Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 4

As we walked through the facades on either side of us, my friend Doug shouldered his head back and coolly took in the view.  Our pace was fractional, it being off season, and only a few people wandered across our path.  “Man”, he said with a whistle following, “It’s sad to see how far man will go to build a monument to himself.”

I had moments like those when I worked at Walt Disney World.  Moments when it all seemed false and maybe even prideful.  Moments when it seemed like mankind was desperately trying to feed itself an illusion and a lifeless corporation held out its palm to collect a fee from those addicted to distracting themselves.  There were moments when it seemed that the illusion was a consumable item imprinted into the consciousness of the world of a company that streamlined its stories into marketable forms.  They were moments of a broken world poking through a grand show, like noticing a makeup line 2 hours into a great stage production.

They were just moments, though.  Moments in a long period of time like a note in a beautiful concerto.  Walt Disney World is all of those things above at times but, from my time there, I learned it is something better in much greater proportion.  Where Doug saw vanity, my friend Chris saw Disney World as a wonderful place where the creativity God gave man was on display.  There are those who are looking to substitute Disney for good parenting but there are more parents who are using Disney to join in exploring childhood with their kids.  There are certainly some who want distraction from the crappy world they live in but many, many others experience Walt Disney World because they want to embrace the positives they see in the people around them.  These aren’t thrill junkies, after all you can go to much better parks for thrill rides, these are people who want to experience stories.

Disney has at times and still does market a consumable philosophy of life (nearly all consumerism does, fyi) but the massive percentage of what they do has nothing to do with maximizing profits.  If that were so, they wouldn’t care about doorknobs on the streets being authentic or providing poorly frequented street entertainment at high cost (such as acapella singers in the American Pavilion) or building water conserving pipes into Spaceship Earth to collect rain or growing a lot of the food in the Land pavilion that is eaten in the quick service locations there.  I could literally go on and on.  Disney cares little about streamlining profit at the cost of providing a truly great experience.  That to me tells me that it cares far more about the experience its providing than the bottom line.  It believes in the message.

It makes sense why that is if you think about it because no one works at Disney for the money.  There are 60,000 plus employees at Walt Disney World alone and those people do what they do because they love people, not money, and they want to pass on joy and hope for a living.  One of the most frequent questions I got at Walt Disney World was “Why are all you guys so happy all of the time?  It’s so weird!”   First, I hope being happy isn’t weird, but second, trust me, cast members aren’t happy all of the time.  There are plenty of times when it is just a job.  There are times when an employee high 5’s a kid and then runs backstage to lather on the antibacterial soap.  However, I found that most cast members like their job because they are placed in a spot where they get to do good to people all day.  These are the people – the people on the ground – that control the message no matter what corporate bullet points say.  No shadowy Disney corporate panel could change this.

I can attest that the Disney corporation is not controlling, despite the hype.  I was given ridiculous freedom to help people in whatever way I saw fit – far more than any job I’ve ever had.  This is the biggest difference between Walt Disney World and other corporations when it comes to service –it is not mere talk, it diligently empowers the little guy.  If it didn’t, people who want to be happy wouldn’t dedicate their life to working there.  Randy Moore actually edited Escape From Tomorrow in South Korea because he was supposedly so afraid of Disney evil corporate types finding out (side note to Randy: if you are trying to hide something Disney, east Asia is probably not the best spot).  To this day there has yet to be a peep from the supposedly over litigious company.

It seems like a lot of the issue of people thinking Disney is evil comes from people who think that they see something that others don’t.  Randy Moore, the film maker, was bothered when a woman told her kids to behave because Walt Disney World truly was magic to her.  What bothered him was that she supposedly “believed” in the magic.  He seems to be missing the point that she acknowledged that life isn’t to be that way all of the time.  From talking with thousands of people from all over the world let me snuff a myth out: people are very aware it’s a show.  They are aware that it is streamlined to limit some of the harshness of reality.  They know Disney is an ideal.   They like that.  They like the belief that we can be better than we are.  It certainly gives our past and our future a facelift concerning the purity that existed in them but not in a propagandic way.  There is a knowing minimizing of the ill motives to pull out the pure ones.  It is a dedicated focus on the good intended and that stems from a faith in humanity.  This criticism that a mass of people are being bamboozled by a sophisticated corporate spell shows that the people criticizing have the opposite of that.  They don’t have faith in humanity.  My advice to the critics: talk to the actual people going there without a predefined motive.  You’ll find they’re pretty smart en masse and a hopeful bunch at that.  How is there change for the good without visualization and hope in humanity?

In my day, I’ve run into a lot of people who have tried to convince me that Disney is anti-Christian.  From working there, I don’t see it.  If the idea is rooted in the idea that Walt Disney World is not a substitute for Jesus or the church, I agree, but I’ve never seen anything that there is a company wide effort to imply that it is.  At Epcot every year  they have a thing called the Candlelight Processional at the stage near the American Pavilion which people line up for hours previous to get into (far longer lines than for the classic bands that play there in the spring like Davey Jones or Boyz II Men).  In it, the story of Jesus is told to the backdrop of Christmas carols.  I’m telling you – the story straight out preaches Jesus.  The line for it is longer than any ride in the park which should tell you something about the hunger for the story of Jesus!  Further, the attractiveness of the parks stems from an encouragement to have a childlike spirit – something that is very Christian.  Over all, Disney has compiled a world message and wants to see people get together, love each other, be good to each other, and enjoy community together.  These are all Christian virtues.  Anti-Christian messages can be found in anything.  They can be found in Disney.  Sometimes they can be found in corporate mandates.  Remember, however, that it is tens of thousands of people employed there telling the story together that make up the true message of Disney.  No matter what happens at the top, it’s the people on the ground who decide.

There is a desire in the world to go out of its’ way to corrupt things that are pure.  With the sheer availability of vice, it causes a person to stop and wonder why people spend so much energy taking things that are sweetly connected to childhood or positivity, like puppets or cartoon characters, and debase them as well.  I suppose there are those who will say and really believe that they are showing that the things they learned in childhood were false and the feel anger toward them.  It may be worth consideration, however, that a lot of this is based on people who want to legitimize their own moral decay.  In order to do so, they must attack or corrupt the things that speak out against their conscience.  Ephesians 4 talks a lot about this:

“Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.”

It may also be worth consideration that there is an enemy who has lived this philosophy from the beginning.


It is implied from Randy Moore in the title and content of his film Escape From Tomorrow that he wants to escape from a commercialized view of the world perpetrated by a soulless corporation try to capitalize off of sham values.  I jokingly created Randy Moore World in the last post to illustrate something serious.  It is easy to criticize or sling mud.  It is hard to offer an alternative.  Not offering an alternative is more than an act of cowardice, it is the act of a drowning man trying to submerge a rescuer who is trying to save others from drowning.

If you are escaping “from” something then it follows that you are also escaping “to” something.    Walt Disney World is not salvation.  It is not perfect even though it gives glimpses of perfected things.  It does not offer a completed path to get to perfect.  If people were looking to Walt Disney World to do that, then they would be disappointed.  Walt Disney World may be one of the best the world has to offer at the illusion of perfection but the real thing, however, is only found in Christ and the church.  In a way, Escape From Tomorrow confirms that.  But, without glimpses or way points along the way, is it not much more difficult to get there?  The tomorrow I want to escape from is one where people accept that there is no true goodness so they never bother to try.   You can never reach a destination you don’t believe exists.  In that way, Walt Disney World becomes much more than a theme park.  It becomes a laboratory where people experience the goodness that could come with the desire and the tenacity to get there.  It is tangible proof of a true good.  It becomes a taste of a tomorrow that could be if it is chosen.  And, when people choose it and try to reach it, it takes it out of the realm of philosophy and makes it, in some portion, reality.

As Walt said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world.  But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”


Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 3

Imagine if Randy Moore made his own theme park: Randy Moore World.

First of it’s Main Street – all crumbling, broken, and run down. The park officials are using the money for repairs on their secret coke habits.  What’s that you smell?  Not popcorn, it’s cotton candy tinged with smog!  Ahh … cotton smoggy.  You purchase a cookie , not shaped like Mickey’s head but instead like an unemployment office.  It first tastes sweet but then finishes with the taste of hot garbage at the back of your palate.  It’s a Small World has been replaced with It’s a Deadly World.  Japanese animatronics take rosie cheeked pot shots with rifles at those little Australians playing with the kangaroos.  The ride operators just let people of any size on rides saying “Hey, the world’s a dangerous place, take your chances.”  As you are buckling up a recorded voice instructs you “Enjoy this ride with your father but not too much.  It may give you a false image of the love you have.  It will probably be the only positive memory you have because at some point your parents will get divorced and he’s going to take off on you.”  Expedition Everest is transformed into a ride called “S#@! Happens.” where the ride actually breaks down at the top.  Randy Moore World.  Now that’s a place I want my family to go for generations.

In the last blog I said that Disney tells stories interactively that reach children the world over with their message.  A good question to ask would be “How do they know people will respond to the stories?  The answer is simple:  Disney knows they will respond because they have already responded!  This business about Disney being some insidious corporation that brainwashes people into believing a certain brand of happiness is obvious nonsense because nearly all of the stories that Disney tells do not originate from Disney itself.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, the Jungle Book, Peter Pan, and I could go on and on, were written by other people.  The Lion King is based on Hamlet for goodness sake!  Disney is just retelling popular stories with interactive elements.

Each section of the Disneyland Park (and subsequently Magic Kingdom) was based on a popular movie genre of the time.  Disney didn’t invent space travel (and therefore Space Mountain) being fun.  People watched movies about it and wanted to live the stories out.  At WDW all of the parks follow this mold.  At Epcot, you can ride Soarin’.  Why?  Because hang gliding is already established as fun.  Or you can ride Test Track and get an idea of what tests cars have to pass in developmental stages to make them fit for consumer use.  Why does it bring happiness?  Because people already enjoy cars the world over.  This principle works for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (or any other Disney park).  The content of Walt Disney World and Disneyland (and the Disney company is general) is by and large set by the world itself, not Disney propagandists.

Not all of these stories are happy.  In fact, most of them involve tragedy.  Bambi’s mother is killed.  Mulan’s country is being invaded by murderers and her society will not allow her to do something about it.   Again, I could go on and on.  Moore’s essential line in the film that  “Nobody can be happy all of the time” doesn’t make sense because at no point in the Disney retelling of a story do they emphasize that you can or should be happy all of the time.   It’s ironic that the filmmakers  rode Small World dozens of times to get the shots needed because they clearly never listened to the lyrics  “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tearsIt’s a world of hope, it’s a world of fear …”

The Disney message, created as a moral amalgam of the stories around the world, is that happiness is won through overcoming adversity by never stopping in the belief that there is something better we are supposed to be and can achieve.  The overcoming of adversity often requires a helping hand from kind people around us who believe the same thing or a helping hand from God/fate .  This is “magic”.  This is “imagination”.  This is “believing”.  It is not setting limits on the power of love in action.

Moore says that he tried to see Disney through the eyes of the foreigner.  I talked to a lot of foreign visitors while on the Dream Squad.  I know for a fact that right now some guy from Argentina or India is walking through the parks with a silly hat on.  I love that.  Moore is implying that Disney is just an American thing from his statements.  From my experience there, I found that part of what made Disney wonderful was that it was one thing that most of the world could agree on!  I sat next to an Irish boy who had the time of his life on Soarin.  I talked to a Cuban man who told me that he took all of his Cuban friends who visited first to WDW to show what a good thing could be in America.  I took pictures of countless smiling Japanese tourists in front of Spaceship Earth.  I talked to Chinese tourists whose first glimpse of the Forbidden City in their country was at the film in the China pavilion.  People from all over the world wear Goofy hats because they find common ground to relate to Goofy and Mickey  and the others.  That’s why they are beloved.  Those personalities are in every culture.

Walt said that Mickey was popular because he created him without an agenda.  He was just supposed to be a little guy that brought smiles to people.  Then he left a lasting reminder to the people coming after him that we should all remember that “it all started with a mouse.”  That doesn’t sound like some profiteering madman.  This is one of the most quoted Disney lines from the cast members.  Consider these other words from Small World.

” … a smile means friendship to everyone.  Though the mountains divide, And the oceans are wide.  It’s a small small world”

Escape From Tomorrow’s setting in Epcot is especially confusing.  Epcot houses the World Showcase, a place that honors countries from every part of the world.  People from those actual countries, despite their ethnicity, social class, or religion all work together there.  (The designers purposefully put the America pavilion in the hardest to reach spot to ensure people would go to the other pavilions)  The fountain in the middle has water from rivers and lakes all over the world that were poured into it at the inaugural in a celebration of that unity.  Every night Epcot has an amazing fireworks display called “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth”.  The entire show, like Epcot, is devoted to the amazing things the world does when it works together.  It shows the history of the human race culminating with mankind reaching space (a common theme in Epcot) – a feat that was made possible by the contribution of many nations working together.  I used to work on those nights and I would watch the faces of people from all over the world light up in the glow of fireworks as they watched.  At the end, the people who crowded around the world showcase would all applaud – seriously, every single night without fail – and it was like the world joined hands and agreed for a few minutes.  It was amazing.  Those moments will stick with me for the rest of my life.  The best part of the Dream Squad was working on the fountain those nights, giving high “fours” with Mickey gloves to those hands connected to the smiling people as they walked out of the park.  I wasn’t bamboozled or tricked into those emotions.  I was confronted with a moment of the power of harmonic love.  It was not manufactured.  It was not some corporate trick.  It was real.  For that moment at least, the world agreed together that something about their day and something about that moment was universally good.

If you listen closely to Walt’s Epcot/WDW spiel (linked on the last blog) you’ll find that he doesn’t promise happiness.  He promises that he will provide a place that has tools that can be used to find it.  At WDW, the message, decided by the world, is not that happiness is something that accidentally happens to you.  Happiness is won.  Things need to be overcome for it to happen.  Mr. Moore pinpoints the issue he has with the reality of his father/son relationship.  To him, the WDW magic was a parasite that lived because of the love it leeched off of the power of his relationship with his dad.  The relationship is gone, so the magic seems false.  Anyone caught up in the “magic”, therefore, to him, is feeding the parasite.

Perhaps, however, Disney has never said that it in itself is the magic.  Perhaps it has always said that the magic comes from the things you overcame and do overcome.  Perhaps there have always been villains portrayed in the world stories that Disney has chosen to adapt who find ways to make themselves unhappy no matter what blessings surround them.  Perhaps, by enhancing and allowing us to live for a moment in the love we once had or have now that has been won, Disney allows us to remember the power of goodness and that remembrance may cause change.  In all seriousness, clearly Disney forced Mr. Moore to confront the issue that has been unconscious in him for a long time that he would not address: the relationship with his father.  That pain was real even though he built a false world around himself to prove that it didn’t need fixing.  Perhaps he will have trouble finding happiness until he exhausts all of his options to repair that love.  Instead of doing that, he’s gone to herculean lengths to make a movie to criticize literally all of humanity in an attempt to justify that his situation doesn’t need to be or can’t be resolved.  Before asking the viewer what hidden reality they are confronting, perhaps he need to ask himself some questions.

A while back, a cast member saw two women standing in front of Disney’s iconic castle.  That cast member, a popcorn vendor, did what a lot of cast members do: asked the women if they would like him to take a photo of them together in front of it.  They did.  The cast member went back to the popcorn and thought nothing of it.  A few weeks later the photo came back to the cast member via the backstage offices with a note.  The note said that the women involved were two sisters that hadn’t gotten along for years.  They came to Disney to try to talk about the situation.  The photo taken was the first one they had had together in decades.  After the photo was taken, they each broke down and fixed their relationship through tears.

(Part IV coming up next deals with WDW and Christianity as well as the “parasite”: is corporate profit on emotional experiences evil.)

What On The Waterfront Thinks – Oscar Series #6

(All media is telling you something.  This is the sixth post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahbity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes in general and on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!  I will assume you have already watched this movie.  Previous entry in series: The Deer Hunter.)

On The Waterfront

Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint), Best Writing, Best Director (Elia Kazan) – 1954

“Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary.  Well, they better wise up!” – Father Barry

On The Waterfront thinks that evil prevails when good men are more concerned about suffering for doing good than the good itself.  On the Waterfront is in many ways a follow up to the thinking in Gentleman’s Agreement, Elia Kazan’s first Academy Award Best Picture winner (which will be discussed next in the series).  Gentleman’s Agreement focused on the necessity of action in individual, small, everyday ways to combat society wide prejudice.  On the Waterfront addresses the need for dynamic and bold action by community to protect itself.

On the Waterfront’s focus on how that bold change occurs centers on an appeal to authentic faith.  Father Barry follows the quotation above by saying that anyone who stands by and sees a good man be punished for his goodness without doing anything about it is like the soldier who stood in front of a crucified Jesus and did nothing.  On the Waterfront tells us that real Christianity acts.  Doing nothing makes you complicit.  You become just as guilty as if you were doing it yourself by not standing up for the good.

The film backs up this message through the story of its main character, Terry Malloy.  Terry’s philosophy of life is simple, summed up in these snippets:

“Which side are you with?” – Edie

“Me? I’m with me, Terry.” – Terry

 “Shouldn’t everybody care about everybody else?” – Edie

“Boy, What a fruitcake you are!  Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life?  Do it to him before he does it to you” – Terry

Terry, however, in the glow of Edie’s goodness and love, is forced to come to grips that he was not just a nobody for his attitude.  He realized that he was, in his words, a bum.  He was a guy with no class.

On the Waterfront is passionate about Terry redeeming himself.  In fact, the subtitle to the film on many of the advertisements was “The Redemption of Terry Malloy.”  On the Waterfront tells us that redemption has a price, but it’s worth it.  Redemption, according to the film, does not come from the barrel of a gun.  It comes from being willing to suffer for good.  Terry suffers terrible things for choosing to act towards good.  He loses his job.  He loses his brother.  Ultimately, he takes a beating reminiscent of Jesus before the cross.  Terry’s redemption is not unlike Jesus redemption of Peter after the resurrection for betraying Him in the courtyard.  Terry is given a similar situation at the end of the film to choose a different path than he chose earlier, much like Peter.  Instead of taking a fall for the easy money, Terry stands up after being knocked down.

On the Waterfront deals heavily with Christian themes.  In fact, the movie is almost entirely a study of Christian ethics.  It makes it fantastic to watch if you are looking to film to help you progress in being like Christ.  The film is devastatingly poignant in revealing that the real reason we do nothing as Christians is often because it financially benefits us or we are cowards.

Father Barry’s speeches are the highlight of the film.  After standing by and doing nothing in the beginning he realizes the falseness of his actions when compared to Christ.  As he says, “If you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront you’ve got another guess coming!”  From that point, Father Barry declares that if anyone stands up for good then he will stand up for good with them no matter what the consequences.  It reminds us of Christ being willing to share in our suffering.  It also reminds us that our purposes are not earthly, but heavenly.

I like the Christianity in this film.  The Christianity portrayed is valiant.  It is courageous.  It cares.  It has an eye on the eternity.  It also has earthly implications.  It is defiant in the face of evil.  It acts.  Is it still that way today?

“If I spill, my life won’t be worth a nickel.” – Terry

“And how much is your soul worth if you don’t” – Father Barry

What The Deer Hunter Thinks – Oscar Series # 5

(All media is telling you something.  This is the fifth post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahbity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes in general and on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!  I will assume you have already watched this movie.  Previous entry in series: Rain Man.)

The Deer Hunter

Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Cimino), Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken) – 1978

“A deer has to be taken with one shot. I try to tell people that but they don’t listen.” – Michael

A lot of the analysis of The Deer Hunter has attempted to force a parable out of it regarding America’s role in the Vietnam War.  The problem with that is that The Deer Hunter isn’t really about Vietnam.  Vietnam is almost a giant MacGuffin to The Deer Hunter.  If the movie is saying something about it, it is only an afterthought.  What The Deer Hunter really thinks is that Russian Roulette makes a dramatic story element.  Multiple members of the cast, the director, and a lot of people that produced this movie have confirmed that it is not about Vietnam.  In fact, the script was originally about a man who professionally played Russian Roulette.  Vietnam was added later.  Any attempt to analyze the message of the movie needs to keep this at the forefront of its thoughts.

Because the setting is secondary to the purposes of the film makers, the Deer Hunter seems determined to not be definitive about any topic.  It prefers to let its dramatic Russian Roulette story element play out in three long chapters with ambiguous beginning and ending points in their narratives.  The sheer length and abundance of empty scenes fuzzify any attempt at a direct point – perhaps purposefully.  If you like to watch films that don’t spell out an agenda to you, this is your film.

That doesn’t mean that The Deer Hunter isn’t trying to say anything at all.  For example, we are repeatedly told in the beginning by the films protagonist that a deer should be taken with just one shot.  By repeatedly saying this, The Deer Hunter is telling us that it believes that if you shoot a gun, you should do so with purpose, precision, and careful preparation.  People who don’t take the care to do just that are lost.  Lesser.  The character Stan is the embodiment of this.  There is a subtext, perhaps, telling us that a drunken, wildly distracted America has lost sight of the value of life wielding its power and freedom carelessly.

The Deer Hunter proceeds to tell us that using a gun without a purpose to shoot only once in a directed way has consequences in the real world.  Russian Roulette, of course, is the opposite of wielding a gun with the purpose of taking one directed shot.  It affects not only the people participating in it (because the willingness to pull the trigger, even with coercion, requires you to give up life in some way) but it also affects the people at home as well because they must deal with the consequences.  It shows abandonment to the value of life by the player and the people betting on it.  Again, perhaps, there is intention in the film to draw a parallel to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  I’m not sure I buy that, though.  If so, the film’s heart is not in it.

The film begins with a drunken wedding.  It ends with a sober funeral.  From this I gather that The Deer Hunter thinks we need to sober up both individually and as a country.

God is a strong and purposeful undercurrent of the film, particularly in meditation on how God works within duty to country.  The beginning of the film takes place in an immaculate church building with a wedding.  A church choir plays strategic prominence both at the wedding and later in the first deer hunting scene.  A banner hangs in the background of the wedding chapel displaying the message “Serving God and Country.”  The characters at the beginning of the film drunkenly sing “Drop Kick My Jesus Through the Goalpost of Life”.  The films highly debated final scene centers on the cast singing God Bless America.

As stated above, the film seems determined to not take a stance on anything so it’s hard to say what it is trying to say about God other than that He is a foundational part of the American life.  Taking the scenes at face value I see a bunch of people who go to a place with God’s name on it but are not Godly at all in the way they act.  These people seem to have no relationship with a living God.  If anything, according to the film, God’s name is used flippantly to authorize our excesses without bothering to realize that we haven’t had a real relationship with him for a long time.

Perhaps that is the meaning of God Bless America at the end.  Or maybe not.  I get the gut feeling that it was not meant to be ironic at all.  Who could know for certain?  You couldn’t get a definitive answer from the film itself because delivering a message is not what it really cares about.  It simply wanted intense moments and to provide the thrill of feeling the pain of its characters as the result of those moments.  Regardless, the watcher should take the opportunity to ask itself at the end if America really should be blessed by God.

Or maybe a better question would be: Is America blessing the people of the world through being like God?

I don’t think about that much with one shot anymore, Mike.” 

You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.”


What The Movie Gandhi Thinks* – Oscar Series #3

(All media is telling you something.  This is the third post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahibity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!  Previous entry in series: Wings.)


Best Picture, Best Director (Richard Attenborough), Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Writing – 1982

“Where there’s injustice, I always believed in fighting. The question is, do you fight to change things or to punish? For myself, I’ve found we’re all such sinners, we should leave punishment to God. And if we really want to change things, there are better things than derailing trains or slashing someone with a sword.” – Gandhi

Some biopics are dedicated to a subject simply because they impersonally think that the person’s life makes great spectacle.  Gandhi is not that kind of biopic  Gandhi honestly thinks that Mohandas Gandhi was a fascinating, great man – and it thinks you should think that to.  That this biopic is just really into the guy it is portraying is evidenced by the fact that the first scene of the film is dedicated to a written lamentation that so few scenes from his life could be selected, the director/writer funded the movie himself, and the film clocks in over 3 hours, among others.  Gandhi was once asked what message he would share with the world and he stated that his message is his life.  This movie respects that wish by not trying to tell you about that life but show you it.

There’s a reason this couldn’t get funded in 1982, however.  In all honesty, Gandhi isn’t easily palatable for a heavily Christian audience.**  For that reason, Gandhi tries very hard to portray a digestible Gandhi to a heavily Christian audience.  It does so by focusing mostly on his actual references to God.  For example, the film quotes him as saying, “Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.”  It also quotes him saying “I am a Muslim, and a Hindu, and a Christian, and a Jew, and so are all of you. When you wave those flags and shout, you send fear into the hearts of your brothers. That is not the India I want! Stop it! For God’s sake stop it! “.  Gandhi, at least for a large portion of his life, could perhaps be best described as a Deist.  The film doesn’t hide that.  However, towards the end of his life he allegedly softened that and turned more philosophical about the life force in all of us.  Gandhi ignores this, emphasizing things like the first quote, which occurs rather early in the film, and other sayings Christians would heavily relate to Christ.  These comparative ideas that hint at synchronicity with Christ appear many more times and the effect is subtlety intensified by adding a sympathetic Christian minister (played by a familiar Christian mouthpiece: Ian Charleston) who aids Gandhi.  The film even quotes his last words (which are supposedly controversial) as “he ram” which means “Oh God”.

The film stays away from most potentially controversial things in Gandhi’s life, choosing to focus on certain actions the man took.  From that, we learn that Gandhi agrees that despite your religion, you should live in peace.  Gandhi believes in non-violent protest as an effective methodology for social change (although selectively).  Gandhi is entranced with the community lifestyle lived by Gandhi.  It believes in it as a beautiful way to live and thinks his brazen humility would solve a lot of inequality in our lives if we accepted it.  Ultimately, Gandhi accepts that there is an invisible minimum line of human dignity that we all, regardless of race or religion, will see clearly in humility.

Gandhi’s desire to be palatable to Christianity does not mean that it does not challenge Christians.  Early in the film when Gandhi, an Englishman, is faced with inequality in South Africa, he is befuddled because that inequality opposes Christian belief.  In this is a challenge to those of us who live in Christianity based countries to consider why we allow repression of certain people when Christ certainly would and does not.  Another challenge lies with non-Christian marriages not being accepted in South Africa at the time. In the movie, Gandhi points out “No marriage other than a Christian marriage is considered valid. Under this act our wives and mothers are whores. And every man here is a bastard. “  Gandhi believes that the purpose of these laws are humiliation and the purpose of humiliation is control.

What interests me about its approach is how differently a modern movie would approach this subject.  The Gandhi of 1982 is, much like the man would do himself it seems, gently petitioning reconsideration of what we silently approve by seeing the results.  If this movie was made today I imagine that a lot of the writing would bluntly portray villainous Christian caricatures to oppose him.  There is little of that in Gandhi.  As a Christian, it is refreshing.  Perhaps those who believe Christians are out of line with morality could learn a lesson from Gandhi in how to approach real change instead of just a shift in the balance of power.

As a Christian, our kingdom and citizenship is heaven.  We must, however, live in a social compact with others around us.  Some of those people will disagree with us.  Living with a foot in both worlds causes moral conflict because of temporality.  Do we choose actions to do some good now or perhaps a greater good later?

Jesus understood this conflict and speaks of it often.  Jesus’ life is his best message though.  He lived only for God.  God strategically chose moments for Jesus to face punishment for breaking or challenging terrestrial law that conflicted with the “invisible minimum” – or His law.  So, Jesus paid the temple taxes, even though it was an unlawful charge, by giving to Caesar what was Caesar’s.  However, he did not give his obedience to men despite the law and gave to God what was Gods.  That obedience to God led him to a cross.  Gandhi’s life mimics this (he was an admirer of Jesus) even if he doesn’t claim Christ solely.

It seems from the conduct and writings of the New Testament, along with the actions of Jesus, that our focus is to be on a kingdom that is chosen and then born into (God’s ) rather than a kingdom we are born into and then decide whether we choose.  It also seems from the same sources that our method of change is one of hearts, not laws (the Bible calls even the most perfect law given by God himself on Mt. Sinai “powerless”), and that we change those hearts by letting men make bad choices and confronting them with our broken bodies as evidence of their injustice.  This is not diminishing Paul telling us that the government is given the “sword” by God (although it should be noted that the sword in that case was being used against Christians and Paul himself) or that God is just and there will be judgment (the film actually portrays Gandhi as believing in hell and I believe scripture teaches it too), it is just stating that I believe the emphasis is on the former when it comes to our part and the latter is focused on being God’s part.

In the end these discussions usually come to nothing because they exist only in intellectual arenas.  Few are willing to really stick their neck out on the line to prove their point.  That’s what I love about Gandhi and why I love the films portrayal of him.  It takes the debate out of the realm of philosophy and makes it real.  We can see that these principles he used have a power all their own.  In short, they worked!  They work because Christ is in them, regardless of whether the person claims Christ or not.  Gandhi is not a threat to Christian faith; he is confirmation of its deep abiding truth like a deep reservoir waiting to be tapped across the face of the earth.

Imagine the sweeping change across the earth if we tapped into that by obeying a greater invisible truth than instead giving our loyalty to the earth born status quo.

They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. Not my obedience.”  – Gandhi

* A note about the process.  When delving into what a biopic thinks, I’m looking to do three things in particular.  I attempt to articulate what the film makers think of the subject of the film and not what I think independently.  I look at which events were selected and which were left out historically of the portrayal.  Finally, I put more weight than usual on how other characters in the film react to the protagonist.

** I believe that the issue isn’t with the morality of his actions.  Most people would agree that his actions were beautiful, moral, and a bit mesmerizing.  The problem is the sticky questions it brings up for Christians with a mindset that is obsessed with determining who is saved and who isn’t.  It also raises uncomfortable questions about how a man who didn’t claim Jesus was better at following his lifestyle than people who do claim Him.

What Wings Thinks – Oscar Series #2

(All media is telling you something.  This is the second post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahibity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!)


Best Picture 1927/28

“Hello Yank, welcome to a very merry little war.”

Wings, the first best picture winner, has some surprising similarity to the another more modern academy award best picture winning movie:  Platoon.  The director, “Wild” Bill Wellman, like Oliver Stone, had participated in the war in which the film portrayed.  Like Stone, it was incredibly important to Wellman that the war be depicted in an extremely realistic way.  (In the case of Wings, the realistic portrayal focuses on amazing aerial filming and live military sequences that you won’t believe even after seeing* )  And, like Platoon, the war and its purposes are secondary, almost even inconsequential, to the plot.

Wings centers on Jack  Powell (played by Buddy Rogers).  Jack is a young kid whose love of fast machines leads him to enlist to become a pilot in World War 1.  Jack is in love with Sylvia.  However, Sylvia is in love with David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), a wealthy kid in the same town as Jack who also enlists.  David loves Sylvia as well.  All is not lost for Jack, though, because his childhood pal, Mary Preston (played by one of the biggest stars in the world at the time – Clara Bow), is quite in love with him.  It all sounds a bit like a J. Geils Band song, doesn’t it?

Even though it is not the focus, certainly, the film serves as a vehicle to sweepingly show the glories of war.  It literally puts you into a cockpit of a bi-plane to experience it’s terror and exhilaration.  According to Wings, war may not be fathomable, but it sure is a rush.  There is almost a workmanlike quality Wings takes to war.  It’s as if the guys who serve the military in the film do so because, well, it’s just their duty.  Morality is something to be sifted through later.

At the forefront of the plot is the unspoken way people should honor each other even at the cost of their own happiness.  Wings is telling you that war is no excuse to break bro code.  Jack is competitive with David because he believes Sylvia is considering David as a suitor and David is wealthy.  Jack is kind of a jackass to him, really.  David, who actually knows that Sylvia loves him, allows Jack to believe that Sylvia loves him back to give him confidence to fight in the war.  David’s sacrificial attitude secretly makes him the hero of the film.  The secondary hero isn’t Jack, really, but Mary since Mary pursues Jack through his jackassery (towards her as well as David), patiently waiting for him to see her worthiness.

It’s through David that we see the most obvious reference to Christianity.  David allows Jack to think he’s betrayed him (when he secretly was protecting him).  On David’s return with a stolen craft from behind enemy lines, Jack shoots him down.  David’s plane lands in a church building setting a scene inside a sanctuary.  The following scene plays out Jack’s horrible realization that he shot down David and that David was protecting him the entire time while David and he have their last conversation.  This illustrates a thought that Wings puts forth about Christianity.  We may have to do horrible things to each other because our morality has led us to conflict but the small honors we give to each other show our goodness.  Pausing to close the eyes of a dead comrade during a bombing run, Mary’s faith, David’s self sacrifice – these help you hold onto your morality.

War has a certain moral ambiguity in Scripture.  Well, maybe ambiguity isn’t the word.  The real thing is that extremely strong points can be made in which war is not only justifiable, but called for  I believe you can make just as strong an argument that Christians should never strike out at others.  It is beyond the purposes of this blog to try to get into that in a detailed way other than pointing out that Wings is saying that it thinks it has found some middle ground.  

Bro code, though, is certainly biblical.  Cain asks God “Am I my brothers keeper?”  The answer that screams out from the text (and from Abel’s blood on the ground) is “Yes!”.  The apostle Paul tells us that we should not just look out for our best interests but for those of others as well.  And, of course, Jesus embodies sacrifice for others.  That sacrifice, like in Wings, opens the eyes of others to things they didn’t see before.

In Wings, David’s sacrifice opens Jack’s eyes to Mary.  In our lives, small sacrifices open our eyes to the possibilities that love can have on others.  It is a point worth remembering.

“D’you know what you can do when you see a shooting star?”  “No, what?”  “You can kiss the girl you love.”


* Bill Wellman actually bolted a couple of cameras to real planes and shot footage of the actors, who he made learn how to fly, as they flew.  These guys actually had to act while flying the plane for hours at a time.  Rogers, who was brand new to flying, apparently threw up every time he landed.  The shots are unbelievable.  For the battle scenes, Wellman somehow managed to get the Army to allow scores of actual troops and military equipment to be used in the film as a PR stunt.  The cost of that in today’s dollars has been calculated in the billions.  To boot, each battle scene is filmed with crackerjack timing  You will literally never see anything like those scenes ever again.  Incredible stuff.

What Platoon Thinks – Oscar Series #1

(All media is telling you something.  This is the first post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahibity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!)


Best Picture, Best Director 1986

“I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days as I’m sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul. There are times since, I’ve felt like the child born of those two fathers. But, be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.” – the last lines of the film uttered by Chris Taylor

Platoon is obsessed with morality.  You could watch Platoon prethinking that Oliver Stone’s point was to throw everything into a moral quagmire fitting of the tropical topography of Vietnam.  You could imagine the film pointing fingers at the BS in all institutions of moral thought and coming out promoting Nihlism by default.  The finger in Platoon finds plenty of BS.  However, that finger is pointed directly at ourselves.  And Nihlism is certainly not the goal.

Chris, the films protagonist, is different than the other guys in his unit.  He chose Vietnam rather than being forced there by poverty or being drafted.   Chris is looking for something.  In his words, “Maybe from down here I can start up again. Be something I can be proud of without having to fake it, be a fake human being.”  That “being something” applies to more than the individual in this film.  That applies to a country or community.  Vietnam, to Platoon, is the forge that tests our morality.

Christianity is referenced directly a few times in the film.  In one scene we see a soldier who has a Jesus Saves shrine at his bunk.  He is killed in action shortly after.  The seeming absence of God is reinforced by the films definition of hell.  Hell is defined in the film as “the impossibility of reason”.  Chris says that Vietnam feels like that.  Hell.

Indirectly, Platoon tells us that people are not directly connected to their morality.  They go through the motions of doing what society says is right without truly thinking about it.  Several characters, however, voice vague feelings that something is terribly wrong in their actions and thinking.  This is less about the weight of judgment and instead about losing something of yourself by your action or inaction.

Platoon will make you wrestle with these issues.  In particular, Platoon will challenge you to consider why you actually do what you do.  It will urge you to deeply consider the institutions in your life.  It will petition you to confront people directly when those actions run contrary to morality.  You get the feeling that Platoon thinks that if more people had done that beforehand we wouldn’t have been in Vietnam with M-16’s in the first place.  (The conflict with Sgt. Barnes illustrates this.)

From a Christian point of view, much could be explained by considering a quote from Sgt. Elias, one of the voices of conscious in the film.  “I love this place at night, the stars. There’s no right or wrong in them. They’re just there.”  I believe that this is a true sentiment of the film and not just a characters point of view.  However, Christ, for whom all things are created and who is in all things, is in the stars.  They are “good” as described by God after making them.  Stars show the glorious mind God has: how beautiful things can shine in amazing glory when they move within God’s law.  God set the path of the stars.  He can set ours too.  Otherwise we risk becoming the wandering star talked about in Jude.  That wandering star may have moments of beauty but it’s destiny is to fizzle out or collide with others,and it cannot be relied upon for navigation.

Platoon wrestles not only with morality, it wrestles with how you can know you are doing the moral thing in the first place.  Since morality is deeply multifaceted, multiple responses to any situation can have moral undertones.  How can we know what’s best?  This illustrates something that is very important in Christianity that is often not understood by many Christians themselves.  The purpose of faith is not encompassed in morality.  Our lives are not about how “right” we are.  Our lives are about oneness with Jesus.  His righteousness is what’s important.  If morality becomes an end to itself, it makes our lives about the percentage of things we get right.  Then morality is simply about ourselves.  If morality is ultimately a comparison to something invisible, than if Chris or we filter our morality through ourselves alone, we ultimately put a stamp of approval on anyone’s actions since we are giving silent assent to the notion that the “invisible” thing is determined by the individual.

Platoon is definitely trying to say something about war (that it is a drug as evidenced by smoking dope through a gun and that it is pointless by selectively showing scenes of villages destroyed and pointless death without showing any positive changes that surely came to some who lived in that country), but that is secondary to the battle for our goodness.  The answer according to Platoon is through self examination.  In Christian faith, the answer starts with self examination.  That leads to acquiring the mind of Christ and being transformed by it rather than conforming to the pattern of the world.  That leads to dying to the world and being resurrected to new life.

“This ain’t Taylor. Taylor been shot. This man Chris been resurrected.”

5 Reasons Why Disney Star Wars Is a Good Thing

I know, I know.  When you heard of Disney’s 4 billion dollar purchase of Lucasfilm you probably imagined a future movie montage in which Darth Vader and Han Solo learn the value of sharing set to Randy Newman’s earnest singing.  After years of the franchise being throttled by George Lucas’ grubby fingers, you can’t really blame Star Wars fans for expecting the worst and Disney’s squeaky clean family image doesn’t necessarily generate street cred cool points for acceptance!

I say, however, to disregard the hipsters downturned piercing laden brows and nerd-nazi Simpson’s Comic Book Guy’s “WORST. IDEA. EVER.” takes on this one because I intend to show you 5 reasons to have real hope that Disney buying the rights to Star Wars is the best thing that could have happened to the franchise.

1.  Disney Intensely Values History

A few years back, Disney did something wild.  They traded one of the most popular and most valuable sportscasters on television, Al Michaels, for the rights to a virtually valueless property, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon.  Oswald, Walt Disney’s first cartoon creation, had been sold out from under him by his unscrupulous boss and had never been re-attained.  Why would they do this?  History has value all it’s own to Disney.

I worked for a year and a half at the happiest place on earth and I can personally testify to the value they place on history.  Disney goes to great expense to teach the history of the company, the characters, and the people behind them.  (This is particularly true in character lore.)  Before anything goes into the parks it has to pass historical checks to make sure it vibes with the previously released material and matches the theme of the location it’s going into.  And, let me tell you, nobody pays more attention to detail than Disney.  Everything in the park down to door knobs is carefully chosen.

When it comes to the depth of the Star Wars mythos, how many companies can claim actual experience with anything similar to the Star Wars experience in American culture?  In order to handle it properly the Star Wars franchise needed a crazily multi-faceted company to take it over and there just aren’t that many out there if any who could properly do it.  Disney may be the only one that is on the scale of Star Wars.  Furthermore, not only can Disney do it, they excel at squeezing life from and re-inventing world reknowned iconic characters while keeping the classic goodness intrinsic to them.  Mickey is a hundred years old and every kid knows his name and loves him.  They are the perfect company to restore the goodness of Star Wars while keeping the detailed history of it untarnished.

2.  Disney Understands the Heart of Multi-faceted Programming

When Walt Disney made Sleeping Beauty’s castle the center point of Disneyland, he didn’t have Disney’s princess line of merchandise in mind.  In fact, he didn’t have kids primarily in mind at all.  He had grandparents in mind.  Walt believed that grandparents would want to bring their grandchildren to a place to experience stories that meant something to them in exactly the same way the grandparents experienced and imagined the story when they were a child.  By making it a centralized location able to be seen from anywhere, the grandparents could sit at Sleeping Beauty’s castle and let their grandchildren safely explore the stories they loved at their own pace with an identifiable place to easily come back to.

It’s true.  There may just be a Vader singing montage with Ewoks in the future.  There may be Star Wars programming targeted at kids, destined for Disney XD.  But you can rest assured that that programming is peripheral to programming targeted at the core Star Wars audience that shines with the original glory of Star Wars.  This is because Disney understands that it isn’t really about the child.  It is about the adult wanting their children to experience the story that mattered to them in their childhood in the same way they experienced it.

3.  Disney Provides Access to the Best Writers & Directors 

Is anyone going to argue against the biggest single thing you could do to make Star Wars better is to remove George Lucas?  Better writers who get Star Wars will finally be given the chance to pen ideas that they have dreamed about for decades and Disney has access and finances to anyone.  I cannot wait to see the life breathed into the franchise by these fantastic writers/directors (I’m personally fascinated by a Guillermo Del Toro Star Wars .. ).

There will be avenues for those writers/directors on television as well.  A Joss Whedon Marvel series is already green lit for ABC.  Who wouldn’t want to see something similar for a Star Wars television series?  The sky is the limit.

4.  This Makes It a Shoe In That We Will Shortly Be Able To Actually Sit in Mos Eisley’s Cantina

It’s only a matter of time before an entire section of a park (probably Hollywood Studios) goes completely and immersibly Star Wars in the same vein as the treatment Harry Potter got at Universal.  The small section of Studios that is already Star Wars is pretty frickin’ amazing as it is (with the exception that the ride itself isn’t great).  I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the parks now that they have tabula rasa.  I’m ready to drink some blue milk in Mos Eisley Cantina, baby!

5.  Disney Has the Best Merchandising Department In the World

Not only is it statistically true, it passes the eye test as well.  Go ahead, try to come away from Walt Disney World without buying something.  They know what people want (because they are the best marketing researchers in the world as well).  I guarantee Disney means the coolest Star Wars toys yet.  Can’t wait to see what they come up with.


While most of the media attention is focused on it, Disney didn’t buy Lucasfilms for film rights.  Disney’s purchasing strategy is focused on creating a virtual monopoly on licensing properties.  (Disney now owns the top 3 individual licensing properties with the purchase of Lucasfilm.  Star Wars did 1.5 billion in licensing sales alone last year.  Marvel was 2nd to Disney in overall company licensing profits when they purchased it. )  I believe they are also focused on buying properties that will also give them a real presence in video gaming (the one thing they haven’t done very well on in the last few years and maybe the impetus for Wreck-It Ralph).  These marketing lines will be supplemented by television shows – cartoon ones in particular – because they are relatively cheap and produce high profit margins.

The good thing about all of this for Star Wars fans is simple: this strategy hinges of excellent crowd-pleasing films that satisfy a base core of fans and can stand on their own for years.  The movies do not necessarily have to make a ton of money, they just have to be well loved.  George Lucas didn’t have that luxury.  He didn’t do a 7, 8, and 9 because he felt it was too financially risky.  His company didn’t have the depth to survive a modest box office draw.  He had to have a hit in order to make it worthwhile.  And, he knew he blew it before so who was going to wait in lines around the block for another movie with him at the helm?  The only way Star Wars could be salvaged is if somebody with deep pockets bought it.

For the reasons above, all I can say is thank goodness it was Disney.