How the “New Disney” is Shaping Our Moral Imagination
Religion & Liberty Online

How the “New Disney” is Shaping Our Moral Imagination

disney_pixar_movies_characters_wallpaper“We live in separate moral universes, and we seem to encounter each other only on the battlefield,” says Greg Forster. “Our imaginative worlds are also separate; everyone watches different movies and shows, reads different blogs, listens to different music.”

But one exception, Forster notes, is what he calls the “New Disney”: Pixar (which Disney bought in 2006) and the Walt Disney Animation Studios (2006-present). While they may seem like entertainment for children, the movies being released by the New Disney are shaping our moral imagination. A few examples Forster gives are Princess and the Frog and Toy Story 3:

Princess and the Frog (2009) – This movie is about work and business. Aristocrats who feel no need to work (Prince Naveen and Charlotte) are superficial fops; they gain dignity when they learn to support themselves through their own efforts. Those who covet the money and power work creates fall into the grip of dark forces. But even among those who work for nobler purposes, there is an irresolvable tension. We must – it is our nature – strive to build and create, to dream big and then work hard to make our dreams come true. However, those dreams can also consume us, and injustice or misfortune can take it all away. We must learn to be content if our work does no more than provide us with what we need.

Toy Story 3 (2010) – This, strange as it may seem, is a movie about politics. The nature of political community grows from our understanding of the meaning of human life, and the great political conflict of our own time is between two views that are contrasted in this movie. If we exist to serve a purpose higher than ourselves, the political community can have a standard of justice that transcends the will of the rulers. Hence the toys in a good child’s room, who exist to serve the child, have a free and virtuous social order. But if we have no higher purpose – if, as the villain declares, “we’re all just junk headed for the dump” – then our rulers will treat us accordingly. Hence the toys in the day care live in a prison camp. (WALL-E touched on similar themes, although in a more economic context; those who live for nothing but pleasure are fit for nothing but slavery.) Over against Hayao Miyazaki’s attempt to build an anti-political cosmos in Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises, Toy Story 3upholds the nobility of the political vocation and the justice – articulated by no less a philosophical authority than Barbie herself – of government by the consent of the governed.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).