freedom that everyone wants.)
“‘Culture’ is a group of people that has its own way of life. One culture isn’t better than another but they’re all so different. The differences are beautiful. God says He’s going to save people from every nation. Heaven is going to have people who look different and lived different lives. But Jesus gave His life for them all, and all the different cultures is part of what makes Heaven so wonderful!”
Photo by Joe Penniston from Flickr