Disney movies are a treasure trove of inspiration. Drawing on one of my favorites from childhood, The Rescuers, and a new favorite, Up, I’m getting all kinds of messages to be positive and look up when the chips are down. See how a classic and a new fan favorite share similar messages and teach us life lessons on perseverance, tenacity, and flexibility.
One of the earliest Disney films I remember is The Rescuers. Not the most popular Disney movie, to be sure. But it made a lasting impact on me. I would have been 5 in 1977 when it was released, so I was the perfect impressionable age. But at any age, who wouldn’t root for a pigtailed, snaggletoothed orphan like Penny? I was floored by her plight and swept away by the injustice of Penny’s situation. Not to mention my utter hatred and fear of Medusa (an appropriately titled villain name if ever there was one). Seriously, red hair, purple eye makeup, and a crazy driver to boot. She was all kinds of craz-ay! To this day, I can still remember lines from the movie. Hating Brutus and Nero, Medusa’s alligators. And bayous. But loving Evinrude, the adorable, plucky dragonfly. And Bernard and Bianca for coming to help Penny.
Two Disney Movies that Inspire
It’s no wonder I so fondly remember this movie. The story teaches us to be eternally optimistic. In other words, in the Disney vernacular, be a Tigger instead of an Eeyore. The Rescuers reminds us of what matters: Hope. Faith. Wishing on a star. Case in point: the song “Someone’s Waiting for You.” The lyrics: “Always keep a little prayer in your pocket/ And you’re sure to see the light/ Soon there’ll be joy and happiness/ And your little world will be bright.” During this song, Penny is gazing skyward at a distant star as she smiles and wipes away a tear.
The point is, Penny chooses to look up. To keep the faith. Naturally, hope, faith, and wishing on a star are all themes that resonate through Disney storytelling, but it’s amazing even as an adult how they can still so profoundly grab you when you see them again. It’s a real visceral reaction–in the gut–when you are introduced to them again. Like welcoming an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time or putting on a comfortable, well worn coat. Wrapping yourself in the memories of how you felt when watching the movie for the first time.
Which brings me to the movie Up. I just got around to watching this little gem which grabbed me from the very beginning. I absolutely loved the Carl and Ellie opening montage and the gentle brushstrokes used to outline their relationship. As a kid, Ellie’s dream is to live in Paradise Falls in South America. And although they collect spare change in hopes of traveling there, life happens and they cannot cash in on that dream vacation. In their golden years, Carl finally books their trip, only to get the news that Ellie is sick. For adults, the message was loud and clear: every day is a gift, and don’t put off your dreams for later because you don’t know how much time you’ll have.
As a parent, it’s easy to lose sight of yourself once your kids come along. Deferring your own goals and aspirations so that they can accomplish theirs. Problem is, this assumes that they both can’t happen simultaneously. I’m learning that it’s just as important for my kids to see me striving, reaching, doggedly pursuing my dreams. And yes, falling flat on my face at times. The better lesson is to SEE how mom handles failure, rejection, fear and loss rather than HEAR mom tell them about it. Funny the life lessons that come out of a Disney/Pixar movie!
Through it all, Up is filled with those rollercoaster emotion moments just like life:
- Those “WTH” moments, like when the adventure brought Carl, Russell, Dug the talking dog, and Kevin the mother bird wandering through the woods. (What a kooky Wizard of Oz-ish combination.) Sorry-I couldn’t wrap my head around that one. Maybe it’s better that way.
- I laughed. Dug losing focus at the mention of “Squirrel”. It reminds me of a dear friend of mine who can change her train of thought in a instant like that. Hey, at least she knows it and laughs about it too!
- I cried. When Carl pulls out Ellie’s treasured Adventure book and realizes she has filled the “Stuff I’m going to do” section with snapshots of their life together. Then, inscribed on the last page, is the note: “Thanks for the adventure-now go have a new one!” Picture a grown woman nearly blubbering over a kids movie. That’s me. But the movie weaves a beautiful tapestry and reminds us that life takes us in directions we might not have planned, but the journey is what is important and memorable. All that time, Carl just assumed Ellie had left the Adventure Book pages blank, never recognizing that their married life was her adventure. (sniff)
So, what does your Adventure book look like?
Does it match what you imagined?
And if the pages don’t tell the story you want, how can you change that?
My adventure book vision included travel and education, ultimately leading to marriage and family. The highfaluting law career (notice the sarcasm) and kids and a husband and I’m juggling it all. And although I am blessed with the family part, the balancing and priorities led our family to make a huge decision when my daughter was born. I walked away from my law career and chose the mommy track instead. Which by the way was the BEST DECISION EVER for us. No regrets. But the danger here is that we get so hung up on what we think our life should look like that we don’t ask ourselves: Seriously? Do I really want this? We have decisions to make. We can choose to tie those balloons to the house and go after our wishes or just stay put, always wondering “what if?”
In both movies, the characters go on quests to find what they are looking for. And the pursuit reveals the people that they are. Medusa, a vile, moneygrubbing meanie who obviously didn’t get enough love as a child. Penny, the optimistic wide eyed orphan yearning to be adopted. Carl, the lonely, tenderhearted curmudgeon who in a sense “adopts” Russell as a surrogate grandfather. And Russell, the diligent, persevering boy who yearns for and gains a (grand)father figure.
Sometimes in the quest, we get more than we could have ever imagined for ourselves. If we just keep looking up.
This post was originally published on the Disney Driven Life by Sherry Boswell on August 7, 2011.