Gifts Can Be Overrated.
Have you seen Disney’s Encanto yet? Over Christmas break, I watched it with a friend of mine, and then quickly anticipated the movie’s release on DVD so I could share it with my family.
Every member of the Madrigal family has a unique gift—a magical power that they use to help others in their village. Even their house is magical—with doors, drawers, and floors that open or shift at will. Every Madrigal has their own unique room, given to them when they receive their gift at the age of five.
Every Madrigal . . . except Mirabel.
When Mirabel stepped up for her gift ceremony, her door dissolved. And she’s been stuck giftless in the nursery for the ten years since.
Many members of her family try. They really do. But when it comes to things like family portraits at her younger cousin’s gift ceremony, well, sometimes Mirabel gets left behind.
Naturally, however, Mirabel is the only one who can see that their magical house might not be as strong as they think it to be. Maybe it’s even . . . cracking?
(Spoilers for Encanto to follow.)
The Real Miracle
At the helm of all this is Mirabel’s Abuela. She suffered a huge loss in her past. And at that loss she received the candle that keeps the magic going. Since then, her life has been wrapped around the miracle they somehow received and keeping that miracle perfect and pristine. Which means that Mirabel and all her attempts to be good enough must go.
It’s not just Mirabel, though. Luisa is convinced she has to be strong enough to protect everyone. Isabella believes no one will love her if she’s not perfect. Camilo has no idea who he is, shifting into whoever might fit the situation best and covering it with his humor. Pepa’s emotions come and go as quickly as the weather. Dolores has a lot of things she's not telling anybody. Agustin and Felix grapple with being gift-less outsiders. And Julieta is just trying to keep everybody sane.
That’s a lot of drama. For a long time.
And finally Mirabel can’t take it anymore.
“I’ll never be good enough for you.”
Mirabel says all the things that have been boiling inside for a long time. And those angry words—piled upon all of Abuela’s expectation and the tension that has already been damaging the house—are what finally collapsed the casita.
The candle—the miracle goes out.
Or does it?
Abuela eventually finds Mirabel out at the river. “I’m sorry.” Mirabel swipes her hand across her eyes. “I didn’t mean to hurt us. I just wanted to be something I’m not.”
And finally Abuela opens her eyes. Maybe it was something Mirabel said in that argument. Or maybe it was something in the memories. Or maybe she just really saw Mirabel for the first time.
And she says one of my favorite lines in the movie. Even as their house has crumbled and their gifts have vanished, she says, “The miracle’s not some magic that we’ve got. The miracle is you. All of you.”
When the family worked together, even without their gifts, just valuing what made each of them the miracle they were—that was what brought the candle and the casita back.
Not because they were perfect.
Not because they were strong enough.
Not because they had some gift that proved they were special.
Just because they were . . . them.
Their gifts were wonderful. But they didn’t need them. They were a gift, a miracle, all on their own. Just the way they were.
And it was the most unlikely member of their family that showed them that.
This world constantly wants more. We’re supposed to have it all together all the time. We’re supposed to make everyone proud.
And when we don’t, sometimes we get left behind. Whether by accident or by the purposeful actions of people who are choosing to let their own insecurities keep them captive.
But to the One Who has the final say, it’s not what we can do that’s the gift. It’s not what we can be that’s the gift. Sure, we’ve been given gifts that we can use to serve others and glorify Him. I wouldn’t be here writing this blog if it weren’t.
But if all those gifts and abilities were stripped away, we would still matter.
It’s just us. The one He made us to be.
That’s the miracle. That’s the gift.
You. All of you.
One of my most recent movie forays was Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. While the setting, characters, and story were all brilliant and unique, the theme and emotion were what really blew me away.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya is a former princess who now roams the various countries of Kumandra (Heart, Spine, Talon, Fang, and Tail) in hopes of piecing together the legendary Dragon Gem. That Gem was also destroyed at what was supposed to be a peaceful event. When the five countries realized where the Gem was, they accused Heart of hoarding all its benefits. In the rush to all claim it, it fell and shattered.
And when it shattered, so did Kumandra.
Giant purple shadow monsters (Druun) rage unchecked without the Gem’s powers to protect their country. And anyone they come across, they turn to stone.
Raya’s peace-hoping dad among them.
So now Raya’s hoping maybe a magical dragon from the past—Sisu—could bring her Ba back.
I mean, it really is understandable that Raya has some trust issues. Especially a girl she’d befriended was the one to lead the invasion for the Dragon Gem. And there is the fact that the same girl (Namaari) hunts Raya to this day.
But in order to get all the gem pieces, she’ll have to take a few chances.
Three, to be exact, which lead her to assemble quite the misfit crew.
The Great Sisu Debate
There’s been quite the debate as to what this movie was trying to say, and I had a lot of fun discussing it with some of my writer friends.
Sisu, the hilarious yet wise dragon, advocates giving everyone a chance. But in real life, we can’t just walk up to a random person on the street and ask for help. We can’t go to someone who has seriously hurt us and give them a gift and make everything better.
Raya, on the other hand, trusts no one. And we see throughout the movie that her way doesn’t work either. We can’t do everything ourselves (and I would highly suggest you not try drying your own food unless you know how).
So what are we to do?
I think the answer lies in the scene when Raya and Sisu confront Namaari. (And we’re preparing for a whole lot of spoilers, so be warned.)
Namaari—whom Sisu believes can be trusted—turns a crossbow on them both and demands they hand themselves and the Gem over. Despite this turn in plans, Sisu continues to assure Raya it’s alright.
Raya draws her sword anyway. Hurls it at Namaari. Namaari’s finger slips on the trigger.
And Sisu dies.
This is where a lot of the debate begins. Were they saying Raya should have blindly trusted Namaari and none of this would happened?
Or was it not really about Namaari at all?
Backing up the tape—Sisu was the one who assured Raya it was alright. Sisu had proven herself trustworthy over and over again throughout the movie (if not a bit scatter-brained at times). Even Raya trusted her by seeking her help in the first place.
Raya couldn’t see past her own hurt with one person to trust someone who truly did care about her and whom she truly could trust.
Taking the First Step
Why is this all so important to me? Because I see this a lot. In myself. In others. In the stories I write. We’ve been hurt over and over again, sometimes by people we trusted very deeply. So we hide away in a little ball (not unlike Tuk-Tuk, really), shielding ourselves from everyone and everything.
We don’t ask for help, because it’s safer to do it ourselves.
Even from God.
But Raya got a second chance. A chance to trust former enemies as they put the Dragon Gem back together. Even when it all seems to go wrong and she’s turned to stone.
She took the first step. (Thanks for the line, Sisu.)
There is still hope. There is still light. There is still Someone far more trustworthy than any dragon.
And because of that, we can take the first step.
Although it may not be giving a gift to someone who wants to kill you . . . it may just look more like the quiet acceptance of Someone you know can be trusted.
When Raya took the first step, the Druun were destroyed. All those who turned to stone were restored. Sisu and the dragons returned. But most importantly, Kumandra was united again.
Who can tell what might happen if we take the first step?
*Have you seen Raya and the Last Dragon? What did you think of it? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
When the first glimpses of San Fransokyo—and Disney’s Big Hero 6—lit up our TV screen, I had no idea what to expect. Or what I had just gotten myself into. I skeptically watched the first bot battle.
When the end credits finally rolled, I was a devoted fan. Despite the movie being far outside the genre I usually read or watch, it quickly drew me in.
How? Many things—the creativity of the plot, the diversity of the characters, and well, the Baymaxness of Baymax.
But mostly, something deeper that was buried in the amateur superheroes and microbots and robotic nurses.
Throughout the first quarter of the film, we not only meet the film’s protagonist Hiro Hamada, but we’re introduced to his older brother, Tadashi, too. Tadashi picks Hiro up when a bot battle goes wrong, doesn’t get (too) angry when that lands them both in jail, and even tricks things around so Hiro visits the tech school Tadashi attends—a visit that leads to Hiro abandoning his career in bot fighting and trying for their scholarship.
Then Tadashi runs into a burning building to save his professor.
And he doesn’t come back out.
Without Tadashi, Hiro turns from bright, creative, and upbeat to withdrawn and depressed. Neither his Aunt Cass or his new-found friends or his abandoned scholarship to the university can bring him out of it.
But maybe, an inflatable robotic nurse named Baymax can.
I mean, that, and a plan to save the world from the microbots that Hiro himself invented that have now fallen into the hands of a masked man who may have killed Tadashi.
What really drew me into the film was how real it was. I mean, yeah, San Fransokyo isn’t a real place, and we’re not likely to encounter microbots or inflatable nurses or basically any of the other tech in the film.
But moments like when Hiro admits to Baymax, “People keep saying he’s not really gone, as long as we remember him . . . it still hurts.”
Moments like when Hiro faces the masked man and confides, “You just let Tadashi die,” moments before he tries to kill the man.
Moments like when Hiro desperately tries to open Baymax’s access port despite Baymax’s protests, ending by banging his fists against the robot and screaming, “Tadashi’s gone!”
One thing I’ve learned through writing and reading and just living is that life hurts. I generally like to set forth life as an exciting, adventurous, and magical place to explore. And it is. But the truth is, all of that magic comes with its own shadows. And lots of people are hurting. Many writers create stories as a way to cope with very dark, very painful circumstances. Many readers turn to books for the same purpose.
But if you ever passed any of these writers and readers in church? You would never be able to tell. They smile just as bright. They shrug. They say, “We’re fine.”
But we’re not.
In one scene early in the movie, Hiro trips and ends up wedged between his dresser and his bed frame. Baymax repeatedly asks him to rate his pain on a scale of one to ten. When Hiro insists he’s fine, Baymax pulls him out of the crevice anyway, adding, “It is alright to cry.”
As the film progresses, Baymax continues his care, whether that be contacting Hiro’s friends for him, diving off the Golden Gate Bridge when he senses (before Hiro does) that their first flight is making him happy, or showing him a long-buried video of Tadashi when Hiro is at the end of himself.
But none of that healing could happen while Hiro said he was fine.
It is alright to cry.
It is alright to scream.
It is alright to not be alright.
It’s alright to need help.
It’s alright to hurt.
I still believe the world is a place of wonder. It’s a place to heal. To find hope. As Tadashi told Baymax, and Hiro, and all of us, the world needs us. And maybe that will start when we admit that it still hurts. Maybe gather a few friends. Maybe make a few mistakes and shed a few tears.
And then get back to work.
*Have you seen Big Hero 6? What did you think of it? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
Why You Don't Need A Fishhook
I just saw Disney's Moana for the first time last month. And yeah. That's a whole lot of quirky packed into one movie. I expected a fun family summertime make-some-popcorn kind of movie. And it most definitely was.
But it actually had some great themes to think about.
Here’s the whole deal: Moana, daughter of an island chief, is fascinated with the water. Only problem is, her people don’t go beyond the reef. For any reason. The only reason they even go out to their tiny reef is to get fish.
Dad’s got reasons for the rule (sort of). But there are two problems that are strongly suggesting it might be time for a change.
One: A mysterious darkness is rotting the island’s coconuts and devouring the fish. Legend says it is due to the long-missing Heart of Te Fiti, a glowing green rock that has the power to create life. Unfortunately, it’s been buried in the ocean for years now, centuries, really. And only Moana’s grandma believes in it. Also, the darkness is coming for the natives next.
Two: Moana was chosen by the ocean when she was just a toddler to find Maui (oh, yeah, the guy responsible for taking the heart) and restore the heart of Te Fiti.
Might explain the fascination.
The opening song Where You Are insists that “you can find happiness right where you are” (along with a bunch of random stuff about coconuts that I have yet to figure out). And the movie proves it’s true. Moana loves her island. She might have stayed there forever.
But the ocean called her to something different.
So Moana bravely defies tradition and sails off into the ocean alone. Oh, did I mention she can’t sail? If it weren’t for the ocean's "help" and running into Maui, she might have gone in circles forever.
The more obstacles Moana and Maui run into, the more it becomes evident that Moana is not prepared for this role. Ever-helpful Maui reminds her of this frequently.
The last straw comes when Moana causes Maui’s magical fish hook which allows him to shapeshift to be cracked. Maui, who believes he’s nothing aside from the powers bestowed upon him, leaves her stranded on the boat.
Just Moana and the ocean.
The wave surges up before her. Moana holds out the glowing heart. “I’m not the right person. Choose someone else,” she begs. “Please.”
And the ocean seems to agree. It takes the heart and vanishes.
But, in typical Disney fashion, a song and dance number with her grandma who is also a stingray reminds her of what the viewers have seen all along.
Moana was the only one with spirit enough to dive headlong into the Kakamora pirates to rescue the heart. The only one with determination enough to hold her breath and jump into the Realm of Monsters. The only one clever enough to distract a giant killer crab with bioluminescent algae.
The only one who dared to dream beyond the reef.
The only one who could see past Te Ka’s fiery façade.
Yes, the ocean made the right choice.
We, too, are chosen. By someone much more powerful than the ocean or the legends or a magical fishhook. We are called to something different than those around us. We dream of things others haven’t dared to think of yet.
A darkness is coming for our island as well. And it’s doing far more than just rotting coconuts. It’s taking away the light that our world needs so desperately. We have been chosen to bring life back to our seas.
Sometimes we don’t want to leave our island. It’s perfectly safe and perfectly sound. We love it and we know exactly what our part is there.
Sometimes we feel like all we are our own magical fishhooks. Like we’re nothing beyond the abilities or impressions we give other people.
Sometimes we feel like we’re just bumbling our way through sailing. Like we don’t have any of the skills we need.
And sometimes that makes us feel alone. We watch our best-laid plans vanish into the ocean and take it as more proof that we’re not meant to be here.
But you are the one He chose. And whether or not you have all you need, you have something that makes you the only one to accomplish this mission. You don’t need demigods or magical fishhooks.
You already know the way.
So chart your course for new islands, explorer.
*What did you think of Disney’s Moana? Have a favorite Moana song? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
A couple months ago, I watched Disney’s 2019 remake of Aladdin (thanks to quarantine). For a few hours, I was dazzled by color, visual, a culture so unlike my own, and sheer story magic. (And I don’t like musicals, so that’s saying something.)
I must confess, I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the story of Aladdin. Which got me thinking about the fairy tales that intrigue me . . . and the ones that don’t.
One that doesn’t is Cinderella.
Don’t get me wrong. I had my fair share of Cinderella when I was younger. My sisters and I would snuggle on the floor with our stuffed animals and best friends and watch it at every sleepover we hosted.
But as I’ve gotten older, and I think about the stories a little more, it lost a bit of its allure.
I’m not the only one. In a poll put on a community for teens and young adults (specifically writers), eighty-eight percent said they’d rather read an Aladdin retelling than a Cinderella retelling.
Their reasons were (almost) all the same.
Cinderella is overdone and gets really old.
(Well, and that she falls in love for no reason, but that would be a whole ‘nother post, ladies and gents.)
Sure, this could just be because there’s a lot of Cinderella retelling books out there. (A lot.) But why did this story get tired out faster than Aladdin? Especially when they share the same general plot?
Because when I sat down and thought about it, Aladdin and Cinderella are basically the same stories. An underprivileged orphan rises to royalty due to magic—magic that can only last for a limited amount of time, in which they are left to themselves to rise to royalty again.
So what makes the difference between a tired-out character and a timeless one?
*Note: This post is based on the original fairy tales, not based on my opinions on the Disney remakes (of which I have not seen Cinderella) or original films (of which I've never seen Aladdin), although some details may reference them alongside other retellings.*
Let’s start with Cinderella herself, shall we? (Read the abridged original fairy tale here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella) Cinderella is the favorite fairy tale princess of countless little girls. And she has a right to be. She has spunk and perseverance. She refuses to give up on her dreams and holds them as tight as she can. (After all, a dream is a wish your heart makes!) She is kind even in the face of her family’s rejection.
But take the magic out of her story. No fairy godmother. No pumpkin carriage. No glass slipper. Is there any sign that she would have gone to the ball? Is there any sign that she would have gone to the ball? Is there any sign that she would have met the prince? Is there any sign that anything would have changed?
No. In fact, even in the original Disney Cinderella, the mice are responsible for her first dress, and once her sisters tear it to shreds, she gives up and flees to the garden. She doesn’t set about developing a new plan. She doesn’t start a new life or find a way to chase her dreams. (And her animal friends have to free her later so she try on the glass slipper, too!)
Fair reaction. But without her animal friends or the fairy godmother, Cinderella would have been scrubbing floors to infinity.
Aladdin is similar to Cinderella in many ways. (Read the abridged original version of Aladdin here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin) He has spunk and perseverance. At the opening of the original fairy tale, we find him taking care of his mother (it’s how he got in the lamp mess in the first place!). Even in the Disney version, where he is an orphan, he fights his way towards the change he dreams of. He works towards his dreams (although in rather misguided ways).
Does Aladdin never lose heart? Sure, he does. (One Jump Ahead Reprise, anyone?) In the original fairy tale, he is in despair when the genie appears (sound familiar?). But he doesn’t let himself stay there and wait for someone to come rescue him. Even when the genie disappears, he chooses to be himself and fight until he can’t fight anymore. He doesn’t wait for the bad guys to go away. He faces them down himself (fair, with the princess’ help). He refuses to be the victim of a society that labels him little better than a thief.
Here is where the fairy tale and the Disney versions go off, though: in the original, Aladdin did the same Cinderella did. He rode on the success of his magic. In this case, I like the Disney version where he loses it all and makes that choice anyway much better.
And there's the secret that Disney used to create a sparkling timeless character.
Both Cinderella and Aladdin had almost all the things they needed to do that. They had dreams. They had positive characteristics. But Disney took the final step in creating Aladdin into a character that we return to over and over again. He works towards his dreams. He acts, whether or not he always gets it right.
*Another note: Just an interesting aside--this secret works to create interesting protagonists and interesting villains. For instance, the excellently-written villain in Wayne Thomas Batson's Dreamtreaders worked towards her dreams just as much or more than the protagonists in that trilogy.*
Aladdin--and protagonists who fight for their dreams with him--inspires readers (and watchers, thanks to Disney) to be stronger—and reminds them they don’t need to wait for a glass slipper or magic lamp.
*Which is your preference—the Aladdin type or Cinderella type? What do you think makes a strong character? What retellings have changed up these stereotypes? Share your adventures below!*
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!