When You Wish Upon a Star: The Diabolical Power of Disney
So we all know Disney has gone woke, and some may even be aware of the subtle nods Disney has been giving to anti-Christianity of late. As an insular example, the adult-geared FXX subsidiary of Disney-owned FX aired a show called “Little Demon” last year, an animated comedy series following Satan’s daughter, Chrissy, who also happens to be the Antichrist. The show was released on Disney+, the company’s streaming platform, early this year.
But Disney’s latest cinematic endeavor is making those anti-Christian nods a little less subtle and ditching its subsidiary-of-a-subsidiary insulation. Debuting next month, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ film “Wish” tells the story of teenager Asha, a little girl living in a magical kingdom who, along with her talking goat sidekick, wishes upon a star to make her dreams come true.
So far, par for the Disney course, right? There’s even a kindly king who grants the wishes of the good people of his kingdom, Rosas. But here’s the catch: the king is the villain. That’s right, little Asha and her band of loveable oddballs are going to have to confront the great King Magnifico, who’s easily recognizable as a villain by the ghostly green vapor trailing after his hands anytime he performs magic. Now, many conservatives will predictably pile on “Wish” for being feminist propaganda lite, with the sinister king as an obvious exemplar of the noxious trope of the “oppressive patriarchy” that younger and younger generations will have to stunningly and bravely “smash.” But what’s more telling than the king’s gender is why he’s considered a villain.
According to the film’s most recent trailer, Asha is an “apprentice” to King Magnifico. What she does as his apprentice will, presumably (though not inevitably), be clearly revealed in the film. Magnifico explains in the trailer, “People give their wishes to me, and I grant the wishes I am sure are good for Rosas.” While touring the king’s wish-granting workshop with him, Asha finds hundreds of wishes that have yet to be granted. She asks if some wishes — the ones the king doesn’t believe will benefit his people — will never be granted. Magnifico responds, “Not some, most.” This horrifying admission from the king — namely, that he won’t grant wishes which, in his wisdom and benevolence, he deems would be detrimental to his people and his kingdom — prompts Asha to turn to some outside forces in order to rescue her fellow kingdom-dwellers from Magnifico.
In a song that’s likely to plague parents as the next “Let It Go,” she wishes on a star, throwing “caution to every warning sign,” which is clearly meant to signify that Asha is ignoring caution and common sense, despite what the lyric’s syntax actually means. Sure enough, an adorable little star appears and begins granting wishes, regardless of whether they may be good or bad or dangerous or just plain stupid.
Quick recap: the movie’s villain is a powerful-but-kindly king who has the power to grant wishes but only grants the wishes he knows would benefit his people and be genuinely good for his kingdom. Now who does that sound like? Here’s a hint: substitute “prayers” for “wishes” and see who comes to mind. That’s right, Disney has basically cast God as the villain in its newest made-for-kids movie. To a child, after all, it may be difficult to tell the difference between prayers and wishes. God is our Heavenly Father, and what kind of father wouldn’t want to make his children’s wishes come true?
Christ Himself answers this question when He told His disciples, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13) The converse of this is, of course, that no father is going to hand his beloved child a snake or a scorpion for dinner just because the child asked for it. In other words, sometimes what we ask God for in prayer may not be good for us, or He may have something even better in store for us that a little hardship or a little suffering will better prepare us to receive or enjoy.
With “Wish,” Disney is, in fact, introducing to children one of the greatest of all stumbling blocks to belief in God: the problem of pain. That is, Disney is asking children to question why this one king, no matter how seemingly kind and no matter how seemingly powerful, gets to determine what wishes are “good” for his people and what wishes aren’t. If the king doesn’t give his people the things that they want, wouldn’t that mean he doesn’t want them to be happy? — and aren’t happiness and goodness basically the same thing? — then how can this king be a good and loving king if he won’t give people the things that will make them happy?
Add in some mumbo jumbo about “following your heart” and kids will be tipped even more into Disney’s propagandic vision of God. Of course, caring parents can and should (and probably will) explain to their children that just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s good for you — like the snake and the scorpion in Christ’s parable. And while children might accept that a wish to be Scrooge McDuck-levels of rich mightn’t be the most noble use of a wish, they’ll find it harder to understand when they see a loved one dying of cancer and God doesn’t answer their prayers for a miraculous healing.
In the 13th century, one of the greatest Christian thinkers, philosophers, and writers in history tackled this problem of pain. At the end of his exhaustive “Summa Theologiae,” the great Thomas Aquinas asks why an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God permits not just acts of evil — that might be explained by free will — but by seemingly meaningless suffering. Aquinas can really only provide one answer: “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” In other words, God permits suffering in order to bring from it an even greater good. Later on, he elucidates the mechanics of this point: “[I]n order that by fighting against the vices of our fallen nature and other defects to which humanity is [as a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden] is subject… the human person may receive the crown of victory.” That is to say, suffering presents an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Nearly 800 years after Aquinas wrote his “Summa,” another of Christianity’s greatest minds took up the same question. Beloved author C.S. Lewis addressed the problem of pain in numerous works, but perhaps nowhere more succinctly than in his aptly-named book “The Problem of Pain.” Like Aquinas and Augustine and many of the early and medieval Christians who helped to explain and clarify the Christian truth established by Christ, Lewis suggests that suffering is actually an essential part of being a Christian. In “The Problem of Pain,” he writes:
“I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that he gives us the gift of suffering. … You see, we are like blocks of stone out of which the Sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much are what make us perfect.”
Lewis echoes this notion, and Aquinas’s, in “The Screwtape Letters,” when the senior demon explains to his novice nephew that hardship is, for humans, an opportunity to grow in faith. Screwtape refers to “troughs and peaks,” tough times and good times. He explains:
“Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [God’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself — creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.”
This idea is fundamental to living a Christian life. After all, Christ calls upon his followers to be like Him, and He suffered the crucifixion, which is, as Lewis puts, “the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events.” It was through Christ’s suffering, through His death on the cross, that mankind was redeemed. Christ told His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Suffering, then, is a means of following in Christ’s own footsteps, of becoming more like Him, in the hopes of being perfectly united to Him in Heaven, which His resurrection made open to us.
It may be easy, especially when steeped in Scripture, Aquinas, and Lewis, to conceive of a colorful little Disney flick ever causing a child to doubt in the existence of God. But recall that countless Disney classics have dazzled generations with heartwarming stories of lost princesses and brave young men overcoming adversity and learning to follow their hearts, even when things get scary: from “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Sword in The Stone” to more recent hits like “Tangled” and even “Frozen.” If you can still remember the words to “The Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book,” it’s possible your child may remember the subtle spiritual lessons from “Wish.”
When your child realizes there actually is a King who grants only the wishes He deems good, perhaps your child will, like the film’s “heroine,” seek another power that will grant any wish. And therein lies the diabolical power of Disney.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.