Three years ago, Orlando Sentinel religion writer Mark Pinsky penned The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family. Now he’s back with a book about the Big Mouse in his backyard: The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust.
“The world’s most famous rodent and his animated friends say more about faith and values than you might think,” Pinsky writes in the introduction. Pinsky’s first story for the Sentinel in 1995 described a “Disney gospel,” and he’s dealt with religion and animation more than a dozen times since then.
In just over 260 pages, Pinsky analyzes more than 30 of Disney’s animated features, from “Snow White” in 1937 to “Brother Bear” in 2003. The bulk of the work is comprised of individual chapters devoted to each film, while Pinsky includes a few other chapters about Disney’s leadership, theme parks and the Baptist boycott begun in the mid-1990s.
Pinsky discusses how “organized religion” is–and mostly is not–present in Disney’s films, relating this fact back to Walt Disney’s own childhood and perspectives on religion. (Walt seems to have had a serious faith in God, even as he shunned much of religion’s trappings.)
Pinsky outlines the basic tenets of the Disney gospel as follows: good is rewarded, evil is punished, and with faith in something greater, along with some hard work and positive thinking, everything will turn out alright.
Pinksy leads the reader through each of the films, summarizing the plot, noting the main characters and, most importantly, discussing the themes. He points out how “Snow White,” for example, emphasizes the virtue of work, “Lady and the Tramp” deals with class differences, and “Sleeping Beauty” takes care with the power of resurrection.
Pinsky delivers some good discussions: Walt’s dealings with Jews in Hollywood; Disney chair and CEO Michael Eisner’s religious background; and, of course, that wacky Baptist boycott of Disney, which gets a whole chapter. Pinsky quotes Eisner, appearing on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” as saying that Baptists “are nuts. They really are.”
Pinsky isn’t charting much new territory with this volume. Roughly 70 years of Disney scholarship and commentary preceded this work, and as a journalist who has repeatedly checked the Mouse’s pulse, Pinsky is familiar with it.
He references important works, including some by Michael Eisner, culture critic Todd Gitlin, and film scholars Leonard Maltin and Jack Shaheen. He also cites several papers presented at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Orlando in November 1998, all of which dealt with Disney and religion.
Whereas Pinsky’s Simpsons book was among the first to take the show and its relationship to religion seriously, it is not so with this one. The end result is that much of what Pinsky wants to say has already been said, forcing him to quote other authors a fair amount.
The Gospel According to Disney does, however, form a good starting point for readers needing an even-handed introduction to Disney and religion.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
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