I enjoy binge-watching shows. Instead of waiting from week-to-week for the latest installment, binge-watching allows a viewer to appreciate the whole arc of a storyline all at once. My young daughter has a very different view on what binge-watching means. As a preschooler, the shows and movies she watches are limited so instead of binge-watching a season, she instead opts to watch the same thing over and over and over again.
Her latest obsession is Disney’s Descendants, a Disney Channel Original Movie that we stumbled upon while searching the On-Demand menu for some of her favorite cartoons. She was excited about the premise, as it focused on the children of her favorite fairy tale Disney characters, and the concept was cute, even if it continued to reinforce Disney’s hetero-normative culture.
Descendants is a musical about how the children of Disney royalty — the son of Belle and Beast, the daughter of Aurora and Philip, the son of Cinderella and Charming, and even Dopey’s son — interact with the children of Disney villians — the children of Malificent, the Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella de Vil — at a prep school. It’s the cheesiness of High School Musical meets the Magic Kingdom. And yet, my daughter loves it, and insists on watching it again and again. While it may be that these Disney Channel show tunes are stuck in my head from watching the television movie so many times, I have to admit that some of the songs are even catchy.
The story takes place in the fictional United States of Auradon. Following the marriage of Belle to the Beast, they united all kingdoms and were elected Queen and King of this united kingdom. They sent all villains and their henchmen to the Isle of the Lost, an island ghetto where they wouldn’t be able to practice their evil magic. In turn, the royalty of Auradon seemed to be at peace and didn’t have to interact with the villains or their families. When Ben, Belle and Beast’s teenage son, is about to be crowned king, he decides that his first proclamation is to allow the children of villains to return to Auradon, believing that they shouldn’t suffer for their parents crimes. The children are tasked by their parents, led by Malificent (played by Kristin Chenoweth) with stealing Fairy Godmother’s wand in order to get the villains off the island so that they can take control of Auradon. The story is a “will they or won’t they” with an always-predictable Disney ending. Instead of following in their parents’ footsteps, they decide that they want to be good and do good. They don’t want to be defined by their parents. They want to be their own selves.
While the outcome is predictable — and the ending remains the same no matter how many times my daughter and I watch it — the lesson is important. We shouldn’t be judged based on the actions of another. We are often referred to as someone’s child, sibling, or spouse. But we are not them. While our parents and families certainly nurture us and guide us, that does not mean we need to be defined by them. We strive to hold on to the blessings that family gives us and teaches us, but we cannot carry the burden of their past mistakes. The yoke of their errors is too heavy to carry. Whom they are, how they act, and what they believe is not necessarily whom we are. The Torah reaffirms such an idea. We learn in Deuteronomy 24:16 that a parent should not be punished for the transgressions of a child and a child should not be punished for the transgressions of a parent.
We spend these days leading up to the High Holy Days by letting go of our burdens. We let go of our pasts, but most importantly, we need to let go of the pasts of others that we hold on to and carry with us. Their pasts are not our pasts. We need to be our true selves and not worry about who others are.
As we begin the new year with a clean slate, may we be proud to be ourselves instead of worrying about being viewed as somebody else. May we judge all solely based on their own actions and not based on anyone else’s. After all, even the child of an evil villain can become Disney royalty.
For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
Monsters University is easily the most successful animated film of the summer (and arguably the most successful film of the summer!) The film has grossed over $650 million at the box office and Pixar did it again by creating their first ever prequel. What is so surprising about the success of the prequel and its link to Monsters Inc. is that Monsters Inc. premiered in theaters twelve years ago. Pixar has a unique way of telling a story in their animated films that keep parents interested, but no one can ignore the fact that their films (as are all of Disney’s animated movies) are geared towards an child-dominated viewership.
If Monsters Inc. arrived in theaters twelve years ago, then most of the children who were excited about seeing Monsters University never saw the first film in theaters. Still, they came in droves to watch the tale of Mike Wazowski (voiced again by Billy Crystal) and James “Sully” Sullivan (voiced again by John Goodman,) who begin as enemies in college, but end up becoming best friends and successful professional scarers at Monsters Inc.
Mike knows that he wants to work at Monsters Inc. one day as a professional scarer, so he studies hard. A “scare major” at Monsters U, Mike is short and small and becomes agitated by Sully’s God-given ability as a large blue furry monster to scare easily. Mike studies hard and succeeds while Sully takes his talents for granted and begins to falter.
[Spoiler Alert] Their teacher, Hardscrabble, fails them, not because of their talents, but instead because of their rivalry and doubt and disrespect towards each other. They are forced to work together in the Scare Games, both being forced to enter through a door into the human world and scare kids at summer camp in order to prove themselves. While they are temporarily expelled from the university, though they eventually re-enter the specialized scare program. The movie concludes with Mike and Sully, as new friends who have both proven themselves, working at Monsters Inc. Their successful employment eventually leads to the story line of the 2001 film.
Mike is determined and destined to scare, even if he is short in size and stature. He reminds as about the importance of having faith in ourselves. Sully, on the other hand, has the talents, but he does not work hard and is not determined. From Sully, we learn the important lesson that we are God’s partners in creation. We do not sit back and wait for things to happen; we make them happen. Ultimately, we learn that as long as we are determined and try hard, no one can stop us from continuing on our journey to achieve our dreams. We also learn that we cannot get there based on talent alone. We must be determined. We must have a passion. We must have true kavannah, true intention. The journey may not always be easy. The journey may not always lead us to where we thought we were going. We may end up at a different place entirely, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” We create our own journeys. Even if we choose to scare, what we do is sacred. As we approach the New Year, let all that we do be sacred and let us be courageous enough to start a new journey, filled with our talents and our kavannah. Where that journey will end, nobody knows.
Please Note: Disney and Pixar’s “Monsters University” is Rated G and is acceptable for all audiences.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky