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Redefining the Fairytale: Which One of Us is Supposed to be Rescued?

 sleeping beautyMy wife and I went to see the new Disney movie "Enchanted" (which at the time was the #1 movie in America). The concept of the movie is that cartoon fairytale characters would stumble into real life in New York City. While the crossing of fairytale characters into real life provided the promised comedy, it also provided something I did not expect, the redefining of the classic fairytale along modern cultural lines. Who knew that gender identity issues would show up in a Disney fairytale? Did you know that the damsel in distress can also be the sword-wielding heroine?

 Here's the basic story: Giselle is a pretty maiden who lives in the fairytale land of "Andalasia." She meets her handsome Prince Edward who sweeps her off her feet and prepares to marry her. Yet, Edward's evil step-mother, Queen Narissa knows this union will remove her from the throne, so she sends Giselle into the real world. In NYC she meets Robert. Robert is a single dad with a young daughter who was abandoned in the past by his wife. Robert has been jaded by his abandonment, so he believes that fairytale notions of love are wrong and things must be taken really slow. Robert wants to ask his longtime girlfriend Nancy to marry him, but his encounters with Giselle quickly cause him to fall for her. Prince Edward heads into NYC to rescue his damsel. This causes Queen Narissa to come to NYC as a dragon to kill Giselle and make sure she never takes the throne…

 There were several scenes that caught my attention. Early on in the movie when attempting to tell his young daughter that he intends to become engaged Robert tries to smooth this conversation over by giving his daughter a gift. She wanted a fairytale book, but instead she received a book about "strong" women like Rosa Parks, Golda Meir, etc. Robert tells his daughter that fairy tales are not real and that he wants his daughter to grow up to be like these women. He says that his girlfriend Nancy is like these women. Almost immediately I was able to guess the conclusion to the movie… Could it be that the damsel will become the hero?

 My fears were realized. When the evil step-mother comes to NYC she turns into a fierce dragon who seeks to kill Giselle. When Robert attempts to stand in the way to protect and rescue his maiden Giselle, the dragon grabs him and begins to climb a NYC skyscraper. Giselle grabs a sword and pursues to which the dragon replies, "what an unusual twist to our story." The dragon then looks at Robert in her hand and says, "That must make you our damsel in distress." Admittedly Giselle does not end up slaying the dragon. She causes the dragon to fall and uses the sword to keep Robert from plummeting to his death. But there is a redefinition of the classic fairytale roles. The fragile maiden in need of rescue has now become the strong sword-wielding heroine, and the leading man has become the damsel in distress in need of rescue. This may be Disney's way of telling women they can "have it all." You can be both the princess who is swept off her feet by a man and the heroine who rescues that man.

 This redefinition is perfectly in keeping with the current cultural trends that confuse gender identity, roles in marriage, and seek to present an egalitarian view of life. My biggest problem with this redefinition is that it corrupts a biblical view of marriage, and a corrupted view of marriage is a corrupted view of the gospel. Peter Leithart says that "G. K. Chesterton was fond of pointing out that there is often more good theology and ethics in fairy tales than in some thick books of theology. In 'Sleeping Beauty,' we have a wonderful picture of the work of Christ on behalf of His church. In Walt Disney's animated version of that tale, Prince Philip climbs a jagged black mountain, cuts through deadly thorns with his sword, and grapples with the dragon-witch to rescue his beloved. A more fitting picture of Jesus' work can hardly be imagined. Jesus appears in the Gospels not as an Oriental guru — a proto-Gandhian proclaiming love and nonviolence — but as a princely Lover, passionately willing to suffer all things to rescue His Bride from her captor (Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power, p. 35)." This prince crushes the head of the dragon and rescues His bride (Eph. 5).

 Though teaching young girls and young boys that there could be valuable lessons to learn from the classic fairy tales certainly has its pitfalls. There are dangers in our girls and boys expecting a fairy tale version of emotional love, "being swept off your feet," looking for "prince charming," etc. Yet, if put in the appropriate context the classic fairytale is certainly touching on something that is true of the way a man should fight for and protect his bride. This should be taught to our young boys and girls because it is biblical.

      My wife and I have a beautiful 16 month old little girl named "Maddy," and we talk often about ways we can train her right now to be feminine. We do not seek to raise her to be fiercely independent. We do seek to raise her as a woman who expects to be taken care of by a man. We talk about how we will deal differently with boys if God blesses us with them. We will let our little boys fall down and pick themselves back up, learn to be tough, learn to be leaders, independent, etc. When Maddy falls down we pick her up, wipe away her tears, tell her it is ok, etc. We will train our boys to take care of women and treat them with respect. We will train our little girls to expect a man to be respectful to them and take care of them. We do this because we believe that marriage roles are a picture of the Gospel. Tom Ascol said at the Building Bridges Conference, "Marriage is to put the Gospel on display. It is a living parable of what God has done in Christ in saving sinners. Husbands, wives you have a role to play in this drama! Wives you get to live the role of the one who gets rescued. Husband you get to live the role of the one who got murdered in doing the rescue." Given this biblical picture it is not surprising that Hollywood wants to redefine the classic fairytale so that the roles are reversed. My fear is that the church is doing it too. Could it be that earlier Disney knew more about gender roles than the contemporary church?
      
      I pray for my daughter even now that she will find a man who will love her and take care of her the way that Christ loves and protects His church. I also pray daily that she will find the Man who scaled the Black Hill "Calvary", took on the thorns, wielded His sword, and cut off the dragon's head while suffocating to death on the cross. He did that to rescue His Bride and present her clean and blameless. May that TRUE adventure story never be redefined!