De Gruyter Advent Calendar Door | 17
What does Walt Disney (1901-1966) have to do with religion? More and less than one might expect at the same time, it seems. Walter Elias Disney was raised in a religious household but stopped attending church when he was still a young man. Known for being the first animator to use sound and color in cartoons, he was also an innovator in camera work, made the first feature length animated film (Snow White in 1937), and – of course – founded the famous theme parks.
Disney films hardly ever make explicit reference to the Bible or (Christian) faith. Instead, they seem to purvey a solid work ethic and moral virtues. However, themes known from the Bible can be found in some of Disney’s work, for example when in Snow White the evil stepmother offers an apple to Snow White, which she claims will make all dreams come true - this seems to harken back to the fruit offered to Eve in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis.
„Main Street USA“ does not have a church
Disney discarded a scene that showed Snow White teaching the dwarves how to pray, however, she is “resurrected” by true love’s first kiss. In Fantasia (1940), creation is not portrayed in biblical terms, but in scientific ones. While Disney used religious imagery in e.g., the propaganda film Education for Death (1943) in support of the American war effort during World War 2, in which Hitler’s Mein Kampf is shown replacing the Bible, allusions are most often subtle and abstract. They become even less frequent in Disney’s later work.
A certain distance of Walt Disney towards religion is also reflected in the setting of his famous theme park “Disney World” in Florida. The section of the park entitled “Main Street USA” shall represent the typical street of small town USA. However, unlike most towns in the USA, “Main Street USA” does not have a church building. Did Disney want to eliminate the religious aspects in his perfect world? This might be a little far off the mark. Actually one might credit this to a simple calculation: representing only one faith might deter paying customers of other faiths. The same might be said about the scarce representation of the Bible in Disney’s films.
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