Barely-Concealed Memories of Eden: Disney-Pixar’s ‘Brave’

Buried deep within my soul lurks an as-yet-unfulfilled desire to scuttle the responsible-and-boring plans that others have made for my life, run with abandon to my trusty steed and ride like the wind through a primeval forest, loosing arrows at will, each and every one of them coming to rest dead-center in the bulls-eye. Every movement sure. Every hoof-fall of my horse steady and powerful. Any and all would-be pursuers completely outrun and outmatched, we pause below a majestic waterfall cascading over a mossy precipice. While my horse refreshes himself with water, I confidently climb up a towering outcropping of rock, reaching the summit to drink in the beauty of God’s creation, my arms outstretched to take in the cool spray and the glorious late-afternoon illumination of the sun.

Of course, like most of us, the inner longings of my soul very often do not match up with the reality of my life in the here and now. Currently employed as a desk-bound online content developer at Mizzou, my archery skills have gotten somewhat rusty, to say the least. The thick, flowing windswept hair of my youth has given way to middle age…and a great deal more forehead than was previously available for public viewing. I don’t own a horse, and even if I did, prolonged contact with equine skin would likely cause me to break out in a rash. I actually did have an opportunity to test my rock-climbing skills last fall alongside my daughter and a handful of Crossing staff members. (Let’s just say that, even with a safety harness, I became painfully aware of my physical limitations, to say nothing of increased girth and fat-to-muscle body composition…there will be no “scurrying up” anything for me anytime soon.)

I’m going to go out on something of a limb here and state that the more enduring movies our culture produces are all targeted – knowingly or otherwise – to that “sweet spot” in our soul that yet remembers a time far off when human beings were created to live in matchless perfection, our bodies and spirits in perfect alignment with the glory and wonder that surrounds us in creation. It’s not at all “scientific” (for lack of a better term) to assert that our hearts remember a perfect creation in some way and yet, if we are honest, we cannot deny having our emotions powerfully stirred by images of places we’ve never been, indeed places and times that have never existed at all. Such is the gorgeous backdrop of the most recent Disney-Pixar release, “Brave.”

If you have yet to see the film, I’d like to strongly recommend that you catch these amazing visuals on the big screen, even if you do not have young children to take along. The basic plotline of the film is immediately recognizable to anyone who has had even one exposure to the classic fairy tales, but playfully tinkers with the traditions and archetypes of that genre in ways that are both laugh-out-loud fun and thought-provoking. As just one example, the film centers itself on a lovely young heroin who gleefully defies the traditional modes and manners normally associated with the term, “princess.” Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, is not in the least bit content to allow young princes to fight for the right to have her hand in marriage; she will compete for her own hand, thank you very much. (Rightly so, too, as the dim-witted lugs put forth as potential suitors are not even half as smart or capable.)

The overall tone of the film is relentlessly good-natured, presenting every character with both heroic attributes and embarrassing personality ticks and quirks, and with plenty of laughs, thrills and fast-paced action to keep even the most tired of middle-aged fathers engaged and “carried away.” The primary arc of the story concerns Merida’s petulant willingness to engage in forbidden behavior as a means to an end, something that (again) we can all certainly identify with, and her increasing realization of her own self-centeredness and unwillingness to do what is best for the community that nurtured her. Yet again echoing the Genesis 3 creation narrative, Merida’s unyielding desire to control her own fate unleashes disastrous, unforeseen consequences.

As I watched the film with my wife and our young son, I could not help but be swept away into the imagined world itself, a fully-orbed vision that is comprised of brawling Irish kings, the beauty of creation, warring clans, petty family squabbles, magic spells, bravery (duh) and a newly-awakened commitment to chivalry and honor. The Disney-Pixar team is arguably the world’s best at creating new worlds where the imagination can run wild; warriors can fight bitterly with arrows, clubs and spears one minute and then laugh together while sharing a pint the next. Almost no one is seriously harmed by the warfare breaking out at the gathering of the clans, where clubbing one another is simply “what guys do” whenever they get together. Indeed, as the movie progresses, we learn that the relentlessly-bickering kings once successfully joined forces to beat back a mutual, truly-dangerous enemy.

Watching “Brave” gives us yet another opportunity to ask, “What exactly is going on inside the hearts of those clever animators that desire to create these glorious representations of life? And why is my admittedly-cynical heart almost immediately disarmed by the vision being presented onscreen?”

Personally, I think the answer nearly always lies in the fact that the Christian hope has much in common with the “truest truths” of popular culture. Since Christians believe that all truth belongs to the Person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6), we are enabled to shamelessly revel in those things that really are true, right and life-affirming in just about anything, movies such as “Brave” very much included. Our hope in Christ is for a future glory (Romans 8:18-25) that easily outweighs all of the pain and sufferings of the present age (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). Christians can find an analogy for future perfection in the breathtaking landscapes of “Brave” and even the perfectly-executed martial arts of its leading lady. We can (and do!) look forward to the day when every “arrow” will hit its mark, every encounter will be a prelude to the increased revelation of God’s endless glory and every grassed meadow will sway in a manner that welcomes us to adventure and discovery devoid of tears, suffering and heartache along the way (Revelation 21:4-5). We probably will ride together on majestic horses, almost certainly without the added hassle of pausing to apply itch cream, adjust our safety gear or take another puff from our cortisone inhaler.

Not everyone involved with the incessant retelling of the creation/fall/redemption/restoration narrative accepts Christ as Lord, obviously. I very much doubt that the producers of “Brave” intentionally wove the theme of a restored heaven and earth into the backdrop of this film, but it’s very plainly there nonetheless. Because God owns all truth and has imprinted eternity onto every human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), it seems clear enough to me that no one can reach for the good, the right and the noble without at once falling somewhere “inside God’s ZIP code,” so to speak, the ultimate story of fall and redemption that has been decisively and forever won at the Cross of Christ. The inbreaking of God’s kingdom is everywhere to be seen, if we will simply humble ourselves and ask God to give us “eyes to see” (Matthew 9:27-30, 13:16, 20:29-34; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 18:35-43; John 9).

Personally, I thank God for giving the folks at Disney-Pixar the imagination, technical means and raw talent to bring a lush new world of imagination into the heart and mind of my young son, impressing upon his inmost being the idea that there once was – and will again someday be – a redeemed heaven and earth of unimaginable beauty and brilliance. Transcendent images of worlds we’ve never lived in can only cause him to more deeply consider the marked difference between what our hearts were divinely fashioned to enjoy and the twisted, broken reality of what our world currently has to offer.

1 Corinthians 2:6-10 (ESV)
Wisdom from the Spirit
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written – “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

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