I was getting lunch with a preacher friend of mine. That may be a bit casual for describing our relationship, but it was a casual occasion. We, along with the other three interns that would be spending the summer working with the church, were sitting down together for some tex-mex after the first official Sunday morning of our internships. It would be the first of several that we’d get to share together, but it was a preemptive breath of fresh air, a chance to eat together without the pressures or context of work.
So as our conversation was kept light over heavily-sauced enchiladas and chimichangas, one of the best get-to-know-you topics arose: movies. We talked about our favorites, and when my time came to share, I mentioned how much I love The Iron Giant, which garnered a response of agreement that it’s a great film, and so on.
But then I made the offhand comment that it gets me, emotionally. That is, that it makes me cry.
Now, for starters, this has been a pet peeve of mine for a while. Not that I or others respond emotionally to things, but rather when people go out of their way to convey how emotional they are. I’ve especially seen this pop up with guys lately. There’s this strange double-standard in modern masculinity that still puts the pressure on dudes to not cry, to be tough, but also applies this weird sort of merit to their character if they’re ok with crying or otherwise, you know, feeling.
Anyway, it feels like the result has become a bunch of guys sitting around (typically in the company of women) talking about how much they feel things and how they’re “still ok” with that because they’re “secure in their manliness” despite their emotion.
What a relief.
People respond to a lot of different messages, interactions, etc. in a lot of different ways. Some people (like 7th grade me) have the emotional expression of a rock. But maybe, to be fair, one of the more interesting rocks. Like granite or something. While others can’t even keep a straight face during a google commercial. We all feel, and that’s ok. It’s not bad, and it’s not novel.
But I’m getting off topic.
What happened, though, was that I mentioned how emotionally attached I am to The Iron Giant, and my preacher friend responded, “Really?” He cocked his head, and squinted his eyes, apparently dumbfounded. And I immediately felt the need to get defensive. Not for my own sake, but more so for the movie.
A while back I posted a sermon I delivered for a class that centered on a scene in The Iron Giant, along with some of my views on children’s movies in general. But I’ve felt more and more compelled recently to write a little more about them.
Here’s my thought: children’s movies are arguably the most important media that we produce.
And if you cringe at that thought, as I have before, consider this. Why would we respond that way?
At some point in our lives, we cross a threshold of what we feel is deserving of our attention. It’s the reason adults don’t feel compelled to go up and down the toy aisles anymore. Or why Chef Boyardee descends from being a delicacy to a very last resort. Or why certain friends and friend groups are “outgrown.” It’s why some people lose faith, lose hope.
I think this happens frequently with children’s movies. At some point, we watch a trailer and come away concluding that x film has nothing to offer us. It’s juvenile or asinine or you fill in the blank. We take to Paul’s misconstrued declaration of maturity and stoicism: now that we’re grown, we put childish things behind us absolutely.
If we’re so ready to dismiss the media that’s intended for a certain population of people, how far are we from dismissing that population in greater ways?
But even more than that, have we stopped to consider the gravity of what these films are accomplishing?
These are vessels of storytelling.
These are instances of us telling the next generation what the world is like, what the world is about. What’s important.
We make an 80 minute animated feature with the message of “this is what you’re getting yourself into by being a person in our society, and these are the lessons you need to learn.”
But instead of that, we just see silliness. A distraction for a little over an hour so that mom and dad can have a minute to themselves.
Deuteronomy has several instances where God tells God’s people to pass on instruction and story to their youth (11:19). We are to continue to tell the story. And it’s difficult to do that if you think you’re better than a certain mode of storytelling.
Some of my favorite movies are children’s movies. And the reason they make me emotional isn’t just because of the narrative they tell. It’s because of what I see being accomplished by the very existence of the genre. They always have simple messages:
Choose to love others.
Hope is real and worth it.
All messages that are wonderful and near the heart of Christ, but made all the more beautiful when you consider that these are the messages being handed down to children, that there’s a kid somewhere watching this message unfold and learning to be better, to be a human.
So I’m going to spend a few posts discussing some children’s movies I love and the messages I’ve seen in them. We all know Disney/Pixar own this genre, so I’m not going to give them a whole lot of attention. I want to talk about the ones we might scoff at, the ones we probably forgot happened. Because even those seek to tell kids the same things:
This is what the world is like. This is what matters about being a person.
This is our story. Get ready to learn it and add on.