(REVIEW) Christians have always had a love-hate relationship with Disney since I can remember. Growing up in the Christian culture of the 1990s and early 2000s, all the Christian parents I knew loved watching Disney movies with their kids – but have always had an uncomfortable relationship with some of its messages. It was due to the constant Disney tropes of “follow your heart philosophy” and “junior knows best” disdain for authority figures like parents that angered so many. Even so, most Christians felt the benefits had outweighed the costs.
That all seems to have changed as of late, with Disney being hit more and more by claims from conservatives (including Christian conservatives) that Disney is pushing more and more radical progressive social agendas, This has coincided with a steep drop at the box office for Disney.
Conservative media company The Daily Wire actually took the opportunity on the anniversary of Disney’s founding to launch their kids TV program app “Bentky” and their own version of the Snow White movie as a direct announcement they were coming for Disney’s audience.
Cue the latest Disney animated project “Wish,” intended to mark the 100th anniversary of the company with a throwback princess movie explaining the origins of the wishing star in the Disney canon. The trailer — as soon as it was released — was immediately hit with accusations of being anti-Christian. It is now on track for a dismal opening which many attribute — at least in part — to Disney’s once loyal customers finally rejecting the brand over its place in the culture wars.
Does the actual “Wish” movie justify the anti-Christian label? “Wish” follows a young girl named Asha who discovers that the king of her land, “Magnifico,” is supposed to be guarding the wishes of the kingdom is really hoarding them. As a result, she wishes on a star and gets a more direct answer than she bargained for when a trouble-making star comes down from the sky to join her.
“Wish” is a big mess in its own right. Its attempt to combine modern, computer-generated animation with a “watercolor” traditional animation only makes the movie look cheaper. The characters and dialogue are largely a strung together collection of cliches and ham-fisted messages so overt and cringy they would make David A.R. White blush. The rules of the world and the messages the filmmakers want to convey are so convoluted and self-contradictory it makes one feel dumber listening to them. There’s a sense watching the film that Disney is just recycling the “Disney Princess” formula they established with “Tangled” and “Frozen” and are on autopilot: Quirky girl protagonist with funny animal sidekick goes on journey which is a metaphor for (issue issue here). Roll credits.
Those who claimed, based on the trailer, that “Wish” is anti-Christian largely did so by arguing that the villain “Magnifico” symbolized God: A wise king who we give our wishes (like prayers) to, but who decides to grant only some of them rather than all. In this view, the movie is critiquing the injustice of a God who answers some prayers and not others.
But symbolism is a tricky business. It’s hardly clear that Magnifico necessarily represents God. He is, after all, a man and a king. You could just as easily see “Wish” as a metaphor for the free market against totalitarianism (as Christian Toto does) since it’s in favor of putting the wishes in the hands of the individual person to try, or fail, at their wishes.
Or you can see the movie as a metaphor for feminism, since it’s a young woman who fights against the power of a man, and all the male characters — and women in romantic relationships with men — are either evil or complicit. Both capitalism and feminism have their Christian critics, but it’s a stretch to call either automatically “anti-Christian.”
Still, there are still certain things that “Wish” says explicitly that are indeed profoundly anti-Christian. One is that, in one of its cringy attempts-to-be-inspiring songs, it claims that the reason we wish upon stars is that we are all stardust and that we feel connected to them. Because we are also stardust, and therefore — as later plot points reveal — we have the magical power of stardust, too, so wishing on them is a way of empowering us.
It’s simply not true. People wish on stars, or send up prayers to a higher power, because they recognize that there are things in life out of their control and that they need outside help that transcends the world. This is a profoundly human experience that transcends, but includes Christianity, and it’s silly to gaslight those who are wishing or praying to a higher power into thinking that’s not what they’re doing.
Even more anti-Christian is the movie’s conception of wishes. In the movie, wishes are called “what drives your heart,” “what makes you who you are,” and “the most beautiful part” of who people are. These wishes can be summed up in images of particular things people want in life such as to find true love, to fly or to be a knight. Once you give that wish and forget it, you lose your joy, your passion, that spring in your step. You become “boring.”
I can think of few things more harmful to tell children than that “the most beautiful part” of them is the dreams they have. It will make them unable to see the value in themselves and in their lives if they can’t have the things in life they want. It will make them see anyone who stands in their way of getting it — parents, God society — as fundamentally doing violence to their identity. If there is a mass exodus of Christian parents from Disney, feeling like they are specifically being made the enemy if they don’t affirm their children’s wishes is probably the biggest driver. These children will likely have to give up many dreams in their life, whether because they don’t have the talent, due to injustice or just bad luck.
In fact, giving up on wishes is explicitly what Jesus often called His followers to do. Jesus explicitly commands His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) That doesn’t mean that wishes and dreams aren’t good and beautiful things worth fighting for. But fundamentally, Christians do believe in a king who gets to tell us which dreams are right and which are wrong. We are, in fact, commanded to give our wishes to God and trust in him to grant the right ones.
Perhaps a man like Magnifico is not the right person to give our dreams to, but God is, and we must allow Him, our parents, our priests and our friends to speak into our lives about our dreams, and not just determine that our dreams are good because — like Asha — we just “know” they are. “Wish” doesn’t have a vision for what that looks like without violating “the most beautiful part” of who we are that “makes us who we are.”
For a Christian, the most beautiful part of you is not something that can be taken away from you. The most beautiful part of you is that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by God, and are so beautiful to Him that He was willing to die for you. This is not something that can be taken away by a wish, and very often, our wishes get in the way of what is beautiful about us if our heart has been captured by the wrong thing.
Disney has always prioritized wishes and celebrated rebelling against those who stood in the way of getting those wishes, including parents. But they always also left room for a Christian worldview to exist alongside its message.
“Wish” — a movie which is set up as a celebration of its history and a thesis statement around its values — feels different in the sense that it explicitly leaves no room for Christianity. For many Christian parents, this sense of incompatibility has become more and more clear with each passing year. Perhaps “Wish” is finally just saying the quiet part out loud.