Has Modern Catechesis Disney’d the Bible?
There are a lot of reasons not to like Disney (please keep reading – this post isn’t really about Disney). One of my favorite reasons for not liking Disney is the total distortion they have brought to classic stories. Once you can let go of the irritation, it almost becomes fun to see how inventive the scriptwriters can be in whitewashing tales for the sake of children.
Take, for instance, The Little Mermaid, which – from what I recall – is the story of a mermaid who trades her voice for legs, wears far too little clothing (especially for a children’s cartoon), makes a prince fall in love with her, gets hitched. The actual story, by Hans Christian Anderson, tells of the Prince marrying “the unknown woman” and leaving the mermaid waiting to turn to sea foam with the sunrise. That is, until her sisters show up:
“We have given our hair to the witch,” said they, “to obtain help for you, that you may not die to-night. She has given us a knife: here it is, see it is very sharp. Before the sun rises you must plunge it into the heart of the prince; when the warm blood falls upon your feet they will grow together again, and form into a fish’s tail, and you will be once more a mermaid, and return to us to live out your three hundred years before you die and change into the salt sea foam. Haste, then; he or you must die before sunrise.”
Hmmmm. I don’t seem to remember that in the cartoon. Or the part when the witch cuts out her tongue. Or the torment that she endured throughout her days as a human.
Every step she took was as the witch had said it would be, she felt as if treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives; but she bore it willingly, and stepped as lightly by the prince’s side as a soap-bubble, so that he and all who saw her wondered at her graceful-swaying movements.
Indeed, Hans Christian Anderson must have been enduring a good deal of suffering in his life to find the inspiration for such a character. At the end of the story, the mermaid expects to be (or is, not sure which) turned into sea foam and then caught up into the sky with some sort of fairy beings. Maybe that part is in the Special Features…
The Hunchback of Notre Dame a la Disney glosses over quite a few important details as well. Most notably the end of the story when Esmeralda is hanged from the Cathedral’s north tower by Frollo, who Quasimodo then hurls off the tower to his death. A gravedigger later finds Esmeralda’s skeleton with Quasimodo’s wrapped around it. Needless to say, there aren’t enough characters left for a sequel.
Sure, sure – they’re fictional stories adapted for kids. It’s ridiculous, I know. But why do we do the same thing with the Bible?
Probably the single most Bible story that is marketed to youngsters is Noah’s Ark. Why? Because of the animals – and kids love animals. And boats, especially ones that float in the bathtub. This is all well and good, but where else in the bowels of history can one find, with the exception of the occupants of a certain sea-faring vessel, the complete destruction of “all flesh… that moved upon the earth?“ Somehow, that whole God blotting out all life gets overlooked when marveling at how Noah fit all the animals on-board. The Sunday-school version usually dismisses the rest of humanity and only mentions Noah, his family (maybe) and the critters. All smiles, all the time.
Oversimplification is also a factor in our presentation of the story of Noah. Yes, God instructs Noah to take along two of each animal, but a few verses later stipulates that seven pairs of clean animals are to be taken along. Introducing this distinction to a child might be more trouble than it’s worth; “… and that’s why fuzzy, little Mr. Oink-a-oink isn’t Kosher.”
Finally, the story often grinds to a halt immediately when the ark makes landfall and the covenant with God is made (cue the rainbow). This is rather fortunate considering the next few verses illustrate Noah planting a vineyard, getting drunk and passing out. Micah is artfully tasteful in explaining what ensued:
After the Flood, there was a rather embarrassing and shameful incident involving a little too much wine and a little too much naked. Noah’s son, Ham, gloated about seeing his father’s nakedness (which may have been a euphemism for a type of incest with Noah’s wife), while Shem and Japheth, Noah’s other sons, carefully covered up their father.
I suppose the Bible contains quite a few bare-knuckle stories – even one about a Guy who was tortured and publicly executed. The obvious intention is to get children interested in the Bible and no one can be faulted for that. What’s an alternative? An abridged telling of Noah and the ark does seem to beat out just about every other Bible story I can recall off the top of my head; it has animals, mild peril, water, boats, adventure, rain, rainbows and God.
Still not a huge fan of Disney.
Let me know what other uncommon Bible stories might work for the kiddos!