My little girl didn’t want much of anything to do with Disney movies until fairly recently. Now in third grade, while most of her peers are growing out of the Disney-princess stage, my daughter is transfixed with the magic and beauty of Elsa, Rapunzel, Belle, and the like. With her extra chromosome causing difficulty in her ability to process things quickly, she is always hesitant to try a new movie. Settling in to watch a novel story unfold on the screen requires careful attention and is more a challenging mental exercise than a relaxing and entertaining treat. Once she does finally agree to try something new, it becomes a full-on case study as she picks up more of the story line with every viewing. Before long, she asks for it with every allotment of screen time and the rest of us in the house are plagued with the movie theme songs for weeks on end.
When watching Tangled the other day, my innocent believer grabbed her wand, pointed it at the screen, and then pointed it at her Rapunzel doll that was lying on the couch next to her. She was trying, as she put it, to get “real Rapunzel to come out of the TV.” I tried to explain this wasn’t possible, and all of a sudden the challenge of explaining the concept of pretend was once again before me.
In case you haven’t seen them, or need a bit of a refresher from your childhood, Beauty and the Beast ends with the Beast dying — all hope lost — and then coming back to life (in the form of a prince no less), after the pledge of Belle’s devoted love. Tangled, the modern-day version of Rapunzel, ends with the love of Rapunzel’s life dying — again, all hope lost — and coming back to life after Rapunzel pledges her love and a magical healing tear drops onto his fateful wound. Frozen ends with the younger sister giving her life for that of her older sister, and once again the power of love steps in to melt death, bring her back to life, and restore hope in what had become a cold and desperate world.
As only the magic of Disney can do, the final scenes in these masterfully animated dramas never fail to warm the heart and, if only for a moment, leave you to believe in the power of love bringing new life to that which was dead. So, you see my conundrum now, yes? Here I am left to explain the truth to this vulnerable eight-year-old of mine. How do I break the news that there is no love great enough to overcome death, that love in itself is not strong enough to turn a beast of a man into a prince, that no one could love selflessly enough to sacrifice their life for another — to invite the pain and reality of death — so the one they love can live.
I had to kinda laugh at the brilliant way God was speaking to me while I pondered this through. Never did I suspect, within the backdrop of a Disney movie — in and among the story line and dramatic plot twists of the princesses — I’d find the beginnings of a conversation on the Easter story: this story we’ve heard so many times it almost does feel a bit like a magical tale. In its simplest form, this is truly the greatest love story of all time. And we are the benefactors of the gift of new life. We are the Beast, we are Flynn Ryder (Rapunzel’s guy), we are Elsa (Anna’s older sister).
It’s hard to understand — so hard — and it certainly falls into the category of one that requires several viewings in order to absorb all that is going on. For most, it takes a lifetime of hearing the story over and over again to even begin to understand the message. Many are hesitant to ever let the story unfold before them, feeling unworthy or afraid to put their trust in something they can’t touch. Belief in the story demands what feels like a total abandonment of all things we know to be real and tangible in our everyday lives. Some would claim taking to our knees to speak with God is comparable to picking up a wand and expecting great things from “bippity boppity boo.”
To be completely honest, I struggle every Lent to immerse myself in the truth of the story line and find myself so often distracted by the busyness and responsibilities of daily life. I find it’s worth it, however, to trudge along and give this love story the attention it deserves. Because, in the end, I do believe the truth within it is my happily ever after.
Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson