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Finding Disney in Ourselves

Extraordinary Magic in Everyday Life


Adventure Is Out ThereI like to say that the difference between a good movie and a great movie is one thing: a reflection. If a movie can prompt the viewer to pause, assess the story, and clearly see glimpses of him or herself within it, then the film instantly becomes something much more than a series of images flashing across a screen. In that moment, it breaks the confines of being just a movie. It becomes part of us.

It’s easy to identify with Disney movies and characters. We all have our favorite hero (or villain), the one we identify with more than any other, the one with whom we feel we have a strong connection. The fun part about this is that, oftentimes, we won’t realize this connection until we’re much older. One of the wonderful intrinsic qualities of Disney films is their ability to entertain both children and adults simultaneously. Each audience comes away with a different moral despite the fact they both viewed the same exact film. And as we become older, discovering the depth of these stories makes them all the more meaningful.

Rapunzel Leaves TowerTake, for example, four of the more recent additions to the Disney family: Up (2009), Tangled (2010), Frozen (2013), and Saving Mr. Banks (2013). They’re just about as polar opposite as they come, each taking place in a different setting and involving their fair share of stylistic distinctions. But when examined closely, they convey a grander message, together.

Let’s start with the surface level. Up is about Carl Fredricksen flying his house to South America. Message: Go after your dream with everything you’ve got. Tangled is about Rapunzel traveling to see the floating lanterns. Message: Persist through fear to make your dream come true. Frozen is about Anna helping Elsa unfreeze Arendelle. Message: There is value in family. Saving Mr. Banks is about Walt Disney going leaps and bounds to create a film he always promised his daughters he’d bring to the screen. Message: Cooperation and creativity are excellent tools of life.

Mr BanksYet those only scratch the surface. They get the job done. They succinctly summarize the fundamentals of each story. If we push just a little bit further, though… Up is about an older gentleman’s struggle to let go of the life that might have been with his deceased wife. Message: You’ll miss adventure if you let regret consume you. Tangled is about a teenager’s internal yearning to experience the world with a perpetual fear of its threats. Message: Being afraid to live is far more dangerous than embracing life. Frozen is about a sister’s tendency to be comfortable in her own stability without reliance on others. Message: Letting people in reveals that the power of connection is the strongest magic of all. Saving Mr. Banks is about the triumph of a father (and the decline of another) who refuses to let his business world dictate his being, and instead puts his family at the center of his life, where it should be. Message: You probably get the point by now… they’re all strikingly similar.

Through Carl, Rapunzel, Elsa, and George Banks, we learn the price that comes with shutting out the world, and the victory that is achieved when we go out of our comfort zone, build relationships, and explore the boundaries of life. We leave the tower. We build snowmen. We fly kites. We discover, in the end, that adventure is out there.

Elsa Thaws ArendelleFive years ago, I would say I was a very closed-off person, and during the progression of these four films’ releases, I learned the benefit of opening up and going beyond what I thought I was capable of. Doing things that would have terrified me before, in terms of both activities and connecting with people. I don’t attribute this change solely to those movies; lots of other things were happening at the same time (going to college, for one), but the parallels that I saw in myself to these protagonists certainly prodded me forward during times when I perhaps would have remained still.

I don’t kid myself into thinking all four movies intentionally work in tandem, but based on my life experience during the times of each film’s release, that’s the connection I latched on to. That’s the connection that I clung to. That’s the connection that made, and continues to make, these films very real to me.

How about you? Is there a movie or character that is resonate with your personality or story? How?


(Images © Disney.)

Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.