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Pixar, Fairytales, and Finding Our Identity

There's something strange about the fairytale creatures of Disney Pixar's new film Onward. Mermaids relax in paddling pools, unicorns eat from dustbins, fairies have traded their wings for aeroplanes. The sad reality is that this strange reality mirrors our own world: we have traded in our identity of children of God for children of the world. Thankfully, it's not too late to reclaim our true identities.

Let me put my hands up and tell you: I am far too attached to the world. We’ve all been told that we need to be “in the world, not of the world” (c.f. John 17:15-17) but slowly the world – and those of us who become creatures “of” it – is losing its identity.

The world talks a lot about identity and what people might “identify as”, but there is one identity that belongs to every one of us: we are all children of God. The Catechism tells us that we were “created by God and for God”, that only He can fulfil our desires (CCC 27), but when we choose to live for the world, we reject that. When we care more about the opinions of others than God’s opinion, when we attach ourselves to social media, Netflix, coffee, or anything else to the point where giving it up for Lent is a struggle, we must realise that we have not just forgotten our identity, but much like the Prodigal Son, we have rejected it.

A forgotten identity

This struggle of forgotten identity is portrayed with surprising similarities in the new Disney Pixar film, Onward. If you’ve ever watched Toy Story, Up, Inside Out or any other Pixar film, you’ll know that their films always contain a surprising amount of depth for what might on the surface appear to be children’s films. There is always more than meets the eye.

The latest film Onward is at its heart a tale of two brothers and their quest to spend one more day with their dad, but it takes place in a fairytale world where the creatures of childhood stories, such as elves, centaurs, and mermaids, live in a world that looks a lot like ours. They live in houses, they drive cars, they have jobs, schools, restaurants. But it wasn’t always that way.

Once, the world was different. Long ago, unicorns flew majestically through the sky, mermaids splashed around in vast oceans, and wizards used their powers to help others. But living this way came with its difficulties: why should wizards struggle to learn to conjure light when they could just have electricity? So they decided there was a simpler way of living. Which brings us to the present day with mermaids in paddling pools, unicorns eating from dustbins, and fairies trading their wings for aeroplanes. It’s clear to see they have forgotten who they were.

No one seems to even remember how fairy-tale creatures are supposed to live: pixies have forgotten how to fly, a manticore uses her fire-breathing skills as a chef, a centaur struggles to get his four legs into his car, and elves have become accountants. The world they used to know has been relegated to the subject of a board game called Quests of Yore.

Forgetting who we are

The tragedy is that their situation mirrors our own.

Long ago, there lived a perfect world. All creatures knew their purpose and lived for it, even humans. And then the stain of sin entered the world through the Fall, and ever since we’ve been distancing ourselves further and further from God. Not only do most people in this world today not know or care about their purpose, or about their identity as a person created in the image and likeness of God, but also those of us who do know often forget to act as though we do.

Obviously the parallels between Onward will only run so far, but you could argue that if God had made such a fairy-tale world with elves and unicorns, forgetting their true natures and giving in for the sake of convenience would be an insult to God. While they deny their true nature, they put a barrier between themselves and God.

There is a far better world ahead

In the real world, we put up that barrier every time we give into sin. When we sin, we choose something else over God and we essentially say to God, “This means more to me than You do.” Each time we sin, we give a little piece of ourselves to the world.

The world we were created for is better than a fairytale world of mermaids, unicorns, and wizards – exciting as that sounds! So if when watching Onward I was convicted – along with every child watching it, I’m sure – that the world they had left behind was far more interesting than the so-called easy life they chose instead, how much more should I be convicted that the world I was created for is far better than the world I keep choosing!

The best quest of all is the one for holiness. When we keep holiness as our main goal in life and go to confession every time we fall short of that goal, we have hope of not just entering heaven when we die, but of making this world a little more like heaven. Imagine a world where no one struggles to discover their identity because they know that they find it in God, where we are all striving for what will bring us closer to God rather than what is easy. We may have forgotten who we are, but it’s not too late to rediscover it.

There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind. ~ C.S. Lewis

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