Category: Movies

The Lion King (2019): What Makes a King?

Disney’s new photorealistic (the popular term is live-action but can we really call a movie live action when everything is digitally created?) remake of The Lion King debuted the domestic…

Disney’s new photorealistic (the popular term is live-action but can we really call a movie live action when everything is digitally created?) remake of The Lion King debuted the domestic box office with a $191.8 million, July record opening weekend performance. Though met with a lukewarm reception from critics and sitting at a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes millions of people are still going to the theater. The Lion King is already a massive financial success. Clearly there is something about The Lion King that people are still hungry for.

This newest rendition of The Lion King is breathtakingly beautiful to look at. Every scene but one in the film is computer animated, but even to a trained eye it is very difficult to spot any cracks in the animation. It truly looks like there are real life breathing animals being filmed in the wild. This is a remarkable feat of movie magic making power. The film also sounds fantastic. I found Billy Eichner’s performance as Timon to be the best of the film, though I also really enjoyed Seth Rogen’s Pumba, as well. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a very good performance as Scar that is more menacing than the conniving performance of Jeremy Irons, though the animated version’s “Be Prepared” is way better than the newer version.

There also were a few new story beats that I thought were interesting, that I wish had been explored more fully. Instead, what we mostly find in the new Lion King is a shot for shot remake that adds very little in the way of story, but relies heavily on the nostalgia and love of the first film. Some of the emotional weight is lost in the photorealism of the animals where you cannot animate emotion like you can in a cartoon. Also, some of the voice cast is weak and unable to give the necessary emotional weight to the performance.

The original 1994 The Lion King is my favorite Disney animated film. Sadly, the 2019 version fails to add much substantially new to the story. In many ways this newest adaptation feels pointless except as an exercise in computer graphics and a cash grab by Disney. It is worth seeing in theaters though for the amazing technical prowess of the film, and the enjoyment of the original story. The Lion King (2019) is good because The Lion King (1994) is great.  Spoilers will follow, but really if you have seen the cartoon version you have seen the exact story of the new.


There are many things that could be said about the story of The Lion King, which in case you didn’t know is adapted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. However, I think one of the most powerful aspects of story is the exploration of the question, “What makes a king?” This is one area on which the new version of the film actually includes some improvements or interesting additions to the original film.

In this version of The Lion King there is a stronger comparison made between Mufasa and Scar. We find out that Scar believes he ought to be the rightful king and had at one time challenged Mufasa to be king. It is implied this is how he received his scar. Further on in the film we also have an exchange between Sarabi (the queen) and Scar, where she rejects his advances his toward her again. We learn that Sarabi had chosen Mufasa over Scar too. All of this brings Scar and Mufasa into sharper contrast. I would much rather have seen this prequel film between Mufasa, Scar, and Sarabi, than the shot for shot retelling we got in this film.

The film also explores the philosophies of rule between Mufasa and Scar. Scar says,  Life’s not fair, my little friend. While some are born to feast, others are born to serve.” Scar’s view of being a king is that others are beneath the king in order to serve the king. For Scar being a king is all about power and control. Mufasa, on the other hand, has a very different understanding of what it is to be a king. After Simba ask Mufasa if all the land he sees will be his, Mufasa responds with, “It belongs to no one, but it is yours to protect. It is a great responsibility.” He goes on further to say, “While others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give.” For Mufasa being a king is not about power but about service.

As I heard this dialogue in the film I could not help but think about the Biblical depiction of kings. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 God provides Israel with the parameters for what a king ought to be. A true king is to be concerned more about following God and leading the people in worship of God, than about expanding borders or winning military battles. The king is not to have his heart exalted over his fellow citizens (Deut 17:20). When the Israelites demand a king in 1 Samuel 8, they are rebuked not for desiring a king, but for desiring a king like all the other kings of the world. In other words, they desire a king who is concerned about power, military might, and expansion of borders than they are a king who serves God and his people.

Throughout the Old Testament there is a longing for a coming king who will rule with love and righteousness. The New Testament reveals that this king is Jesus. The God-man who” did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Tyrants seek the high places and to lord themselves over others, but Jesus tells us, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave” (Matt 20:26-27).

In The Lion King we see a visible representation of this battle between the competing visions of a good and a bad king. Under the rule the true king, Mufasa, Pride Rock and the surrounding lands flourish. Under the fearful rule of the false King, Scar, the lands are dying. The land and lions long for the return of a king so that the land may once again flourish. Once our world flourished in paradise, but through man’s sin we gave over the world to rulers of darkness. The land and the people suffer under that reign sin and death, longing for the return of a true king who will restore the land and the people.

Simba is conflicted in the story. He does not think he is worthy of following in the footsteps of his father Mufasa. He believes he is too broken to be king. Finally, though through a vision of Mufusa Simba is told to “remember who you are.” Simba embraces his destiny and returns. In his confrontation with Scar, Simba demonstrates that is a true king who walks in the steps of his father, Mufasa, when he extends compassion and mercy to his uncle Scar. As Sarabi, had said earlier in the film, “a true king’s power is his compassion.

This story exploring what it makes a king is a common thread through many stories throughout the history of the world. There is something powerful that awakens deep-seated desires of the human heart. We cannot help but desire for a righteous ruler and king who will reign with compassion. Our love of The Lion King reveals this about our hearts’ longings. The Lion King reveals our recognition that we are all in need of a king.

Jesus is our true king, who walks in the steps of his Father. Whereas, Simba faltered to be a king, Jesus perfectly lived. In Christ we find a king who lovingly serves his people and lives sacrificially for them. His love was made manifest in his dying for us on the cross for our sins. One day he will return and reign forever in a kingdom defined by love and righteous. In the meantime his followers are called to extend the reign of the Son by being salt and light on the earth. We are to be ambassadors of the one true king Jesus Christ. In The Lion King we see but darkly an image of what it is that makes a king.

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Yesterday: The Beatles and Signals of Transcendence

I finally was able to catch up on some films I was hoping to catch this summer. One being the new film Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle. Yesterday stars newcomer…

I finally was able to catch up on some films I was hoping to catch this summer. One being the new film Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle. Yesterday stars newcomer Himesh Patel as Jack Malik, a struggling musician, who one day wakes up to an altered world where he is the only one who remembers the Beatles. Jack begins to play the Beatles’ music as his own and soon rapidly rises to be an international pop sensation.

Lily James stars alongside Himesh Patel as best friend, manager, and love interest Ellie Appleton. Patel and James have wonderful chemistry together and represent a very likable couple for a romantic comedy. Music star Ed Sheeran also shows up and gives a wonderful slightly self-mocking performance as himself. Yesterday features a wide collection of beautiful covers of the Beatles’ ridiculously long and excellent catalog of music. All are performed by Himesh Patel, who does an excellent job singing as well as acting.

I found Yesterday to be a lovely sweet film with likeable leads, an interesting premise, and excellent music. Yesterday is not a perfect movie but it is a crowd pleasing film featuring an excellent production of Beatles’ music. This is a good film to check for those who enjoy romantic comedies and/or Beatles music.

Yesterday offers up all kinds of interesting questions especially to those of the philosophical bent such as myself. However, I think one the most interesting ideas is raised toward the end of the film. We find out that there are two other people who also remember the world with the Beatles’ music. The tension rises as to whether they are going to out Jack or not. In the moment of confrontation instead of condemning Jack they thank him. This is quite startling, but their reasoning even more so. Neither of them are musicians and they are just thankful to hear Beatles music again. One of the characters states, comforting Jack, “A world without the Beatles is a world that’s infinitely worse.”

One can debate the merits of the Beatles music, though for my money the Beatles are one of the most beautiful songwriting teams of all time. However, I think this quote highlights something most of us intuitively believe whether we have ever taken the time to consider it or not: Art and music make the world a better place; the world would be lacking in some way if we were to lose a beautiful piece of art like Rembrandt’s Raising of the Cross, or Bach’s Six Cello Suites, or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or even, yes, the Beatles’ Yesterday. But why is it the case that there is beauty in this world, or why do we value creative expression and beauty in our lives? Why would we believe the world is worse off without the Beatles? What is it we think we are losing? It seems to me that we all recognize the intrinsic value of beauty because we all desire transcendence. When we encounter something beautiful, it has the power to move us beyond ourselves in a way the ugly or mundane cannot.

Ultimately, this desire for beauty I believe is a desire for God, himself, who is the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty. God is the preeminent creator who has created a glorious beautiful world. Truly, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” But not only do the heavens declare his glory and beauty but so do his creatures who are made in his image. As image bearers we reflect the marks of our creator in our creative ability. God has gifted this world by creating people with unique gifts and abilities that can introduce more beauty, grandeur, and goodness into this world. In part we can taste and see that the Lord is good, through the pieces of art created by people who are in the image of and created by the supremely beautiful One.

This also raises another important concept. Which story of the universe provides a better picture of the world? Does the disenchanted naturalistic, reductionistic, materialistic explanation of the secularists, or the enchanted, supernatural, and sacred explanation of the Christian better explain the world we live in? By my lights, the Christian worldview and explanation is much more desirable and beautiful than any alternative.

Apologists Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Handbook of Christian Apologetics, give an argument for God from Bach (or really from art and beauty) that goes like this:

There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this or you don’t

Many will find this an unconvincing argument, and I myself don’t think in this form it is the most persuasive. But if we understand this argument to really be pointing out that there is beauty in this world, and this is better explained by there being a God than not I think we can see it to be a helpful argument pointing toward God. Apologist, James Sire in Apologetics Beyond Reason, takes this argument and expands upon it. He argues that so much of current apologetics fails to account reaching the heart along with the mind. God has planted throughout the universe both in nature and through artists “signals of transcendence” that point us towards the reality that there is a beautiful Artist who is the Creator of all.

This brings us back to the movie Yesterday, which presents us with the beliefs that 1) there is beauty in the world 2) the world would be worse off if beauty did not exist, and 3) beauty is good. The Christian faith holds all these things to be true, and further grounds them in the beautiful God of the universe. God has chosen to create a world in which there is the Beatles music. God has chosen to create a beautiful world.

There is the music of the Beatles.
Therefore there must be a God.
I hope that you see this too.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home, Hits Close to Home

A couple of days before July 4th, Spiderman: Far From Home hit theaters riding the wave of the long weekend, hoping to snatch up all those movie goers with a…

A couple of days before July 4th, Spiderman: Far From Home hit theaters riding the wave of the long weekend, hoping to snatch up all those movie goers with a bit of extra time on their hands. I’ve been excited to return to the MCU’s webslinger and his friendly neighborhood antics not only in the wake of his stand along movie Homecoming but also amongst the aftermath of Infinity War and Endgame. The fish out of water story, set amongst the countries of Europe, coupled with a fish-in-over-its-head angle make for a great hook. As one reviewer put it “…Far From Home is the epilogue to Endgame I didn’t know I needed.” I was sold.

Did the movie live up to my hype? It’s worth seeing if you’ve been following most of the Marvel movies thus far but if you want to wait to stream/rent it you’ll be fine… is what I would have said after the movie ‘ended’ but the mid-credit scene changed everything. The movie takes on a whole new weight, meaning, and emotional investment that elevates the whole experience. It becomes one of those moments that all stories strive to accomplish but is often overlooked when comics and genre fiction achieve them. It holds up a mirror to our world and allows us to see beyond our own life. It teaches us empathy. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not better than Homecoming when it comes to the entertainment it offers, because it instead is offering something else. Instead of a spectacle it offers a seed. Less fun but more lasting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get to the kernel of truth Spider-Man is offering, here are few of the small things I enjoyed about the movie.
• The chemistry between the characters: Peter interacting with his friends, Peter being awkward about his romantic feelings, Peter being a part of Nick Fury’s new team. All the small character moments are great.
• I enjoyed the design of the fire monster. I like how it looked, how it felt when Spidey and Mysterio fought it. I like its powers, and how they interact with the world.
• The humor is back and it’s on par with Homecoming.
• I like the stakes. Even though this movie has raised the stakes and elevated Spider-Man to a true Avenger class hero, he still feels like a boots-on-the-ground neighborhood hero trying to be a teenager while keeping his friends safe.
There is a lot to like in this film, even if at times it drags just a bit. But onto the ending and its implications!


The mid-credit scene picks up right where the movie ‘ends’ revealing not only that Mysterio has used his hologram technology to trick the world into believing that Spider-Man killed him, that Spider-Man is some kind of villain, but also revealing Spider-Man’s true identity. And this news is brought to the public by none other than J.K. Simmons reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson. What a reveal! The stakes for Spider-Man, personally, have never been higher. Gone is the editor of a printed newspaper, J. Jonah Jameson is now the host of the news talk show The Daily Bugle, that looks and sounds almost exactly like Info Wars and Alex Jones. The changes to the character are quite clever, though not subtle, and the implications are not lost on the view. Nor should they be for the Christian view especially.

It seems difficult to find out what is True in this day and age. This is not something particular to this current time, this current generation. The difference is not one of culture but technology. People have always lied. Politicians lie, news casters lie, celebrities lie, business people lie, your family lies, your friends lie, but now it’s much easier for people to hear the lies. This is why discerning what is truth and what is a lie becomes paramount to not only living a better, more informed life but also a Good life. A life that honors God. Though most of us cannot relate to keeping our anonymity, to wearing a mask, in order to do the most good for the most people, we can relate to being portrayed as something we are not. Or at least living under some level of fear of that happening, especially within the socially connect digital sphere of modern life. These are the two big themes of Spider-Man’s ending address: what is true and what should I do when my integrity is attacked.

The first is easy enough. As Christians our faith comes from God and the truth of that faith, its foundation, is found in the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We know this because we have read the Bible and we believe it to be true. We as Christians have a filter to which all information can pass through. Those things that flow through the Biblical filter align with the Truth while those things that are caught reveal themselves to be false. The Bible teaches us to know these things and in turn allows us to then teach others (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And by teaching we become a part of the expansion of the truth ultimately covering the earth and fulfilling the Great Commission. While ultimately the public will eventually realize that Spider-Man is not some kind of villain, because he is a superhero and these are comic book movies, Christians can have the same assurance that what is true and what is false will be revealed when we hold them up to standard that God have given us.

The second theme is not always so easy live with. For those who have not yet been bitten by radioactive spiders the strain of this kind of attack is quite heavy. Many are the attacks from outside of the faith against those that choose to follow both the letter and the spirit of Gods word, Jesus himself said as much in Matthew chapter 5, and even calls his follower blessed because of it. Blessed by the very words of our enemies for being what we already claim to be. But what if the attack came from within the Church, from fellow Christians? What if those we trusted turned out to be the ones misleading us? That is the type of betrayal that Spider-Man is dealing with and many believes deal with as well.

As Proverbs 11:3 states “he who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” Whether you know the person or not, every time some pastor or leader within the church is caught in a sexual sin or accused of stealing money it always seems personal. Always seems like an attack on our faith, on the Church, and it is just that. It drives people away. People who were already a part of the Church, and people looking at those situations and seeing ‘that’ as the church.

If one superhero is a killer aren’t they all? Who can we trust?

How can that pastor have done this when they claim to believe the Bible? Is this what all Christians are like?

The Bible is a shield to the barbs of the enemy, not a wall to cover the sins of humanity, yet we cannot simply hide behind that shield. Our part is simple enough when confronted with untruth, when attacked in our faith: we must remain peaceful with everyone, in all we are able to do (Romans 12:18), innocent yet shrewd (Matthew 10:16), always doing good and ultimately relying on God’s Justice which goes beyond anything we can provide. (Romans 12:19-20). The world is a dark place, full of lies and danger, and yet we can take courage because Christ walks with us, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33). We are not the heroes, God is.

I look forward to seeing what happens next to Spider-Man; his heroic deeds and his exoneration. I hope you all are excited as well. Not only about the next movie but also in how this piece of art and entertainment is able to change us, if only in some small way. To be better Believers and better people to others. To be a part of the truth and a part of the source of true hope.

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Toy Story 4: Of Toys and Telos

This last weekend Pixar released their newest film, Toy Story 4 which is being released 9 years after the last Toy Story film. Pixar has another huge hit on their…

This last weekend Pixar released their newest film, Toy Story 4 which is being released 9 years after the last Toy Story film. Pixar has another huge hit on their hands as by all accounts the film opened with over $100 million in the domestic box office. Toy Story 4 is also a critical darling so far sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is somewhat surprising because many, myself included among this number, were skeptical of a fourth Toy Story movie when Toy Story 3 so beautifully concluded the story of Andy and his toys.

I was very worried that Toy Story 4 would ruin the near perfectness of the original films. Before the fourth was announced I ranked the Toy Story trilogy as one of the best trilogy of films of all time and in my opinion ending on the highest note. I grew up with the Toy Story franchise. The actor voicing Andy was born the same year I was. I felt as the first three films followed my life stages in fairly close parallels in real time. I think this is true for many Millennials, and part of the reason why for many of us Toy Story is such an emotionally impactful franchise.

Thankfully, I had no need for my reservations. Toy Story 4 is a wonderful addition to the franchise. It is gorgeously animated, beautifully voice acted, incredibly funny, and emotionally engaging. I was concerned that there would be nothing new to say in this film, but I was so wrong. The writers and director truly had a unique and meaningful story to tell. To paraphrase what a dear friend of my said after seeing the film, if Toy Story 3 was the ending of Andy’s story then Toy Story 4 was the ending for Toy Story. More specifically this movie is about Woody’s journey much more than the other films though Woody has always been the central protagonists.

This movie really is delightful. It is joyous and hilarious at one moment, and then poignant and contemplative in the next. There is a bittersweet note of joy and longing, that I do not know how to describe any other way than to borrow a word from C. S. Lewis. The ending of Toy Story 4 is full of sehnsucht. Sehnsucht is a German word that Lewis describes in The Weight of Glory as “inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.” The other Toy Story films are fully of this longing and joy, and this remains true for Toy Story 4. I cannot recommend seeing this movie enough.


The Toy Story films have always contained within their stories an important element of existential contemplation. It could be argued this is the crux and draw of each of these films. In Toy Story, Woody must come to terms with perhaps not being the favorite toy any more, and losing his top status in the toy hierarchy. Buzz Lightyear must come to terms with his own faulty view of himself and reality, which are quite different from what he first believed. Much more could be said about Toy Story 2 & 3 as well.

There are very many themes and ideas one could explore in all the Toy Story films, as well as, the latest installment. However, I think the theme of telos as it relates to purpose and meaning in life is more strongly presented in Toy Story 4 than any of the other films. For those unfamiliar with the term telos, it can be defined as ultimate end or aim. In philosophy it refers to the concept things are aimed at certain goals. That different natures have different functions to accomplish in order to bring about flourishing. For example, an acorn has the telos of becoming an oak tree. Its purpose or goal is to become a tree. In order for this to be accomplished its nature has certain functions such as collecting water and converted sunlight into energy so that it might achieve its final end of becoming a tree. Many influential Christian theologians and philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas have argued that all things created by God including humans have a telos. They receive their purpose and meaning because they have been created with a particular aim or purpose. In the same manner toys are made for certain ends or functions, so too does the Scriptures present people has being created for certain ends and functions. The Westminster Confession proposes a definition of a human’s telos when it states, “the chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In the world of Toy Story toys flourish as they fulfill their purpose to bring joy to the children who play with them.

Telos manifest itself in several ways throughout Toy Story 4. It is most obviously seen through the introduction of the new character Forky. Forky is made by Bonnie at kindergarten and it is hinted that through her purpose of making Forky to being a toy and putting her name on him that Forky is made sentient and now has the purpose of being a toy. Forky, however, at first struggles with idea of being a toy at first. Forky believes that he is still trash and not a toy. Woody recognizes how important Forky is for the girl Bonnie, and wholeheartedly tries to convince Forky that he is a toy and not trash. What follows is a hilarious sequence where Woody constantly is having to prevent Forky from throwing himself into the trash. Forky is having an existential crisis of who and what he is? What is his purpose,? What is the meaning of his life? Woody takes it upon himself to keep Forky safe, and to teach Forky what it means to be a toy. After Forky escapes during a summer trip in an RV. It is up to Woody to bring Forky back to Bonnie.

The leads to the deeper, more subtle, and more powerful message of Toy Story 4. Through Woody we get have an exploration of where does one find meaning and purpose after they have already fulfilled a purpose in their life? Through Woody we come to a better understanding of our need for purpose and meaning in our own lives, as well as, the truth that our telos runs much deeper than we often imagine.

At the beginning of the film we find Woody no longer has the position he once had. He is no longer top toy, in fact, he is often regulated to the closet now and no longer played with. After fulfilling the toy’s greatest purpose with Andy, by providing joy and comfort to a child, Woody is now at a lost to what his purpose is. His life has lost a sense of meaning, though he hasn’t realized it fully yet. So Woody is devoted to making sure his new kid Bonnie is happy and he is also devoted to making sure other toys have their opportunity to fulfilling their purposes with children. In Woody’s world the worse thing to be is a lost toy. The irony is that Woody does not realize that now in some sense he is a lost toy. This becomes more and more clear as Woody tries to explain to Forky what a toy’s purpose is.

In the very first scene of the film, we have a flashback of the night that Bo Peep is lost. Bo offers Woody a chance to leave with her, and Woody almost goes, but then he hears Andy’s voice. Woody’s fear of being lost, and his devotion to fulfilling his purpose to Andy prevents him from going with Bo. Later in the film, Woody is reunited with Bo Peep who has now been living quite successfully as a kidless toy for some years. Slowly through their reconnection over the course of the film, we find awakened in Woody a longing for a renewed sense of purpose in life. The film makes this poignantly through the dazzling lights of the old chandeliers in the antique shop. In this moment with Bo Beep, Woody is shown to long for something he can’t quite explain. In this moment the seed is planted that there is more to his life and purpose than he had imagined. Woody is left with the question, what does one do when one has fulfilled their seeming purpose in life? Is there more to life than he had once imagined?

This theme of meaning and purpose of life is further drawn out through the antagonist of the film, Gabby Gabby. Gabby Gabby is a very different villain from just about any other film I have seen in a very long time. Gabby Gabby is aggressive in her tactics but she is driven by a real sense of finding meaning in her life, and fulfilling the purpose for which toys exist. Gabby Gabby was defective from the box. She had a broken voice box, and desires Woody’s voice box so that she might finally know the love of a child, and fulfill her purpose as a toy. In a climactic moment when one is expecting the most villianious turn of Gabby Gabby, instead, she gives a passionate and rational plea to Woody to allow her to fulfill her purpose. Woody, then, agrees to give her his voice box. Later, Gabby Gabby is rejected by the granddaughter of the antique shop, Woody helps Gabby Gabby find meaning and purpose with another child.
Much more could be said to trace the themes of purpose and meaning in Toy Story 4, but hopefully this is will encourage its explore this theme in the film themselves, and to see all the different ways it plays out. I truly once again am amazed by Pixar’s ability to tell such powerful and meaningful stories that tap into fundamental questions of what does it mean to be human (and they do this all through toys!). Toy Story 4 taps into a fundamental questions of humankind: why are we here? What is our purpose? Where does our life get meaning from? More surprisingly still, Toy Story 4 presents answers to these questions that strongly align with a Christian world view. In the universe of Toy Story toys are created with an expressed purpose. The Christian faith also teaches that humans are created by God with expressed purposes.

Forky learns his meaning and purpose comes from being made by Bonnie who makes him to be a toy. By being made into a toy, and becoming alive Forky gains a telos. This strangely enough parallels mankind. In the garden we are created and named by God. We are given life. Humans are created in the image of God and this gives us a telos. We are called to be like God. In the New Testament this moves to us becoming like Christ. As the apostle Paul writes, we are to “be conformed to the image of Christ.” In Christ we find our telos to be like him. It is only as we turn our lives over to Christ and we are transformed into the image of Christ that we find true flourishing. In this we find our greatest meaning and purposed.

In Gabby Gabby we see another parallel to the Gospel story. Gabby Gabby recognizes that she was made for a particular telos, as well, but she is defective. By the end of the film through the sacrifice of Woody, she is able to experience her purpose and find meaning as the loved toy of a child. We too are made with a particular telos but due to our sin nature we are also defective. We cannot achieve our telos fully because of our fallen nature. But by the sacrifice of Christ, and by the salvation we receive through him we are made a new creation, we are being restored, and now able to achieve our full telos. I do not think the film makers had this parallel in mind when they made this film, but this speaks to the universal longing we have as people to have meaning, to have purpose, to have a telos for our lives. Our world is saturated with a desire for meaning whether we recognize it or not.

At the end of the film we find a Forky who has come to find the meaning and purpose of his life as a toy of Bonnie, Gabby Gabby who finds fulfillment in the arms of a little girl. A Woody who decides to not return with the other toys with Bonnie, but to go explore the world with Bo Peep. Some might be tempted to think that this decision is solely based off of his romantic love for Bo Peep, but I think this reading does injustice to the narrative structure of the movies. The movie has set up that Woody has had a fulfilling life to this point. Woody did all that a toy is meant to do for Andy. He also has secured that Bonnie is going experience a joyful life and has entrusted her to his dear friends. As Buzz Lightyear says, “Bonnie will be fine.”

Furthermore, through the course of the film, Woody has helped other Toys such as Gabby Gabby find fulfillment. In the credits sequence we see Woody and Bo continuing to help other toys find kids to be with. At the end of the film Woody recognizes a deeper sense of calling, meaning, and fulfillment in his life. He has grown and adapted. His meaning is not only found in his connection to his kid, but in his relationship to others. Toy Story 4 suggest that at the end of the film Woody is receiving his reward for his many years of faithful service to fulfilling his life’s purposes. In the end Woody also finds a renewed sense of meaning and purpose to his life. He is a lost toy no more. Toy Story 4 is the story of Woody, but it is also the story of us. We like Woody were lost seeking meaning and purpose, but find our telos, our joy, and meaning in the God who made us for himself.

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Aladdin: A Diamond in the Rough

Just little over a week ago Disney’s latest live action remake, Aladdin, made its way to the big screen. In my estimation Disney’s many live action movies have been a…

Just little over a week ago Disney’s latest live action remake, Aladdin, made its way to the big screen. In my estimation Disney’s many live action movies have been a mixed bag with some (Cinderella and Jungle Book) being quite strong by providing a new take on the original story, others (Beauty and the Beast, and Dumbo) lacking any compelling new take to justify their existence, and others (Malificent and Alice in Wonderland) being just outright strange. So it was with some trepidation I went to go watch Disney’s live action remake of one of my favorite 2 Disney animated films; The Lion King being my other favorite (This summer is a real test for me).

The new remake mostly follows the original movie, however, I found myself actually enjoying the film on its own terms. When I did not compare it to the original film, I found it to be a solid movie. It is by no means a homerun, but it still makes for enjoyable family fare. They music is still great. Will Smith is the highlight of the film. Smith had large shoes to fill, replacing the late Robin Williams as the Genie. Smith does an excellent job of making this version of the Genie his own, while playing subtle homage to the original performance of Robin Williams. I think Williams would have approved of Will Smith’s take on the character. Naomi Scott, as Princess Jasmine, was another standout to me. This girl is a star on the rise, and she is a strong singer.

Not every aspect of the film worked equally well for me. I found this version of Jafar to be less than compelling or intimidating. Jasmine’s new song, which is an attempt to bolster her as a stronger feminine character, fell flat and deflated much of the momentum at the end of the film. I have seen even strong feminist claim the song felt to on the nose. These problems aside, there are some other fantastic set pieces. “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” and “A Whole New World” being standouts. I would recommend this as an enjoyable summer family movie.


I considered not writing a review of Aladdin since the story is largely similar to the original animated film, but it has over performed at the Box Office, taking the number 1 spot last weekend. Therefore, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on the story of Aladdin. In preparing to write this review, I have been reflecting on one primary question, “What makes Aladdin a hero?” The movie provides us with a ready answer: Aladdin is a diamond in the rough. But what exactly is it about Aladdin that makes him worthy of entering the Cave of Wonders? What does it mean to be a diamond in the rough?

One interesting feature of the new film, is that they try to establish Aladdin and Jafar as similar characters. Jafar is in some ways a mirror image of Aladdin. I wish the film had explored this idea at greater length. It is suggested that Jafar was also was a street rat. However, Jafar was not content with his station in life, so he craved power so that he could be above all others. Aladdin also is not satisfied as a street-urchin. He knows his life can be more than this. The inner thought life of Aladdin is revealed in the song “One Jump Ahead (Reprise)” which goes as follows:

“Riffraff,” “Street rat”
I don’ buy that
If only they’d look closer
Would they see a poor boy?
No sirree
They’d find out
There’s so much more to me…

In this refrain Aladdin realizes his value and worth is not found in fame, fortune, or power. Aladdin comes from a poor upbringing and yes he is a thief, but he has a kind and caring heart. He is a true friend. The story of Aladdin reveals an important truth of Christian belief. What makes a man or woman good is not their external trappings, but their inner character. Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount counter-culturally taught that “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The Gospel story teaches that power, riches, and status cannot save a man’s soul. They cannot satisfy the deepest longest of one’s heart.

In the film the temptation of Aladdin is to believe that the clothes really do make the man. With the trappings of a prince, Aladdin begins to believe that his worth, his specialness is in the clothes, the riches, and the power. This why Aladdin does not want to tell Jasmine the truth. He is afraid that it really is the case that riches, power, and status give a person worth. If he admits he is a street rat, he is admitting he does not have worth. This is a temptation we all face. Every culture, every generation struggles with putting their trust and hope in earthly power, wealth, and status. We often believe the lie that our worth is found in these earthly treasures.

However, by the end of the film Aladdin learns that what is important is not fame, fortune, or power, but in being a virtuous person. This is powerfully demonstrated in Aladdin choosing to free the Genie with his third wish instead of wishing to be made a prince again. He realizes it is better to be a faithful and honest friend rather than rich or powerful. He is willing further to give up on his own chance at happiness, rather than to become a bad friend. Aladdin teaches us power, wealth, and status do not give us worth. Aladdin is a diamond in the rough because his surroundings do not dictate is worth or character. Even though by the world’s standards Aladdin is worth nothing, he is a diamond because he is virtuous.

The Bible teaches that humans have worth because they are made in the image of God. Furthermore, we learn that God loves us not because of fame, fortune, or power, but out of his own graciousness towards us. Humanity’s worth is fully demonstrated in Jesus willingness to die on the cross. He valued people so much that he was willing to endure the suffering of the cross so that many might become adopted sons and daughters of God. In the Gospel our hope is found in the person and work of Christ. Will we follow the lessons of Aladdin and reject the lies of the world that our worth is found in stuff, power, fame, or fortune? Will we believe the Gospel story that our worth is found in Jesus Christ?

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Avengers: Endgame: Finding Rest in the End

As of the time of writing this, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all time with a box office total of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is…

As of the time of writing this, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all time with a box office total of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is poised to topple the current reigning champ, Avatar. In case you have missed it, Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of an 11 year, 22 movie series produced by Marvel. Truly, the world has never seen anything like this before. Never has there been this type of interconnected long form storytelling done with movies. It is a remarkable achievement, and Kevin Feige ( guiding force of the MCU) deserves all the praise for his vision in producing such a feat. I believe Endgame will be the Star Wars of this generation. It is a cultural event, which has and will continue to change the landscape of American cinema.

I am a lifelong comic book reader and superhero fan. I grew up reading the stories of Captain American, Iron Man, Spider-man, and the rest. Currently sitting on my desk are Omnibus Volumes 1 &2 of the Jonathan Hickman Avengers run. I waited with great anticipation for the conclusion of this first volume of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was eager to see if directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and producer, Kevin Feige, could deliver on everything they had promised. So the big question then: Does Avengers: Endgame successfully conclude an 11 year 22 film story arc; does it satisfy the hopes and dreams of Marvel fans? I can answer with a huge resounding, Yes!

I loved this film. It has no right to succeed as well as it does. This movie pays off beautifully many things set up in the previous 21 films. This film is fan service in the best sense of the term. It rewards longtime fans of both the comics and the movies who have seen everything previous film. It gives the fans so much of what they have longed to see on the big screen, and even things fans didn’t know they wanted, without sacrificing the story. They accomplish all of this in a manner that feels natural to the story and the world they have created.

Avengers: Endgame features a tight, surprisingly thoughtful, reflective, emotional, and funny script. The acting is fantastic in this film. Every actor brought their A game, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans giving what is probably their best performances in the MCU films. I would really like to see Downey get an Oscar nod for this performance. Scarlett Johannson and Karen Gillan are two other standouts for me. Also, the film score for Endgame is fantastic. Alan Silvestri has composed the best score of the MCU thus far, and I think is deserving of Oscar nominations. Avengers: Endgame is not without flaws, but it is a worthwhile and satisfying conclusion to this 11 year arc of storytelling. I highly recommend going to see the film on the biggest screen you can.


Seriously Spoilers Ahead

Please do not read until you have seen Avengers: Endgame

I have now seen Avengers: Endgame three times I did not want to rush to write something for this film. I wanted to let the film sit with me for a while. There is so much that could be said about the themes and characters of Endgame and the greater MCU. Honestly, each of the original 6 Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) are deserving of their own character studies through the course of this 22 film series (now named the Infinity Saga by Kevin Feige). Some other excellent sites have already begun to do so. However, one theme I found particularly powerful in the film is the theme of finding rest through self-sacrifice. I think we can trace this theme of rest in all of the 6 original Avengers, but it is most fully realized in the stories of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

Avengers: Endgame opens to domestic bliss on the farm of Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. This idyllic scene quickly turns into one of horror as the daughter, sons, and wife of Clint are dusted by the snap of Thanos from Infinity War. This powerfully sets the stakes of the film. This scene establishes that there is something profoundly wrong with the world now. Clint’s family and home are gone; Shalom has been lost.

The Hebrew word Shalom contains the idea of peace, rest, “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.” The loss of Shalom is further developed throughout the first act of the film. The Avengers hatch a plan to catch Thanos, seize the stones, and reverse everything. However, the story takes a surprising turn with Thanos being decapitated, but the stones already having been destroyed. It seems as if this unmaking of the world, this destruction and calamity of the universe cannot be undone. This captures something we fundamental know to be true in reality, that there is something severely wrong with this world. We long for rest, we long from shalom, we long for a return to Eden. As Tolkien writes, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”

What follows from here are sequences of the Avengers trying to cope with the loss they have experienced. Steve Rogers is running a counseling session, where he encourages people to move on, though later he admits to Natasha aka Black Widow, he and the other Avengers cannot move on. This refusal to move on by Captain America is not the denial of the great tragedy, but it is a recognition that there is something deeply wrong with the world, and that it needs to be healed. The universe needs to be saved, and renewed; there needs to be a return of Shalom. Steve Rogers has lived an entire life of self-sacrifice. This is established all the way back in Captain America: The First Avenger when pre-super serum Steve jumps on what believes is a live grenade to save the lives of those around him, and then at the end of the film he sacrifices himself and his happy ending with Peggy Carter, to save millions of people by crashing a plane into the icy sea. However, this time the heroic Captain America failed and was not able to save billions of lives. He is restless, longing to return the universe to shalom.

Tony Stark is on a very different journey. He is a man conflicted; a man who wants to be a hero, but must fight his narcissistic tendencies. Over the course of the MCU Tony has been shown to be constantly restless. In Avengers: Age of Ultron he is afraid of a coming disaster, and wants to build a shell around the world. In Iron Man 3 Stark suffers from PTSD and insomnia. In Endgame Tony Stark seems to have found a sense of rest/peace in his life, though his marriage to Pepper and the birth of Morgan, his daughter. However, when presented with an opportunity to potentially set right everything that has gone wrong with the world, Tony understandable balks at first. But then Tony remembers that he lost people too, like Peter Parker aka Spider-man. Tony solves time travel, but then is presented with a choice: does he take the risk of losing everything he has gained in order to save the universe, or does he “put a pin in it… sink it to the bottom of the sea,” and forgot about it? This is the question he asked Pepper. He offers to stop it all then and there, so that they can go back to their lives. Pepper sagely ask, “But would you be able to rest?” The answer is clearly no as is fantastically conveyed in the performance of Downey.

Along the way to the climactic battle at the end of the film, Stark is able to find closure with his father through the time traveling element. Stark learns through this experience that he is much like his dad, he even struggles with the same character flaw of selfishness. Howard Stark says his own selfishness gets in the way of him doing what is right for the greater good. This reflects the struggle Tony Stark has had through his entire character arc. He struggles between being the selfless hero Iron Man and the selfish Tony Stark he was at the beginning of the first Iron Man film.

In the climax of the film, Tony Stark fully embraces Iron Man and sacrifices his life to save the world and defeat Thanos. In an incredibly emotional death scene Pepper Pots tells Tony to look at her. She tells him that “They will be okay,” and then brings the thematic arc of Stark full circle by telling him, “You can rest now.” With these final words, Tony Stark, Iron Man, dies having completed his mission. Through the final act of true full sacrificing of himself for others Tony Stark and the world receive their rest.

Captain America’s arc is very different. He is a man defined by his selflessness. This self-sacrifice cost him a chance at personal love and happiness. He is haunted throughout the film by the life that might have been. This is seen through the many instance of Peggy Carter’s picture popping up on scene, as well as, Steve Rogers seeing her in the past on the same time traveling mission Stark sees his father. In every film Steve Rogers’s heroism is seen in his refusal to give up, his moral resolve to always do what is right, and by his self-sacrifice to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. Captain America also receives rest in Endgaem, though in a different manner. Rest is for Steve Rogers is a reward for his many years of self-sacrifice. He finally gets to have that dance.
In both the stories of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark we learn that true rest comes through self-sacrifice. In Captain America we find the person we all ought to be like; the one we admire and desire to be like. In Iron Man we see the person we are; the person who struggles but desires to overcome their own selfish desires. I was genuinely moved to tears by Tony Stark accomplishing his mission and finding rest, even though it cost him his life. I was moved to tears again when Steve Rogers finally gets to dance which is a representation of his reward for a sacrificial life.

This truth of rest through self-sacrifice runs counter-culture to the world we find ourselves in. We are more like Thanos, who seeks rest through the sacrificing of others. Thanos solution to bringing the universe rest is to sacrifice anything and everything except himself. When he achieves his twisted mission of bringing peace and rest to the universe, we find him resting in a “garden,” a perverse version of Eden. We like Thanos realize there is something gone wrong in this world, and we desire rest. However, we too like Thanos would rather sacrifice others to achieve a false rest, than to sacrifice ourselves for true rest.

Through Iron Man and Captain America we see that true rest only comes through self-sacrifice. Even in the fantasy world of the MCU, however, we realize that this is an incomplete rest. There is still suffering, there is still much wrong in the universe. However, in the Christian message we find the promise of a final rest for humanity and the universe. This personal and universal peace comes through the self-sacrifice of the God-man Jesus Christ. The Gospel we find that shalom, rest, comes through Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for humanity. Shalom is found and entered through self-sacrificial love. Furthermore, Jesus tells us that to follow him we must “Take up our cross and follow him.” In order to receive the rest of Jesus Christ we must count our lives as lost, and sacrifice our lives to Jesus Christ. We are no longer our own, but our lives belong to Christ. If we give up our lives to Christ, he promises that we will find rest. Christians place their hope in the day Jesus will return, right every wrong, wipe every tear, and bring Shalom to a broken world.

It is remarkable that in one of the highest grossing films of all time we would find a theme so central to the Gospel message. It reveals that we long for rest from a broken world. In the world of comics we find a temporary promise of rest through self-sacrifice of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but in the Gospel we find one who is greater, Jesus Christ who through his laying down of his life on the Christ secured rest for a fallen world, and rest for those who put their faith in him. In Jesus we find the truth myth. We find through the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, we can find rest, we can find shalom, we return to Eden.

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