How Disney Managed to offend me by depicting someone like me on stage – badly
This last week, I’ve been on vacation. We were on the newest ship in the Disney cruise line, the Fantasy. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the ship aside from noting that it is a beautiful ship filled to overflowing with Mickey Mouse. I mean, if Mickey Mouse was a unit of measurement, the ship would bury the needle. At one point, I was convinced that the propellers were designed to kick up a wake that would look like Mickey Mouse. As with most cruise lines, Disney featured several high quality production shows for evening entertainment. One of those was a show created for the Fantasy called “Believe.” Disney produces schmaltzy shows. That is their business.
Most people love that. Hell, I love that. I’m willing to watch fifteen different versions of “Be our Guest” because it is all kinds of magical. They invite your inner kid to come out and play and they have some pretty wonderful toys.
“Believe” was one of the better shows Disney has produced for their cruise line. They included some obscure music and characters from films that don’t usually get a lot of attention (notably The Sword in the Stone), lots of music that the crowd knew extremely well (“The Circle of Life”) and the production values and performances were fantastic.
I hated it.
The show opened with a father trying hard to get his prized flower to bloom before some people came to evaluate it that afternoon. His daughter came in and tried to get him to stop working because it was her birthday and he’d promised her that he’d spend the day with her. In the end, she told him that he just needed to believe in fairies and he said no, he was going to rely on science to solve his problem. Then he told her that maybe later he’d do something with her but right now, his flower was more important.
Aladdin’s Genie showed up to get him to believe in magic and, because this is Disney, he eventually did. So we have someone who is a scientist needing to be taught how to believe in fairies so his flower can grow.
At one point, he not so subtly dropped to his knees in a position of prayer asking for guidance. While he is actually asking for help from Aladdin’s genie, the subtext could not have been lost on any of the devout Christians in the audience. Nor could it be lost that the father – while never identified as an atheist – was clearly a non-believer and that was a problem.
Let me say here that I didn’t have a problem with the fact that in the context of the show, magic was real and the dad was being obstinate to a fault.
When I watch a movie which has established magic as part of its reality, I’m fine with it. Movies are fiction and as such are not required to hold to the laws of nature as we understand them. This show was also fiction. A dad who doesn’t believe in magic and has to be convinced it is real? Sure, OK.
Here’s the problem – the implication of the show wasn’t just that he was blinded to a greater reality by science. The main implication was that his belief in science made him a bad father.
It wasn’t until he realized that his daughter was more important than a flower that he was able to accept that magic was real. That was my problem with the show and it was one I couldn’t get past. We have someone who believes science is the key to solving a problem with a plant (something most botanists would agree with) and that belief, somehow, means that he doesn’t notice what a dick move it is for him to be more concerned with a plant than he is with his daughter.
Given the climate in which we live – one were the findings of scientists are regularly questioned by people who think they know more than the people doing the research – it should come as no surprise that we’d see a characterization like this. Someone who believes in science is an easy target. The majority of audience members will see nothing wrong with poking fun at someone who is just too serious and in their mind, scientists are just a bunch of humorless non believers.
But when did we lose sight of the fact that science is cool? I continue to believe that evolution is way more interesting than the idea of all the species on earth being planted here like petunias. I dare someone to watch the way Carl Sagan poetically explores science in “Cosmos” and tell me that it is boring.
Why is a dad who is a botanist a bad dad? And why does he need to abandon scientific thinking to realize that his daughter is the most important thing in his life? And why is it that realization that makes his flower bloom?
Hell, if they wanted to teach us the right lesson, he should have said “screw my flower – my daughter is more important” and that’s it. No magically blooming flower.
If the show had a theme that alienated Christians, it would be edited out after the first performance. And heaven forbid that Disney – a fairly gay friendly company – would ever depict an openly homosexual character on stage. They’d be flooded with complaints. But make an atheist look bad and they know full well nobody is going to say much.
Because, sadly enough, atheists are used to it.
Now I get that Disney is all about the magic and the fairy dust. If fairy dust and happy thoughts could really make you fly, nobody would need to walk off one of their ships.
But their target was an unfair target. Believing in science is not something that should be portrayed as shameful. You don’t have to believe in magic to be a good parent.
Especially when the very clear subtext of the entire show was magic = god.