Disclaimer: The words and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only. They do not reflect the overall opinion of DisneyDining.com or The Walt Disney Company.
Disney, the renowned entertainment company, has captured the hearts of millions worldwide with its enchanting stories and captivating characters. While some may argue that Disney’s roots are solely in entertainment, it is imperative to acknowledge the profound influence of Christian values on the Disney narrative.
In a time where many Christians feel alienated by Disney, despite what’s on the surface, exploring how Disney still exemplifies and promotes Christian principles ensures that its content remains a source of inspiration and faith for families worldwide.
Implicit and Explicit Christian Themes
Disney is renowned for crafting stories centered around moral values, presenting narratives reflecting the triumph of good over evil. Timeless classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Beauty and the Beast (1991) emphasize the significance of virtues like kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness.
These themes, which are still the basis of Disney production, remain closely aligned with Christian teachings and offer valuable lessons for audiences of all ages. However, it is imperative to acknowledge the current course of Disney in media and its famous theme park businesses, Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
From a Christian theological standpoint, faith-driven individuals must adhere to their teachings, particularly those of Jesus, as they relate to Christianity.
Although the Christian Bible condemns many modern-day practices that are now deemed acceptable, Jesus taught a message of hope and love while spreading the Gospel. Whether our religions promote or deny today’s practices, the Christian’s task is to promote love within these populations.
Christianity Today acknowledges the concern over Disney’s massive influence in lifestyle brands, especially concerning children, “Evangelicals are right to be concerned with Disney’s recent turn toward progressive values on gender and sexuality, as reflected in films like Lightyear (2022) and Strange World (2022).”
Yet evangelical critiques of Disney often run deeper than conflicting stances on culture-war matters. Disney, the argument goes, teaches children that they must always follow their hearts. If by “heart,” Disney merely meant one’s emotions, then the critique would be a valid one.
However, considering the origin of Disney’s foundational creation, including Walt Disney himself, following your “heart” is more profound than pure emotion. It means something different, and like it or not, the idea is supported by Scripture.
Although the Bible examines the heart as faulty, it mainly refers to our emotional responses. Walt Disney often illustrated this in films and productions, highlighting villains fueled by faulty emotions.
Per Christianity Today, “The protagonists of the best Disney films fail when they trust their immature and unstable emotions, their greed or envy or willfulness. It is only when they learn properly to follow their heart—not to thine own self be true, but to thy true self be true—that they achieve their dreams.”
Walt Disney, the Christian
As a Christian, I agree that there are undoubtedly problematic issues seated deep within The Walt Disney Company. However, I also understand that my role as a Christian is to love and support my neighbor.
I also understand that by alienating large groups of people, I deny them an opportunity to see the light within me. It isn’t my job to affect change. In the theological sense, according to the Gospel, I am to be a “light of the world.”
Walt shared a similar ideology in that it is well documented that he hoped to share the magical makings of his mind, fueled by the love of his children, with the world. Our own Becky Burkett sums it up perfectly:
The entire Disney enterprise was built on one man’s love for his children and the hope that something better, something more unifying, and something more family-oriented could be created. Walt Disney began his endeavor with a sense of hope in his heart–a hope for something better as he set out for Hollywood, where he intended to create stories and characters–and new ways in which to experience them–that would bring joy to people of all ages.
In his animated feature films, beginning with Snow White, Walt borrowed the best parts of timeless classic fairy tales and other stories and mixed those elements with love and hope to bring about a brighter narrative than the fairy tales written by, for example, the Brothers Grimm.
When he began to dream of the inclusive, exciting, and family-friendly place that would one day be Disneyland, he did so out of love for his two daughters–and the hope that, as he said, he ‘felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together.’
Walt Disney’s faith largely drove that sense of hope: “Every person has his own ideas of the act of praying for God’s guidance, tolerance, and mercy to fulfill his duties and responsibilities. My own concept of prayer is not a plea for special favors, nor as a quick palliation for wrongs knowingly committed.”
Instead, Walt Disney believed in the divine capacity to influence a person’s entire life. Walt, a man of God, felt that religion was effective in meeting everyday storms and problems.
This was demonstrated to perfection in his early works as The Walt Disney Company gained its legs, and it continues to be a solid undertone even in Today’s Disney productions. Although not directly attributing faith, hope, and love to God, Disney still uses that same technique in releasing an “inner power” to overcome incredible odds.
Theological Significance in Film
Disney films often incorporate Christian themes in subtle and profound ways. For instance, the story of The Lion King (1994) draws inspiration from the biblical narrative of Joseph and his journey towards redemption.
Additionally, the iconic film Frozen (2013) beautifully illustrates the transformative power of sacrificial love, mirroring the essence of Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross. These striking parallels highlight Disney’s commitment to embedding Christian values within its storytelling.
Disney princesses hold an esteemed place in the hearts of many. Beyond their enchanting tales, these iconic characters often embody virtuous qualities deeply rooted in Christian teachings.
Meanwhile, Princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991) demonstrates compassion and the transformative power of love, echoes of Christ’s teachings.
For instance, Princess Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989) portrays a longing for something greater, akin to the human soul’s yearning for a divine connection.
Enjoying Disney Doesn’t Mean Promoting Disagreeable Values
Speaking solely from the perspective of a Christian, let’s pull the bandaid off here before moving forward. The most prominent problem that Christians have with Disney is the promotion of lifestyles that are disagreeable according to Scripture.
So, the question becomes, does going to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or seeing a Disney movie mean that a Christian is promoting disagreeable values? Going back to the critical point earlier, although it isn’t our job to “judge.”
Being a Christian and being present in non-Christian opportunities is often essential. We are to be a light that shines upon a path through love, support, hope, and faith. Hopefully, that path leads others to the love and joy that is Christ. If others don’t share that belief, it isn’t our job to MAKE them.
This is another practice reflected by Disney, in which they often uses in their films, a guiding force to a happy ending.
The Christian Church Could Learn a Thing or Two From Walt
In today’s society, however, we want to assign labels to everything, and those labels are increasingly restrictive. Something is either “good,” or it’s egregiously “evil,” and then we want to assign politics to those things.
People today who shun Disney do so because Disney is successful and profitable, and they find fault with others who have found something that works, perhaps because of a jealous spirit, or they shun Disney because they “don’t agree with the direction the company is taking” or because they “don’t like the way stories are being told.”
And that’s ok, especially since today’s Disney would likely disappoint and even embarrass Walt in many ways. But I go back to the fact that the entire enterprise come to be from the heart of a father who loved his children and an undying spirit of hope that continued to guide Walt throughout his lifetime. And Walt himself wasn’t a stranger to faith in God.
In 1962, Walt was quoted as saying, “To me, today at age 61, all prayer by the humble or highly placed has one thing in common: supplication for strength and inspiration to carry on the best impulses which should bind us together for a better world.”
Sadly, many social bickering and meandering have entered our local churches. Our concern with deep-seated issues outside our sanctuaries has wrapped us up in front of televisions while scrolling through loud opinions on social media.
Somewhere in all the mess and mud, churches have lost their ability to imitate the message of the Gospel, all while condemning Disney for being “pro-(fill in the blank).”
Now, I’m not saying that Christian churches should take up the mantle and actively engage in values they disagree with, but I am saying that Christians should acknowledge that the very church they base their faith in has reflective issues that should be cleaned up as well.
Christianity Today, highlighting Scarborough and Sawyer, also made this point while attributing, in hindsight, Walt Disney’s ability to “participate in a parallel enterprise that complements, rather than imitates, the message of the Gospel” and despite Walt’s death decades ago, many of those founding principles, especially hope and love, are still cornerstone blocks of Disney operations.
Visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland isn’t going to keep any Christian out of heaven; neither is enjoying Mickey Mouse. Teaching false gospels, not following the commandments of Christ, and living a Jesus-centered lifestyle will – if you believe in that sort of thing.
Although not everyone reading this will be a Christian, not sharing any of the beliefs associated with the faith, this article was written in hopes that those who are can work through conflicting emotions regarding the current state of the Walt Disney Company.
The words and opinions herein are those of the author and do not reflect the overall opinion of DisneyDining.com or the Walt Disney Company.