Tag: disney

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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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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