The meaning of the word religion has been debated for a long period. Different researchers and scholars hold various definitions of religion based on their background, beliefs, and events that occur in the real world. Pascal Boyer, for instance, offered a multisystem definition of religion. He borrowed insights from psychology and anthropology to explain religion (Boyer 237). He argues that religion is derived from other people and transmitted to others. The vice comprises of religious concepts and norms that have survived many circles.
According to Stark Rodney, religion cannot be defined without mentioning a supernatural being (Stark 101). On the other hand, Laderman Gray, an innovative psychologist, contends that religion is no longer a matter of faith in God but everything that is imaginable with multiple truths (Laderman 28). Boyer’s multisystem definition of religion presents a better understanding of the importance of religious sentiments in the Disney animated features as it provides a multicultural view of religion (Boyer 237). For example, in Black Cauldron (1985), some animals such as the pig are used to demonstrate some supernatural powers. According to Boyer, these are religious notions.
Science fiction is a way of conveying broader messages of certain subjects through creating scientific explanations backed by technological advancement. Often, this technique is used to explain religion in depth hence it can either accept or reject it. Religion is a belief or faith towards something or a supernatural being. Magic is an art or a practice whereby an ordinary man is both the initiator and executor (Versnel 178). Religion is distinguished from magic because in this form, there is no supernatural being or belief. Often, magic is considered as manipulative. Paranormal refers to the belief that people are beyond who they are. These variables have contributed towards the study and research in religion because each has distinct but interrelated features on religion.
Fantasy refers to a pleasant situation whereby a person thinks or imagines how events will occur in future. However, the chances that such events would happen are slim. Disney movies incorporate religion, magic, paranormal, and science fiction in their fantasies. In Fantasia (1940), Mickey Mouse steals a wizard’s hat and he ends oversleeping (Wasko 215). The use of a wizard demonstrates magic because such individuals practice certain elements of art manipulatively.
Religion is demonstrated in the movie The Hunchback of the Notre Dame (1996). A Quasimodo was thrown down the well to die because it was born as a deformed creature. However, priests from the Notre Dame cathedral rescued and decided to raise it. The act of rescuing and raising the Quasimodo demonstrates the work of religion in the society which is rescuing souls and giving hope to the rejected. Various Disney movies’ characters display paranormal features. For example, in the movie The Lion King (1994), Simba was born with paranormal features that set him up to ascend to the throne after his father. Simba is tricked by Scar, his jealous uncle, and he gets lost in the jungle. Later, the ghost of his father appears and instructs him on what to do. All Disney movies are of science fiction. All the characters are animated but use human voices. For example, in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Tod (1949), all characters are animated.
According to Smart Ninian, religion presents seven dimensions. These are: doctrinal and philosophical, narrative and mythic, experimental and emotional, social and institutional, ethical and legal, and rituals and material (Smart 200). These dimensions can be demonstrated in the real world. For example, material implies to the objects or places where supernatural beings manifest themselves. For example, Catholics have the rosary which is an object that they use to pray to God.
Walt Disney Company has incorporated all the seven dimensions of religion in its movies. The gothic features of the cathedral in the movie The Hunchback of the Notre Dame (1996) demonstrate the dimension of material. The movie Peter Pan (1953) displays how communities carry out gender distribution roles. This helps to explain the social and institutional dimension through which a belief system and attitude is shared among social groups such as families. Wendy is given the role of a home caretaker which is a traditional practice for females in many communities. In Hercules (1997), the story line is mythical of the ancient Greek gods. Hercules lives both as a god and human being. He later uses his strengths as a god to fight for those around him. This helps to bring out the dimension of narrative and mythic. Moana (2016) displays the human behavior as revealed in the supernatural realm. Despite all the storms and battles encountered d by Moana, she worked towards her destiny. The little mermaid (1989) depicts the experiential and emotional dimension through portraying the mystery that Ariel, the little mermaid, underwent as a result of betraying her father. It also demonstrates how various religions carry out their rituals. The use of the seven dimensions shows how religion is multicultural.
Douglas Cowan defines transcendence as the existence beyond the normal explanation, which is mainly illustrated through science fiction (Cowan,300). There exist three components of transcendence: the problem of human limitation both physical and technological: sociocultural hierarchies, and theological conceptions. Cowan’s components have been demonstrated in various Disney movies. Human capabilities are limited by many factors, both physical and technological. In Movies such as Dumbo (1941), Dumbo is born with ears which are large beyond explanation that end up causing an accident that injured many elephants. The component of sociocultural hierarchies and rites of passage that facilitate personal development and group cohesion is demonstrated in various Disney movies such as Hercules (1997), The Little Mermaid (1989), Pocahontas (1995), Peter Pan (1953), and Mulan (1998). The Little Mermaid (1989) presents a community that lives under the sea ruled by god Titon. This hierarchical setting is responsible for the group cohesion of the undersea Kingdom. In Mulan (1998), the Chinese girl, Mulan, defies all the rights of passage that she was to undergo as a girl and poses as a boy in defense of her father.
Theological conceptions of the relationship between humanity and the unseen order component are displayed in various Disney movies such as Brother Bear (2003), The princess and the Frog (2009), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Hercules (1997). In Brother Bear (2003), a young boy’s, life takes a dramatic turn when the great spirits transform him into a bear, a creature that he did not like. This shows the relationship between humanity and the unseen order. In movie, The Princess and the Frog (2009), a princess falls in love with a frog. She kisses the frog and transforms into a frog. These transformations can only be explained through theological concepts.
Cowan’s notions of transcendence can be used to explain various situations. Deborah Ross’ discussion on fantasy and imagination, Caleb Steindam’s biophilia, Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario’s plasmaticness and metamorphosis, and Pascal Boyer’s “violations of domain-level and kind-level expectations” can be well explained by three notions of transcendence. Transcendence refers to concepts that are beyond existence. For instance, when a person is having imaginations, the likelihood that the fantasies would happen in real-life is zero (Cowan 300). Many Disney movies are fictitious fairy tales thus making it hard to occur or to be explained in the real world. They are beyond human and technological capabilities. Imagination and fantasies involve the relationship between humanity and unseen order.
The creation of an alternate positive reality where everything is possible can be related to as religious enterprise. The definition of religion depends on different peoples’ perception on what the vice signifies to them. Religion, for instance, could imply having belief on some supernatural powers which cannot be explained in reality. In religion, depending on one’s’ belief system, everything is possible beyond any viable explanation.
According to Bey III George, Disneyfication is the approach to learning from the Disney experience which often displays hyper realistic, magic and fantasy movies. Disneyfication exists in three components: magic, new knowledge, and learning (Bey 191). In Moana (2016), the use of magic brings a better experience to viewers to enable them learn more about the characters. For example, there are amazing visuals and performance which in reality are not true. There is a magical presentation of Dwayne Johnson as a demigod called Maui who helps Moana to return the magical stone.
The Movie Aladdin (1992) and Lilo and Stitch (2002), through the use of the magic carpet present the component of magic clearly. The component of new knowledge is brought out in many Disney movie experiences. Even though the movies use magic, the knowledge interpreted through magic is the truth in reality. In Lilo and Stitch (2002), Lilo, a little girl, befriends Stitch, a monster that falls into the earth from another dimension. This form of magic enables the viewers to gain knowledge from the experience. Learning is a major component in Disneyfication, and from these movies, viewers are able to learn about the need to be creative in life (Bey 192). Lilo and Nani are young sisters who are trying to learn on how to put up with one another as siblings. In the movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), viewers, especially kids, are able to learn about the ancient times and the cultural practices of people across the world. In Big Hero 6 (2014), the making and use of robots in labs give viewers a science learning experience.
Disney movies have made use of timelessness whereby situations occur very fast than in the real world through deconstruction of time. Words such as “the land of old,” are used to take the viewer back to ancient periods. The use of Imagineering of the future depicts how a character imagines what will happen in the future through moving events quickly (Ross 53). The complex use of time is used to make movie a fairytale and realistic.
Disneyland is located across various destinations around the world such as Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and the United States of America. The attraction sites act as teleportation devices and time machines as they enable visitors have a Disneyland experience without moving space or time. The creation of an alternate positive reality that reconfigures the past, present, and future. Religion is a multicultural belief that is perceived by people differently depending on their various religious notions.
Boyer, Pascal. “Gods and the mental instincts that create them.” Science, Religion, and the Human Experience (2005): 237.
Cowan, Douglas E. Sacred terror: Religion and horror on the silver screen. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008.
Laderman, Gary. “The Disney way of death.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68.1 (2000): 27-46.
Versnel, Henk S. “Some reflections on the relationship magic-religion.” Numen 38.2 (1991): 177-197.
Stark, Rodney. “Reconceptualizing religion, magic, and science.” Review of Religious Research (2001): 101-120.
Bey III, George J. “12 On the Count of Three.” Disney, Culture, and Curriculum (2016).
Ross, Deborah. “Escape from wonderland: Disney and the female imagination.” Marvels & Tales (2004): 53-66.
Smart, Ninian. Dimensions of the sacred: an anatomy of the world’s beliefs. Univ of California Press, 1999.
Wasko, Janet. Understanding Disney: The manufacture of fantasy. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.