Sunday, October 18, 2020

Repentance, Freedom Through Compassion, and Imprisonment Through Greed: What to do About "The Man in the Suitcase."

 Hi everyone, welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!

Here we have Part 1 of my hopefully 2- part annual Halloween- related entry on this blog.

In considering my past Halloween entries on this blog, I noticed that each year so far since 2016, I've at one point used an episode of a TV show or streaming show. So, I might as well continue that trend now.

A show premiered on the streaming service Shudder (Sort of like Netflix but specializing in horror) last year, called 'Creepshow.' Based on the horror anthology movie series of the same title from the 80's, which in turn was based on the old EC horror comics of the 1950s, each 40- minute episode features two different stories, often written by big names in horror (i.e. Stephen King, his son Joe Hill, etc.).

Out of the six episodes that came out in the show's first season, my favorite was probably episode 3. The two stories featured in that particular episode were a fun yet rather bittersweet Halloween- related tale called "All Hallows Eve," and the story I will particularly focus on in this entry, known as "The Man in the Suitcase."

DISCLAIMER:
This episode has a bit of disturbing imagery, a scary moment near the end, and a LOT of language. ust a heads- up.

SPOILERS AHOY!

In this story, we quickly meet Justin, a slacker college student who hasn't been having a very good night so far: He's just flown back from a trip to visit his parents and beg his father for money (Never a proud moment for anyone), and his girlfriend Carla has dumped him because he isn't doing anything with his life at the moment.

Justin's night takes a MUCH more interesting turn upon arriving back at his apartment and discovering that he accidentally grabbed the wrong suitcase from the airport's baggage carousel; Rather than containing his clothes and things like that, the suitcase he took contains an Indian gentleman (Ravi Naidu), twisted up like a pretzel and forced into the suitcase, yet somehow still alive.


(A little help, please? Credit for this image goes to the user SilverFlight on the Creepshow wiki at https://creepshow.fandom.com/wiki/The_Man_in_the_Suitcase?file=The_Man_in_the_Suitcase.jpg)

The Man is surprisingly friendly and polite given his current condition (When asked how he ended up in there, he responds simply, "I offended someone I ought not to have offended"), and asks Justin to help get him out of the suitcase. Being the relatively good- natured young man that he is, Justin agrees, but this causes another, even more unexpected thing to happen: As he pulls on the Man's foot to help extricate him from the suitcase, the Man cries out in pain, and an ancient- looking gold coin flies out of his mouth! The Man explains that "An unfortunate condition causes me to produce gold when I am in pain." The Man says that if Justin gets him out of the suitcase, he'll be free to keep any gold coins that may be produced in the process as a fee, and Justin decides to think over this bizarre turn of events.

Things take yet another important turn when Justin's roommate Alex and the aforementioned ex- girlfriend Carla learn of the situation. Seeing the Man and his condition as a private gold mine just waiting for them, especially as Justin had the first gold coin appraised and found that it alone was worth hundreds of dollars, they decide it's something they should exploit. Carla is suddenly interested in Justin again (Funny how that happens when she finds out he's sitting on a potential fortune, isn't it?), and she and Alex convince Justin to keep the Man in the suitcase for another 48 hours.

Over the course of a disturbing yet darkly funny montage, the trio proceed to essentially torture the Man in a variety of increasingly unpleasant ways (Tossing the suitcase down a flight of stairs with him inside, pinching his extremities with a mousetrap, etc.), yielding an incredible fortune in gold coins in the process. The Man, remarkably, remains as affable and polite as ever throughout these horrible things being inflicted on him.

All is not well, though. We see that Carla is secretly having an affair with Alex, and Justin is feeling increasingly remorseful over what they've been doing to the Man.

Finally, as the 48 hours are up, Alex and Carla are about to employ their next, most brutal means of gaining agony- induced wealth from the Man: Hooking him up to a car battery to electrocute him. Justin at this point has finally had enough. The poor Man says that his heart can't take much more, and Justin realizes it's wrong and flat- out evil of them to line their pockets by doing this to him. He tells Alex, "There comes a time when you need to ask yourself who you want to be." Alex simple- mindedly responds "I want to be rich!" Justin decides to go to the cops to hopefully get the Man the help he needs. Furious at this and not about to lose her newfound gravy train, Carla bashes Justin in the head with a wrench, causing him to fall down the stairs. Don't worry, he survives.

Carla and Alex decide to try and get one last "Jackpot" from the Man before fleeing town with all the ill- gotten gold, and zap him with the car battery. Rather than screaming in pain and producing more gold, though, the Man instead laughs creepily and his eyes turn yellow. He then vanishes from the suitcase in a puff of smoke, and reappears as his apparent true form: a terrifying- looking Djinn (For those who may not know this term, a Djinn is a kind of demonic genie, the sort that grants wishes but usually with a VERY heavy price attached). Laughing evilly, the Djinn proceeds to trap Alex and Carla in suitcases of their own offscreen.

(To paraphrase the Man, it looks like now Alex and Carla are the ones who "Offended someone they ought not to have offended"; credit for this image goes to Dave Pierdomenico on a review of the episode on his own blog "Halloween Year- Round" at https://halloweenyearround.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/suitcase.jpg)

Justin awakens in a hospital room to find a bouquet of flowers by his bed. Attached to the flowers is a note from the Man/ Djinn, thanking Justin for the mercy and kindness he showed, and saying if Justin ever needs anything from him in the future, all he has to do is think of the Man and ask. The story ends with the Man, now looking fine and healthy and clad in a nice suit, checking ten identical suitcases at an airport as he prepares to board a flight to Istanbul, and from two of the suitcases, we hear two familiar- sounding voices screaming to be let out.

As I said earlier, out of the twelve story segments that have been shown in the first season of 'Creepshow' (Two per episode, in six episodes), "The Man in the Suitcase" was almost certainly my favorite.

Easily one of the main strengths of "The Man in the Suitcase," especially when compared to other segments in the show so far, is how incredibly funny it often is. While, as I said earlier, many of the tales seen in the show so far are written by respected names in the horror genre, "The Man in the Suitcase" was written by fellow Floridian Christopher Buehlman, who is normally a comedy writer, and it shows in the script. You will be laughing throughout most of it. In particular, the dialogue exchanges that the Man takes part in are often hilarious. Even the tortures inflicted upon the Man, horrible though they are, prompt some laughs from the ways they are staged.
In addition, as another review on this episode pointed out, this episode raises some interesting questions to think upon; Most prominently, what would you or I do if we were in Justin's shoes throughout this whole situation?
Another strength of it is that it does a marvelous job of channeling the old- school EC horror comics that the entire 'Creepshow' brand is meant to pay tribute to, both with its "Dark morality tale" vibe and the comic book visuals that are used throughout it.

Now, for the character run- down. Justin makes for a good main character. He's usually likable enough, and a nice "Everyman"- sort of guy. He's not perfect by any means (He's rather lazy, and a bit of a stoner), but you can tell there's some good in him, especially as the episode nears its climax.

Alex is suitably selfish and dishonest, yet good at manipulating Justin. You get the feeling that he may have at one time been a good person and loyal friend to Justin, but those days are clearly in the past and he now views Justin as little more than a sap for him to walk all over.

 Carla comes across as even worse than him. While I've struggled with singleness and the loneliness it entails for most of my life, and have been desperate to find someone to be with, I honestly think I'd rather be single than be in a relationship with someone like Carla, who only cares about satiating her immediate, petty desires and clearly has no problem manipulating and betraying those closest to her in order to do so. She's a "Gold- digger" in every sense of the word, and the epitome of someone who's attractive on the outside, but truly hideous on the inside.
The standout character in this story, though, is definitely the Man. Ravi Naidu gives a hilarious performance as him. You'll be laughing along with him while still deeply sympathizing with him over all the pain he's put through (Especially given the friendly attitude he maintains all throughout it). You'll immediately be fixated on him and wanting to know more about him and how he could do what he does. One particular funny line he has is early in the episode, when Justin is about to help him get out of the suitcase but gets sidetracked talking about some random school friend of his, and the Man says in a very patient tone of voice, "Excuse me, please. I do not mean to interrupt, but I am in a great degree of pain and I cannot give your schoolyard drama the attention that I am certain it deserves."

Now, for the theological meat of the matter:
I'd say the most important Scriptural lesson to be taken from the story of "The Man in the Suitcase" is on the consequences of letting our greed take priority over our compassion. Justin's line to Alex about what kind of person he wants to be calls to mind Proverbs 22:1, which says "A good name is more desirable than riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." Justin came to realize that monetary wealth meant nothing compared to the sort of human being that you were. We need to live in such a way that we are known for our walk with Jesus and the size of our hearts, not the size of our bank accounts. It can be so easy to sacrifice our principles for the sake of immediate gain, but those who trust in Jesus know that kindness and mercy are more valuable than all the gold in the world.

In contrast to the compassion Justin ends up showing, Alex and Carla's avarice ends up coming back on them through their fate in the end of the story, as they are trapped in suitcases of their own and will almost certainly end up being tormented for the gold they'll produce in the same ways they themselves did to the Man. It's a perfect metaphor for just how imprisoning greed can be. As 1 Timothy 6:9- 10 tells us, "Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." I'd say all that perfectly sums up what happens to Alex and Carla as a result of their greed, and what can happen to us if we allow greed to control our lives. It drove them to commit evil acts against the Man and eventually against Justin, and it led them into a trap which will undoubtedly lead to them being pierced with many griefs. For a real- life example of this, look at Bernie Madoff: His unquenchable greed led to him ruining the lives of so many people who trusted him, which in turn led to him being sent to prison for the rest of his life. Unless he repents of what he has done and seeks God's forgiveness while he's still alive, upon death he'll continue paying for his greed for all eternity.


Speaking of which, a final Biblical theme I found in "The Man in the Suitcase" is on repentance, through the choices Justin ultimately makes. As I said earlier, Justin is by no means a saint. He is easily persuaded by Alex and Carla to keep the Man in the suitcase for an additional two days, takes part in their tortures of him, and uses the gold to do some decent things (i.e. paying off all the back rent that he and Alex apparently owe for their apartment), but also other more selfish things (i.e. buying an expensive- looking leather jacket for himself). And, yet, he does repent. He eventually realizes how evil what they'd been doing to the Man was, stops it and at least tries to convince Alex and Carla to do the same, and attempts to do right by the Man. This repentance and rediscovering his mercy and kindness are why Justin is rewarded with a very powerful new friend while the unrepentant Alex and Carla get the punishment they deserve.
Acts 3:19 says "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." We also learn from 2 Corinthians 7:10 that Godly sorrow over our sins produces repentance, which leads to salvation and us not having anything to regret. We all sin and take the wrong path from time to time, but as long as we're still alive, it's never too late to turn around, seek God's forgiveness, and do what's right as Justin eventually did. Jesus suffered and died for us on the Cross to give us that chance.

May we all avoid falling into the trap of greed and instead let our lives be defined by the Godly love we show to others, and be quick to repent when we mess up along the way knowing that God's forgiveness and mercy are renewed every morning. I'd say those sorts of lessons are worth more than gold.

That's it for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. I'll hopefully have my second Halloween- related edition up by the night in question. Until then, take care, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Hypocrisy vs. Holiness, a Tale of Two Prayers, and True Beauty: A Faith- Based Look at 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.'

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!
Well, summer's over, but we're still struggling through a lot; The pandemic, social unrest, and hurricane season. All that's missing now is an alien invasion! Still, we all need to stay strong and keep the faith.

I shall now be finishing my look at certain Disney films by saving the best for last: I'll be looking at a real gem, easily one of my favorite Disney movies which is jam- packed with theological significance: Their 1996 masterpiece, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.'
(Credit for this image goes to the user Valyrian Wildfire on the Disney Wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame/Gallery?file=THBOND_Second_Poster.jpg)
It is a rather loose adaptation of the classic novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. It manages to take that dark and tragic story, and make it more family- friendly while still having tons of emotional weight.

This movie is the story of Quasimodo (Voice of Tom Hulce), the deformed but pure- hearted bellringer who lives up in the tower of Paris's legendary Notre Dame Cathedral. Quasimodo longs desperately to leave the bell tower and be out among the people of Paris, living the kinds of lives that they have. He is routinely prevented from doing this by his father- figure, the merciless Judge Claude Frollo (Voice of the late Tony Jay), who insists that the world is a dangerous, intolerant place where he'll never be accepted by anyone. Thus, the closest thing to friends Quasimodo has are three gargoyles that he routinely talks to. Early in the movie, Quasi sneaks out during the big Festival of Fools carnival, starts to mingle a bit with the crowd who at first think he is wearing a mask, and he even has a little fun for a while before things go horribly wrong.
 Nevertheless, even then, there's a bit of a blessing, as he meets the beautiful and free- spirited Gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Voice of Demi Moore). She quickly befriends him, but is soon forced to hide in Notre Dame herself and declare sanctuary after she openly stands up to Frollo, who is determined to destroy all Gypsies in France. It seems that the hateful tyrant has developed a perverse attraction to Esmeralda, and to assuage his own guilt over this, he wants to force her to either marry him or be burned as a witch. Quasimodo secretly helps her escape, and an enraged Frollo amps up his persecution of Gypsies in order to try and find her. It all helps to answer a question that the Gypsy leader Clopin asks at the start of the film, "What makes a monster, and what makes a man?"

There's only really one flaw in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' and it's a pretty prominent one that a lot of the fans point out: The three gargoyles. They are are clearly meant to be comic relief supporting characters, but the problem is, for the most part, they aren't funny AT ALL, and can get on your nerves at times (Especially a fat one named Hugo, voiced by Jason Alexander). Also, the movie is kind of inconsistent on if they're alive or not; For most of the first half of the film, it appears as though Quasimodo is merely pretending that they are alive so that he can have someone to talk to in his loneliness. If they had stuck with that all through the film, it would have worked, albeit been a little depressing. However, by the film's climax, we see they really are alive as they help Quasi fight off Frollo's troops. Make up your mind, writers! Their song, "A Guy Like You," is also easily the weak link among the film's otherwise flawless soundtrack. About the only positive thing to say about the gargoyles is that one of them makes a pretty funny nod to 'The Wizard of Oz' in the film's climax.



Now that that's out of the way, let me just say that other than that, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' is a truly magnificent film, my #2 all- time favorite Disney film after 'Beauty and the Beast.' The story has a maturity to it that most Disney animated films lack, it's one that largely appears to have been tailored slightly more towards adults than towards children, similar to what Pixar would go on to do with their own Parisian- set film, 'Ratatouille.' It has incredibly deep and dramatic moments throughout it, and some good amounts of action as well.

Quasimodo is a wonderful protagonist. He wrestles with his competing loyalties, and just seeks so desperately to be accepted by the rest of the world. His physical design is perfect at displaying his deformity, yet having it not be so grotesque as to freak out children who may watch it. Tom Hulce brings so much emotion and heart to his performance. Even just simple lines such as, while trying to persuade a formerly- wounded bird to take flight again, "If I could pick a day to fly, this would be it" will deeply move you. His songs will really tug at your heart- strings, too.

Esmeralda steals every scene she's in. Right from her first real scene we immediately grow to like her, as we see her bravely standing up to Frollo in order to help Quasimodo escape an awful situation, and then lead the guards on a merry chase through the Festival until she gets to the cathedral. Her courage, compassion, and selflessness as she repeatedly comes to the aid of the other heroes are so inspirational. It's easy to see why nearly every male character in the film quickly starts falling for her. Her pet goat Djali (Pronounced "Jolly") is cute and funny, too.

Judge Frollo stands out as being the single best Disney villain I've ever come across. He's cruel, twisted, well- developed, and often pretty frightening in scenes (The segments regarding his sick infatuation with Esmeralda WILL make you shudder). Through his persecution of the Gypsies, he is seen doing all manner of heartless, evil things to people who have done nothing to him, whose only crime is existing. Then, of course, there's the awful ways he treats Quasimodo, routinely berating and manipulating him. What makes Frollo even more despicable is that he has the gall to insist that he is committing all these horrible acts in the name of God. Tony Jay's performance as his voice is nothing short of brilliant. His deep, powerful voice can seem kind and nurturing (Albeit in an obviously superficial way) at one point, then dripping with hate and malice mere seconds later. He also proves to have a good singing voice too, as he first duets briefly with Quasimodo early on when trying to convince the poor little fellow not to go to the festival, then REALLY shines with his wonderful (In a terrifying sort of way) villain- song "Hellfire," which I'll talk a little more about later in this article.

Another neat character from this movie is the soldier Phoebus, who is hired to be Frollo's captain of the guard at the start of the movie, but quickly finds his views on many subjects changing. What's great about his change is that it doesn't happen all at once in a single moment, as it would in a more lazily- written story, but instead is done much more gradually. We see early on that he does disagree with many of Frollo's policies, but he grudgingly follows along with them because it's his job. Nevertheless, as the film continues, we see how increasingly disgusted he is becoming at the things Frollo is forcing him to do to so many innocent people. When Frollo midway through the movie orders Phoebus to burn down a windmill that had a family locked inside, that's finally the last straw. Phoebus defies this order, saves the family, and becomes a major force for good the rest of the film. An additional plus to Phoebus is the great work Kevin Kline does as his voice actor. In particular, in his first scene as he deals with a pair of rude guards, Kline's voice acting makes an already very funny scene even more so!

Also, even though he is only a minor character, the cathedral's Archdeacon was great, too. The late David Ogden Stiers (Who by that point had already become a veteran Disney voice actor through his work as Cogsworth in 'Beauty and the Beast' and John Ratcliffe in 'Pocahontas') brings a lot of strength and sincerity to the Archdeacon's scenes, and helps show that, while some people may exploit the Christian faith for evil purposes, there are also many people like him who are genuinely holy and rightfully use their faith to motivate themselves and others to do good and build God's Kingdom on Earth.

The visuals and animation in this movie are incredible. The color scheme is incredibly diverse, from bright colors for the scenes in the Festival of Fools, to much darker tones for the more serious and intense moments. All the backgrounds and environments are beautifully rendered, ESPECIALLY Notre Dame. Both inside and outside, there is so much detail and care in every element of it, to the extent that the cathedral is almost an additional character itself. It looks especially good in the climax, as the big battle with Frollo's troops is raging and we see fire and molten metal pouring out everywhere.

The songs in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' are nearly all hits. They demonstrate a marvelous emotional range, from the happy and rather chaotic song "Topsy- Turvy Day" that Clopin sings during the Festival of Fools, to dark and frightening songs like "Hellfire" and "The Court of Miracles," to wonderfully moving songs like Quasimodo's "Out There" and Esmeralda's "God Help the Outcasts." The narrative song "The Bells of Notre Dame" even manages to combine all of these emotions in a single song!

I had actually been planning to eventually do an entry about 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' on this blog for years now, as it's the sort of film that's pretty much tailor- made for a blog that combines pop culture and Christian theology. It deals heavily with so many theological points, it would be nearly impossible to list them all.

One of the first is using the evil Judge Frollo as a cautionary example of avoiding hypocrisy and falseness in our faith. As I explained earlier, one of his most loathsome qualities is that he not only does so many evil things to so many people who've done nothing to him, but he then tries to justify it all in the name of God. He might outwardly profess righteousness and piety, but beneath it all he's a heartless legalist for whom the concept of "Love thy neighbor as yourself" means nothing, and to whom the Christian faith is really just something for him to exploit for his own purposes. He'd have felt right at home among the corrupt Pharisees who had Jesus crucified. Frollo particularly shows his true colors in the film's climax, as he orders his troops to physically breach the cathedral by breaking down its front doors in order to get to Esmeralda and Quasimodo inside who had just declared sanctuary. From someone who outwardly professed such piety and holiness, to both defy the concept of sanctuary and desecrate such a sacred place in that way made it clear to everyone just how fraudulent his supposed devotion to the Lord really was.
There are many verses in the Bible which condemn this false faith. 2 Corinthians 11: 13- 15 says "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds." In addition, Titus 1:16 says about those sorts of people, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work." . There are many people who claim to know God, but like Frollo in the film, are in fact frauds and hypocrites doing Satan's work while outwardly putting on a seemingly righteous facade and twisting the faith for their own purposes. Their deeds prove how phony they truly are. A real- life example of this I have recently seen is from a certain gentleman who shall remain nameless, on a certain "Christian" website he runs which shall also remain nameless. I won't say where because I earnestly do not want to give this guy any more web traffic than he is already getting. I myself only go to his site for laughs. Among other things, he's the sort of guy who regularly says that America is a rotten Hell- spawned hole in the earth, largely because things now aren't exactly the way they were back in the 1950's if not earlier. He claims what he is doing is "Ministry," that he is preaching the Gospel through his website, but his nearly all of his posts have him spewing all kinds of incredibly hateful, intentionally- insulting things about others while then claiming he's not trying to be "Unkind," and often praising himself for his own righteousness (i.e. He once put up a link to a media- watchdog- group's web page talking about some TV shows that week which featured objectionable content, and he commented, "I thank God that I don't watch any of those shows!" I could almost picture the smug expression on his face as he typed that).
 A frequent theme in many of his articles over the last couple years is him basically waging a one- man online war against a church near him that he believes has wronged him. Practically every other post of his recently has him insulting this church, its leaders and its members (At times by name), claiming that they are "Apostate," "Satanic," and so on. In an article he put out a couple months ago, this guy (Who regularly rants about how "Immoral" and "Trashy" the world is) openly called the people at that church an obscene name, the sort of name that any parents reading this would probably wash their kids' mouths out with soap for using; All he did to veil/ censor the word was use dollar- signs instead of s's. This was on a supposedly "Christian" website! If this guy watched 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' he'd probably think Frollo was the hero of the story! May we all strive to avoid such hypocrisy and fraud, and instead live out a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, and let our actions be a reflection of the good work that God has done in our hearts.


Now, for the next point: A great message/ allegory in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' can be found by looking at arguably the two best songs in the film: Esmeralda's song "God Help the Outcasts," and Frollo's song "Hellfire." To help convey this, I'll let you listen in on each song before talking about them. First, we'll check out "Hellfire":

(This video was posted on Youtube by the user MrHJona at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3NoDEu7kpg)

In "Hellfire," Frollo right out of the gate praises how supposedly righteous he himself is while blaming Esmeralda for his own moral failure of lusting after her. As the song goes on, he even has the audacity to blame God Himself for it, when he sings "It's not my fault, if in God's plan, He made the Devil so much stronger than a man!" Frollo is literally blaming everyone other than himself for his own sin. This theological blame- shifting is contrasted further by the chanting in Latin heard in the background. Although this video of the song doesn't show it, the chanting is the Archdeacon and the other priests at Notre Dame performing the Confiteor (A Roman Catholic prayer of penitence) as they begin the evening vespers. Roughly translated, the prayer/ chanting is the Archdeacon and the other priests confessing that they have sinned, admitting that their sins are their own fault, and asking God's forgiveness. Unlike Frollo's blame- shifting and self- righteousness, they have recognized that they have sinned, and that forgiveness can only be found through seeking God's limitless grace and mercy.

Now, on the other side of the theological coin, let's have a listen to "God Help the Outcasts":
(This video was posted on Youtube by the user Holy007, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEpavnk7Uw)

To quote Morgan Freeman's depiction of God in 'Bruce Almighty,' "Now, THAT'S a prayer." While Frollo starts out his song by professing his righteousness, Esmeralda starts "God Help the Outcasts" by openly expressing her uncertainty and that, as a member of a despised group, she doesn't know if she's even worthy to come to God in prayer. Nevertheless, she has a prayer that needs to be heard. She humbly beseeches God to help protect her fellow Gypsies amid all the hate and persecution they are facing, because without His help, they have no chance. She openly says that she does not personally need anything for herself (Contrasting to the worshipers in the song's bridge asking for selfish, worldly things), but merely seeks for her people to be saved from being wiped out. She even demonstrates a surprisingly strong theological understanding early on by saying that she wonders "Were You once an outcast, too?" Jesus and His disciples were indeed outcasts, who faced persecution and death in order to help bring God's salvation to the world, so He would indeed identify strongly with Esmeralda and with what she and her people are facing. A humble yet true faith expressed through a beautiful, sincere prayer.

I bring this up because the attitudes expressed in these two songs (Frollo's blame- shifting and spiritual snobbery in "Hellfire," and Esmeralda's meek intercessions in "God Help the Outcasts") present, I think, a perfect allegory for the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector which Jesus told in Luke 18:9- 14. Both men went into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee gave a "Prayer" basically praising himself for how good and holy he supposedly was, and looking down on others who did not measure up to his own moral standards. The tax collector, in contrast, would not even lift up his own head, but merely begged God in prayer to have mercy on a sinner like him. Jesus noted that, of the two men, it was the tax collector whose prayer was heard and who left the Temple justified in God's eyes, for he demonstrated simple faith and humility through his prayer. Such is how we all should be. We should resist the temptation to spiritual pride and looking down on others, and instead recognize that we are all the same in God's eyes, sinners in need of a Savior. 


A final theological message to be taken from Disney's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' is on true beauty. At the opening of the film, the Gypsy leader Clopin says that Quasimodo's story is "The story of a man, and a monster," and explains that the real riddle of the story is to figure out which is which. Initially, we all think the "Monster" in the story is Quasimodo due to his deformed appearance. However, as is often the case in Disney's films, appearances are deceiving. It becomes clear that really Frollo is the monster, and Quasimodo is the man, due to what they each have inside, in their hearts and souls. Quasimodo's outer appearance conceals the kindness, love, courage, and indeed beauty he possesses deep down. This is most definitely a Godly principle. 1 Peter 3:3-4 instructs us, "Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." In addition, 1 Samuel 16:7 says "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."" While the secular world judges people based on their outward appearances, God judges people based on their true character, what is in their hearts. A kind, gentle, Godly spirit is the truest, most everlasting beauty a person can possess. May we all seek such beauty in our own lives.


That concludes my look at Disney's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' a true animated masterpiece which drives home the vital lessons of avoiding hypocrisy and false faith, acting with humility and simple devotion to God, and what true beauty looks like.
I've enjoyed this look at a few Disney films, and hope all of you did, as well. I may perhaps look at some more in the future, but for now, I'll turn my attention on this blog to other fare for a while.

That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Until next time, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Allegory, True Heroism and Going the Distance: A Faith- Based Look at 'Hercules.'

Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of the Nightcrawler Experience!
My current look at Disney films has two down, and two to go.

For this one, I decided to look at something a little more robust than most Disney animated fare: The 1997 film 'Hercules.'

(Credit for this image goes to the user Valyrian Wildfire on the Disney wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Hercules_(film)?file=Hercules.png)
This is obviously based on the stories of the legendary strongman/ demigod from Greek mythology, but in a VERY loose way. Most of the characters and mythological elements of it are honestly nothing like how they were in the original ancient myths, but considering this film was aimed at children and much of actual Greek mythology is not suitable for such audiences, that's understandable.

So, in this movie, after a brief narrative introduction by Charlton Heston and the catchy song 'The Gospel Truth' by the Muses that helps to set up the story, we see Hercules born to the king and queen of the Olympian gods, Zeus (Voice of the late Rip Torn) and Hera. However, not all is right among their numbers; Hades (Voice of James Woods), the disgruntled god of the dead, has a secret plan to overthrow Zeus and conquer Mount Olympus by eventually freeing these powerful ancient monsters known as Titans. He learns through a prophecy that he will be defeated and his plan foiled if Hercules is allowed to grow up and join in the battle that will ensue. So, to prevent this from happening, Hades sends his bumbling demon minions Pain and Panic (Voices of Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer) to kidnap baby Hercules, turn him mortal with a magic potion, and then kill him. The shape- shifting demons succeed in the first two parts of the plot, but fail in the third, as baby Hercules does not drink all of the potion and thus retains his incredible strength (The sight of baby Hercules then walloping them when they try to finish the job is both hilarious and adorable). He is then adopted by an elderly couple who raise him well.
As a young adult, Herc (Voice of Tate Donovan) feels like a freak who doesn't belong in the village he and his adoptive parents live in. He eventually learns of his divine origins, and that his godhood will be fully restored to him if he can prove himself to be a true hero on Earth. To that end, he seeks out the help of Philoctetes, aka Phil (Voice of Danny DeVito), a half- goat satyr who was once a trainer of heroes. Phil initially refuses, as everyone he trained ended up faltering and letting him down, but he has a change of heart when he realizes the real potential that Herc has.
After some training and a few victories, Hercules is hailed as a hero and treated like a celebrity by everyone, complete with endorsements and merchandise, yet Zeus tells him this still isn't enough. Herc eventually falls head over heels for a lovely young woman named Megara, aka Meg (Voice of Susan Egan), who has a bit of a shady past and begins to drive a wedge between him and Phil. All the while, Hades is preparing to destroy Hercules once and for all and implement his plan to release the Titans and conquer all of the cosmos.

Pretty much the only problem I have with 'Hercules' is how it portrays some of the other heroes from Greek mythology; While Phil is shown to have been the trainer of most of these heroes (As he puts it, "Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus. A lot of '-eus'es."), the movie implies that they had all been losers and failures who couldn't "Go the distance." I frankly didn't like that. In Greek mythology, those other heroes did really cool things, too (ESPECIALLY Odysseus), and while portraying them as failures did help with Phil's development as a character, they could have just as easily been portrayed as heroes who were formerly successful but are now forgotten has- beens, or as contemporaries for Hercules to interact with.

Other than that quibble, 'Hercules' was a great movie and a lot of fun.
It has a good deal of comedy, including loads of funny puns relating to the movie's setting. For instance, in one scene when two young boys are trapped under a boulder, one of them frantically shouts "Someone call IXII (aka the Roman numerals for 911)!"
'Hercules''s high- point, though, was definitely its action. It had loads of impressive fight scenes, such as a short but amusing brawl Hercules has with a boorish centaur named Nessus which acts as his first real heroic deed, and his climactic battle with the Titans in the end, but my favorite (And one of my favorite parts of the movie as a whole) is when he fights the Hydra.
This is a battle which will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The Hydra looks terrifying by Disney standards, between its long serpentine necks, its yellow eyes, and its VERY large maws of incredibly long and sharp teeth, and that's not even counting its trait of regrowing heads that have been lopped off. The computer animation they used for it looks pretty impressive for the time, too. The battle takes on a lot of different phases in its brief time frame, as we see Hercules fighting the Hydra from the ground, and then from the air with the help of the flying horse Pegasus. Everything's going a mile a minute, and the tension's high, making for a quite memorable scene. When Herc does prevail, we have to agree with his remark to Phil that "You gotta admit, THAT was pretty heroic!"
Hercules himself is a decent enough hero. We can feel most of what he's going through, between his initial desire to find the place where he's meant to be, then his desire to achieve his destiny when he learns of his lineage, and trying to protect those he cares about when things start to really hit the fan in the film's third act. The animation design for him looks great, too; Initially, the animators wanted to make him look huge and ripped like Gaston from 'Beauty and the Beast,' but eventually decided to give him more of a swimmer's build. I'd say that works, as he's clearly got some muscles, yet still seeing him display amazing strength throughout the film surprises you and helps you remember it comes from his divine lineage rather than just working out.
Megara is wonderful both as a love interest to Hercules, and just as a character in general. She's an incredibly funny character a lot of times with her snarky dialogue (Mad props to Susan Egan for her voice performance), yet some real heart, too. Her unbelievably sad backstory and her morally- conflicted nature throughout most of the film make her quite developed. She's definitely not your typical Disney gal.
Phil's a pretty solid supporting character. He too has a lot of funny moments, and seems to be heavily based on the character Mickey from the 'Rocky' films as a "Gruff, no- nonsense trainer of champs" kind of character. He's got some sympathetic moments too, though, overcoming his embitterment over his past students' failures, and desperately wanting to train just one who could really go down in history. Danny DeVito's gravelly voice is perfect for him, and his delivery in an early scene when Phil is mockingly imitating Zeus's voice never fails to make me laugh.

Hades is one of the most popular Disney villains among fans, and even just watching a couple minutes of him in this movie is enough to show why. While not my absolute favorite Disney baddie (Stay tuned for the next/ concluding entry in this series to learn who that is), he's pretty close. Most Disney villains fall into one of two categories: Mostly serious like Ursula or Jafar, or mostly comedic like Captain Hook or Yzma. Hades is a nice mixture of both, with loads of funny moments (i.e. Pointing out to the dim- witted Titans that they were heading in the wrong direction to reach Mount Olympus), and yet also some creepy, dead- serious moments (i.e. in the Hydra battle, when it looks like Herc is about to be devoured, Hades grinningly comments, "And now, for my favorite part of the game: SUDDEN DEATH."). His visual appearance is pretty neat, between his flowing black robes, his greyish skin, and his flaming hair. It's little wonder that the main animator who worked on Hades in this film won an Annie award for his work. His personality is an amusing blend of being calm and laid- back at times, while then literally exploding with rage in other scenes. Probably the best element of him, though, is James Woods' work as his voice (Which is especially remarkable, because Woods wasn't even Disney's first choice for voicing Hades; Originally, the role was going to go to Jack Nicholson, but he apparently wanted more money for the role than Disney was prepared to spend). Woods gives Hades a smooth- talking, used- car- salesman kind of voice, yet is also perfect at the scenes when he's furiously ranting and fuming. He also ad- libbed a good portion of Hades' lines, such as in a scene in which Hades is trying to trick Herc into making a bad deal with him. Hades is just such a fun villain to watch in every scene he's in.
Pain and Panic work well in an "Incompetent goons who always mess things up and whom the villain regularly takes his anger out on" sort of way. In particular, hearing Bobcat Goldthwait's rather distinctive voice for Pain always puts a smile on my face. Their shape- shifting skill makes them even more interesting, and is used to good effect.

The songs in 'Hercules' are pretty interesting, and take things in a few different directions. Herc's song 'Go the Distance,' which acts as the informal theme to the movie as a whole, sounds really nice and inspiring, a good song to help you feel brave as it's him singing of how he will keep going until he's learned his destiny and found "Where I belong." Phil's song "One Last Hope" as he's training Hercules is funny and entertaining, complete with a hysterical nod to 'The Karate Kid' at one point, and Danny DeVito proves to have a better singing voice than you'd think. Megara's song "I Won't Say I'm in Love" showcases the gorgeous singing voice that Broadway veteran Susan Egan has, and is a bit of a novelty as far as Disney songs go; Rather than giddily singing about being in love, it is mostly Meg DENYING that she is falling for Herc as her past history with men has so far not been good and she doesn't want to be hurt again, only to grudgingly accept at the end that she IS growing fond of the big lug. However, most of the songs from this movie are sung by the Muses, who help narrate and advance the story in a sweet, soulful, Gospel way. "The Gospel Truth" sets things up well and varies in its moods well to fit the scenes it's used in, "Zero to Hero" is a very fun song chronicling Herc's rise to fame, and my favorite is the song they perform in the finale, "A Star is Born." It's a gorgeous song which perfectly accompanies the film's truly wonderful ending (Indeed, 'Hercules' has one of my favorite endings to any Disney film).


I can think of a few different Scriptural lessons that can be taken from Disney's 'Hercules.'
One of the first is on endurance and "Going the distance." Near the climax of the film, when the attack on Olympus is close at hand, Hades tricks Hercules into giving up his strength for one day. Then, he sends a gigantic Cyclops to kill Herc in this weakened state. While Herc (who has become thoroughly discouraged and disheartened by this point for a number of reasons) won't fight back and seems willing to just let the Cyclops kill him, Phil eventually comes in and reminds Herc that he CAN take that bully down if he actually tries. Herc echoes a statement that Phil made early in the film that "Dreams are for rookies," but Phil retorts, "No, no, no, no, kid; *Giving up* is for rookies! I came back 'cause I'm not quittin' on you! I'm willing to go the distance; How about you?" Sure enough, this pep talk gives Hercules just the inspiration he needs; Even without his strength, he's then able to defeat the Cyclops and save the city of Thebes from destruction using nothing but a torch, some rope, and his wits. The Cyclops may have been big, but all that size added up to was a bigger crater in the ground when that bloated brute went down for good.
I think the Cyclops in this scene can be seen as a metaphor for all the huge problems we are facing, especially this year, between the continuing devastation of COVID- 19, and all the current social unrest breaking out nationwide. All that, of course, isn't even counting the personal, individual struggles that many of us our going through in our own lives. They all seem so unbeatable at times. It seems like it would be so easy to just give up and lose faith that anything will ever get better. I had a time just a couple nights ago when I briefly wrestled with those kinds of feelings.
I'm reminded of the brave example of Joshua and Caleb in Numbers, chapters 13 and 14. The two of them were among a group of twenty spies Moses and the Israelites sent to scout out the Promised Land, survey if it had good resources, and see if they could conquer the land. While most of the spies, upon returning, were afraid and essentially said "No way! The people in this land are giants! We could never take them on, we're like grasshoppers to them," Joshua and Caleb disagreed. They had faith that if God got them that far, He could give them the strength to overcome even those giants and take the city. This courage and faith was the reason why those two were the only members of that generation of Israelites managed to enter the Promised Land, while the rest who doubted God's providence and let their fear overcome their faith wandered in the desert for decades. Joshua and Caleb were willing to "Go the distance" even when things seemed hopeless, and we all need to do the same.


Another theological point to be taken from 'Hercules' is, similar to when I looked at 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 3' last Halloween, seeing the main hero as an allegory for Jesus and the main villain as an allegory for Satan.
 Right off the bat, the idea of Hercules being the son of the king of the heavens, coming down to Earth, and being raised by a childless mortal couple rather strongly resembles the early life of Jesus, who was the Son of God and came down to Earth and was raised by Mary and Joseph. The comparisons to Jesus become especially evident in the end of the film. MAJOR SPOILERS!
 Megara has died saving the life of Hercules, and so Herc goes down into the Underworld to try and recover her soul from the River Styx that it's currently floating in and thus bring her back to life. After a bit of haggling, Hades agrees to let Hercules take her place down there, if he could swim in the river and get her. There's a major catch, though: Touching the river causes Herc's body to age rapidly, and within seconds of him entering, it's clear that he will die before he can reach her. Yet, just as the three Fates are preparing to cut Herc's thread of life, it suddenly turns golden and is unable to be cut. See, by being willing to sacrifice himself to save Meg, Hercules has proven to be a true hero, and his godhood is restored to him as he then brings Meg's soul out of the river and knocks Hades down where he belongs. This all can easily be seen as symbolizing Jesus's sacrificial death for all of us, and His resurrection which defeat's Satan's plan to pull all of our souls to Hell.
Speaking of whom, there's also allegory to be found in Hades. In the original Greek myths, Hades was generally portrayed as a neutral, "Don't mess with me and I won't mess with you" type. In this film, however, Hades actually much more closely resembles how we as Christians see Satan. He seeks to overthrow the gods, conquer Olympus (Which in the movie greatly resembles how many of us would see Heaven), and kill Hercules. This is obviously similar to Satan seeking to overthrow God and take over Heaven (As described in Isaiah 14:12- 15), and kill Jesus. A scene early on makes this comparison even more clear, as a character, upon seeing Hades, says, "Well, speak of the Devil." Lastly, Hades' final defeat as the now- divine Hercules knocks him into the River Styx and the souls there drag him down into its depths, presumably forever, can be seen as resembling Satan's ultimate defeat in the book of Revelation Chapter 20, as he is cast into the Lake of Fire forever. In fact, Hades' scream of defeat when he realizes Hercules has become a god is near enough to how I'd imagine Satan reacting when he learned that Jesus had risen from the dead.
In short, I could see a Christian watching this scene with a non- Christian then afterwards saying something like, "Hey, you know how Hercules was willing to die and take Meg's place in the Underworld to save her, then became a god because of that? Someone actually did something a lot like that once. His name was Jesus, and if you don't mind, I'd like to tell you a little about Him."


Then, for one final Biblical point to be taken from Disney's 'Hercules,' immediately after the previously- mentioned scene happens, Hercules is brought to Mount Olympus, where Zeus and Hera explain to him that his sacrificial act for Meg was what made him a true hero. Zeus elaborates that a true hero is measured not by physical strength or fame, but "By the strength of his heart." This is another major Biblical theme, as many verses talk about how the state of a person's inner heart and soul is one of the most important factors to define that person. Jeremiah 17:10 says "I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds." 1 Timothy 1:5 says "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Then, of course, there's Jesus' beatitude in Matthew 5:8, which says, "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." Indeed, the truest sign of greatness in God's eyes is a heart which is driven by love, kindness, selflessness, and faith in Him at all times. Such is what He most wants to see in all of us.

And so, there you have Disney's 'Hercules,' a great animated thrill ride with action, memorable characters, and wonderful Biblical lessons about going the distance even when it seems hopeless, what it takes to be truly heroic, and an allegory of the amazing work Jesus did for all of us.

That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. My concluding film examination in this series is on its way soon, so stay tuned. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Honesty, Understanding and Fatherhood: A Faith- Based Look at 'A Goofy Movie.'

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!

Now that I've done my devotional to Grandma Elliott, I'll be returning to my series looking at certain Disney films.
 In this installment, I'll be taking a gander at the 1995 animated film 'A Goofy Movie.'

(Credit for this image goes to the user Valyrian Wildfire at the Disney wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/File:A_Goofy_Movie.png)

 It acts as kind of an extension to the animated TV series 'Goof Troop' which was on the air around the same time, and features most of that show's voice cast reprising their roles.

In this movie, good old Goofy (Voice of Bill Farmer) is starting to get worried that his teenage son Max (Voice of Jason Marsden) may be at risk of becoming a juvenile delinquent. His worries in that regard increase tenfold after Max gets in trouble for disrupting a school assembly to impress his crush Roxanne.
Figuring that a little father- son bonding time could help him and his son reconnect and get Max on the right track, Goofy forces Max into accompanying him on a fishing- trip vacation to Lake Destiny, Idaho, where his own father had apparently taken him on vacation once. Max goes along VERY reluctantly, both because of how embarrassed he is of his dad and because he had been hoping to take Roxanne to a party in which the highlight would be watching a Pay Per View broadcast of a live concert by the hit musician PowerLine. In trying to break the news to Roxanne in a way that'll make her less hurt about breaking their date, Max ends up lying to the girl and telling her that he and his dad were in fact heading to Los Angeles to actually attend the PowerLine concert in person.
The road trip starts on a pretty rough note, between Goofy dragging Max to an incredibly cringe- worthy roadside attraction, and them then having a dangerous camping experience in which they run into Bigfoot. Still, the father and son do bond through the latter of the two experiences, and Goofy decides to make Max the navigator on the trip, entrusting him with the map of their trip and where to make their stops along the way. Max sadly abuses this trust, altering their route so they'll instead go to Los Angeles for the concert so Roxanne won't realize he lied to her. When they at one point stay at the same motel where Goofy's neighbor/ frienemy Pete and his own rather neurotic son PJ (Max's best friend) are staying, Pete discovers what Max is really doing and informs Goofy of this as a way to subtly imply that his own methods of parenting are superior to Goofy's. It all leads to a tense confrontation between Goofy and Max, them being put in a life- threatening situation which ultimately brings about a reconciliation between the two and causes them to finally understand each other, then at last arriving at the PowerLine concert and making a big splash there.

There were a couple problems with 'A Goofy Movie,' I must admit. I felt the scene early on when Goofy takes Max on a disastrous detour to the roadside attraction "Lester's Possum Park" could have been greatly shortened or outright cut. It's not a funny or entertaining scene, all it does is worsen the divide between Goofy and Max, which didn't really need to be done as it was already established that they were rather estranged. In contrast, I feel in the climax of the film, Goofy and Max's arrival in Los Angeles and sneaking backstage into the PowerLine concert were REALLY rushed, and more could have been done in that regard (i.e. Showing the father and son's initial impressions of the city, and their discovering how to sneak past security and into the concert arena). The encounter with Bigfoot also feels a little unresolved, it seems as though the beast eventually just loses interest in them and leaves or something.

All that being said, 'A Goofy Movie' was tons of fun. Plenty of laughs, of course (Mostly slapstick and Goofy's usual antics), but a decent amount of heart, as well.
The characters returning from "Goof Troop" are mostly portrayed the same as they were on that show, with most of the voice actors reprising their roles other than Max. Jason Marsden does a decent job as the new voice of Max, truly making him sound like a rather awkward teenager and conveying all the appropriate emotions in all the right scenes, especially when it comes to anger and embarrassment. The real standout among the voice cast, though, is definitely Bill Farmer as the voice of Goofy. He's been pretty much Disney's go- to voice actor for Goofy ever since the late 80's, but I'd say this is easily his best work with it. Not only does he do an awesome job for the scenes when Goofy's his usual happy and slightly clueless self (His rendition of Goofy's famous yell will never fail to put a grin on your face), but we also see him conveying a surprising amount of emotion for the more serious scenes in which Goofy is angry or sad, especially as the movie nears its climax.

In addition to the established characters in 'A Goofy Movie,' there are some fun new characters who come in, as well. Roxanne could have maybe gotten some more development, but still is a likable character, and a good love interest for Max in a nice- girl- next- door kind of way. What's more, Max's spray- cheese- loving, surfer buddy Bobby (Voice of Pauly Shore, in one of his few generally well- liked roles), and Roxanne's talkative, overachieving friend Stacey both make for some pretty funny moments. Even PowerLine, who we only see a little of, comes across as a friendly and rather down- to- earth guy who handles the interruption of his concert extremely well under the circumstances. Lastly, even though they were only background characters, there's a group of nuns that we see popping up at various points along the road trip (i.e. Driving alongside Goofy and Max and singing along to "On the Open Road," stopping for breakfast at the same diner that the two of them stop at, and so on), and learning of their own trip's ultimate destination will definitely have you laughing.

The music for 'A Goofy Movie' was really cool, too. The opening song "After Today," in which Max excitedly heads to his last day of school with the intent of impressing Roxanne, with him and his classmates happily singing about their plans for the summer, was really fun and catchy, a perfect way to get your energy pumped and get excited for how the movie will go from there. The driving song "On the Open Road" was better than I had remembered it being, mainly for how well it balances multiple viewpoints and musical styles. We hear Goofy's optimism about the trip, Max's pessimism about it, and as other passing motorists join in, they each bring their own style to the song. The most memorable songs in the movie, though, are definitely the two PowerLine songs, "Stand Out" and especially "Eye to Eye." They each have a great Michael Jackson/ Prince feel to them, and practically scream 1990's, though not really in a dated sort of way (In fact, on a Youtube video for "Eye to Eye," one commenter got a LOT of upvotes for her comment "Attention 80's and 90's kids, please stand up for the National Anthem."). You'll definitely be humming "Eye to Eye" for a while afterwards.

So, while 'A Goofy Movie' is definitely not one of Disney's greatest masterpieces, it's still a very fun movie that kids and adults could both really like.


I can think of a couple Scriptural lessons that can be taken from 'A Goofy Movie.' The first concerns effective parenting, which is one of the main focal points of the movie in general. In the movie, we see two heavily contrasting philosophies on parenting through Goofy and Pete's respective treatment of their sons. Goofy is generally laidback and permissive of Max, while Pete is incredibly strict and demanding towards his own son PJ. Pete tries to encourage Goofy to be much harsher with Max, at one point telling him while bowling, "If you keep him under your thumb, he won't roll in the gutter." To emphasize this point, when his ball then knocks down all but one of the pins, Pete bellows for PJ to come up and knock over the final pin so it could be considered a strike. Goofy tries this approach a little with Max, but it doesn't work well. He and Max connect the most when he gives Max freedom and trust, even if Max does ultimately abuse that trust by altering the map.
The two contrasting views in parenting are especially prominent when Pete learns of Max's altering the map and tells Goofy about it in a motel hot tub. Refusing to believe it, Goofy says, "You know, maybe Max isn't all the things you think a son should be, but he loves me." Pete rather coldly responds, "MY son RESPECTS me."
The funny thing about this exchange is, even though Pete was shown to have won this little argument, that particular line of his was 100% wrong. He fails to realize that there is a BIG difference between respect and fear. PJ is shown to clearly be terrified of Pete and his temper, immediately obeying his every word not out of a son's healthy respect for his father, but purely out of fear of how Pete will react if anything goes wrong. If Pete carries on with this approach to parenting, PJ would likely grow up to be the kind of adult who deeply resents and distances himself from his father for this treatment. It definitely brings to mind Ephesians 3:21, which says "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." Godly parents are to provide guidance and at times discipline to their children and make sure they don't go astray, but not to let it cross the line from assertive discipline to sheer tyranny the way Pete does. Setting limits is an important part of parenting, but so are providing kids with enough freedom to grow, and making sure that kids know they are loved.
 Unlike Pete, Goofy DOES learn how to become a better father; He takes a much more active interest in his son's life and does all he can to be there for Max and help him grow into a good, responsible adult. Max starts taking Goofy's various suggestions and bits of advice more to heart through this approach, and their previously fragile relationship becomes a strong bond because of it. It ties into Proverbs 22:6, which says "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."


I think another key theological message to be found in 'A Goofy Movie' relates to the themes of honesty and openness. Most of the conflicts that come about between Goofy and Max over the course of the movie are because of them not being open to each other. They don't reveal to each other their true motivations for what they do (Goofy bringing Max on the trip out of his fear of Max possibly becoming a delinquent who might end up in jail, and Max wanting to go to the party because he had a date lined up for it with a girl he was genuinely fond of and had been trying to impress for months) until near the end of the film, skirting around these issues and causing all kinds of problems for both of them in the process. If they had shared their respective concerns with each other early on, they would likely have avoided nearly all the troubles they faced over the course of the film. Psalm 119:130 sums this up well: "The unfolding of your words gives light; It imparts understanding to the simple."

These themes of honesty and openness are also shown through what unfolds with Max and Roxanne. Max's initial lie to Roxanne ended up putting him in a bad position in which his only options would be to either alter the map so they'd go to Los Angeles (Thereby betraying his father's trust), or admit to Roxanne that he lied to her (In which case she'd hate him and the rest of their friends likely would as well). Indeed, dishonesty and avoiding issues can similarly put all of us into similarly bad positions and lose- lose scenarios.
Colossians 3:9 puts it plainly, "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices." Max ends up demonstrating this principle in the film's final scene, as even though he and his father were clearly seen on TV at the concert, he still tells Roxanne the whole truth about what happened, including confessing the lie he told her earlier.

So, that about wraps up 'A Goofy Movie,' a fun little ride of  a movie that imparts wonderful theological lessons about what good parenting looks like and the importance of honesty and understanding in our relationships.
 These messages are summed up well by the the refrain to the movie's song "Eye to Eye":
"If we listen to each other's hearts,
 we'll find we're never too far apart;
and maybe love is the reason why,
for the first time ever, we're seeing it eye to eye."

That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. There are still two more entries to go in my look at Disney films, so keep your eyes peeled for them. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Tending to the Vulnerable, Gaining Wisdom, and Passing On in Peace.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of the Nightcrawler Experience!
I am putting my look at Disney movies on hold for a little bit, as something important has come up that I knew I needed to address as soon as possible.
This is a sad one for me, because I do it in memory of my grandmother, Janet Elliott, who passed away on the evening of May 28th at the age of 95. She had been my last remaining grandparent. It's sad, but I know it was her time: She's finally at peace, and reunited with my grandpa and others in Heaven.
(Here she is with Grandpa, in a picture taken shortly before his passing in 2009; I have no doubt the two are now together again in Heaven)


 Grandma's love and wisdom were such a strong force in my mother's side of the family ever since I could remember. Her smile at the sight of my family and I whenever she saw us always brought a matching one to my own face, and her soft, gentle voice always filled me with peace and contentment.
She was a brilliant genealogist who traced my mother's side of the family back over a thousand years (She once said my earliest known ancestor was a Viking warrior who lived in the tenth century AD), even before the advent of all the ancestry- type Internet sites that would come along in the last 10- 15 years or so, and uncovered links in our ancestry that I never could have imagined.
 She was a classy and sophisticated woman with a lot of appreciation for art, history and especially literature, driving home for us the importance of knowledge, both gaining it and then sharing it with others. It's why, when I spoke at her burial yesterday, I used a couple verses from Proverbs, as that whole book deals largely with the importance of wisdom and knowledge.

This last point about her is why this is going to be a strange entry on the Nightcrawler Experience. It deals with a movie that honestly does not hold much in the way of class and sophistication, and I doubt Grandma would have been much of a fan of it, yet as I rewatched it recently, it not only reminded me of Scriptural lessons, but also of her. So, I decided to look at it here in honor of her. That movie is known as 'Bubba Ho- Tep.'


(Credit for this image goes to the user Brian Kurtz at https://headhuntershorrorhouse.fandom.com/wiki/Bubba_Ho-Tep?file=Bubba_Ho-Tep.jpg)


It is a 2002 horror- comedy film (Though it is MUCH more of a comedy film than a horror film), starring one of my all- time favorite actors, Bruce Campbell, as well as the late Ossie Davis.
DISCLAIMER! This film is rated R, mainly for language. So, be aware before watching it or letting kids watch it!
The story takes place in a massively run- down and depressing Texas nursing home. Bruce Campbell plays a resident of the home who claims to be none other than Elvis Presley, apparently still alive all these decades after he had been believed dead. The explanation "Elvis" gives for this is that he had basically grown tired of fame and switched identities with an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff, so it was really Sebastian Haff who had died of a heart attack that day in 1977, while the real Elvis comfortably faded into obscurity impersonating himself. Now, however, he is a fat old man stuck in this rathole of a nursing home, wondering how he could have gone from the King of Rock 'n Roll to his current miserable state. One of the few friends he has in the nursing home is a man named Jack (Ossie Davis), who has his own interesting claim on a famous identity: He claims to be John F. Kennedy. While the account "Elvis" gives of how he is still alive isn't TOO farfetched and could possibly be the truth, you definitely get the feeling that Jack is just kind of loopy (He claims that it's all one enormous conspiracy; When it's pointed out that he is black and John F. Kennedy was a white man, he responds, "That's how clever they are! They dyed me this color!").

Things start to get interesting when we learn that an ancient, cursed Egyptian mummy was stolen from a nearby museum by a couple guys. A freak storm suddenly kicked up as they made their getaway, causing the stolen bus that the thieves were using to go off a bridge and into a river near the nursing home, and the mummy eventually manages to come back to life and escape from the river, now clad in a cowboy hat and matching boots (Presumably taken from one of the dead thieves). It heads to the nursing home each night, and begins sustaining itself by sucking the souls from the elderly residents there (I'd rather not mention HOW the mummy does this, as it's not pleasant), killing them in the process. What's worse, we find out that those who die in this way don't get to go on to the afterlife or anything, as their souls are simply digested. Elvis and Jack eventually discover together what's happening, and realize that they're the only ones who can stop the mummy (Which Elvis at one point nicknames "Bubba Ho- Tep," due to the cowboy duds it wears) and thus save themselves and all their friends at the nursing home from meeting this horrible fate.


'Bubba Ho- Tep' does have a few problems, I'll admit. First up, they could have revealed more of the mummy's backstory. Elvis at one point reads a bit of the mummy's mind (Long story), causing us to see through a brief flashback that in life, he was a rather prominent Egyptian citizen, possibly the brother of a pharaoh, who for some reason was mummified alive and cursed; However, unlike Boris Karloff's Imhotep in 'The Mummy' (Or, for that matter, Arnold Vosloo's performance as the same character in the Brendan Fraser version of that film), we never learn why this particular ancient Egyptian received such a severe punishment. If the flashback scene were a bit longer, it could have revealed that. Also, we only really meet a couple of the other nursing home residents besides Elvis and Jack, and even then only briefly (Though I suppose that's somewhat understandable; Since most of the other people there clearly think Elvis and Jack are both nuts, it makes sense they wouldn't be terribly popular); Letting us get to know a couple more of them would help better drive home the urgency of the situation. A final minor issue I had with the film was that there's kind of a running joke centering around the fact that Elvis has an infected, probably- cancerous growth on a certain part of his anatomy (Fortunately, it's never seen; That fact apparently made Bruce Campbell feel much easier about accepting the role). It gets a little tiresome after a while.


Alright now, there's plenty to like about 'Bubba Ho- Tep.' First, there's how unique it is (And not just the fact that the heroes are apparently celebrities who are supposed to be dead). Since so many horror movies involve characters no older than 30 or so, seeing a horror film in which the heroes are elderly is quite refreshing. Speaking of which, the film does a good job of pointing out/ criticizing the attitude that so much of our society has toward the elderly, the way our culture views them as just unnecessary burdens dumped into nursing homes to die.

 The film perfectly fits the definition of a horror- comedy, as it has both scary moments (Particularly the way that, when the mummy is walking towards someone, all the lights near it either go out or burst, as if they cannot tolerate its evil presence), and incredibly funny moments (i.e. Many of Elvis's narrative monologues are hilarious).
     The mummy itself looks great, a brown rotted corpse in a cowboy hat and boots, with a slow walk and a few mystical powers (i.e. it phases itself through a locked door in one scene and teleports in another scene, as well as its aforementioned soul- sucking). Unlike mummies in other films, this mummy is largely silent; It only says two lines, growled out in ancient Egyptian with amusing hieroglyphic subtitles popping up to translate it. 

As for set designs, most of it takes place in the nursing home, which looks suitably dull and run- down, probably with a whole laundry list of health/ safety- code violations. I'd imagine that when elderly people are afraid that their kids might have them put in a nursing home, they envision it as being a lot like this one.
      The film's music is an interesting subject. It is mostly very well- done, taking generally the same melody but styling it several different ways, depending on what the mood is for each scene it's used in. There are times when it sounds creepy, times when it sounds rocking and fun, times when it sounds slow and inspirational, and so on. The music was all written and performed by Brian Tyler, doing every instrument. First he'd record himself playing the drums, then he'd record himself playing the guitar, and so on, and finally splice all the recordings together so it sounds like a full band doing it, and it sounds great.
      Last but not least, there's the performances. Bruce Campbell is hoestly magnificent as Elvis. He pulls off the accent perfectly, and goes on a full range of emotions throughout the movie. He starts out bitter and disgusted with himself and his present state, then obviously frightened when he learns that the mummy is real, and finally brave and stoic as he realizes the time has come for him to confront Bubba Ho- Tep and be the hero so many people viewed him as in his prime. He is also, as usual, incredibly funny, with one great line after another. I'd say it's easily one of Campbell's best performances.

 Ossie Davis turns in a good performance as Jack, aka "JFK." Even though, as I said, you get the feeling that he's probably just a crazy old man, he still comes across as quite intelligent on several topics, and is a very likable character with his own amounts of funny lines (i.e. Near the film's climax, when Elvis asks him what Marilyn Monroe was like, Jack responds, "That is classified information! Top secret! But, between you and me..... WOW!").
 A worthwhile supporting performance comes from Ella Joyce as Elvis's frustrated nurse. She comes across as a woman who has clearly put up with Elvis's rather rude behavior and the various other unpleasant duties of her job for a very long time and become grudgingly accepting of them if only for the sake of humoring him.
In short, 'Bubba Ho- Tep' is quite an entertaining movie, a great horror- comedy film worth a watch if you're into that genre. It's also currently available to watch for free on VUDU, if you have an account with that site (Which is free).



As for both Scriptural messages that can be taken from 'Bubba Ho- Tep,' and how I tie it to Grandma, the two are connected, as the Scriptural lessons I took from it can also remind me of her in certain ways.
First and foremost is the message shown on how important it is to properly treat and care for the elderly. This film is a subtle yet great indictment of the despicable apathy that so much of our society can have towards the elderly and infirm, viewing them as relics and burdens to be tossed into third- rate nursing homes to die alone and largely forgotten by those who profess to care about them. We see this early on in the film, as Elvis's roommate, "Bull," dies from an illness in one of the opening scenes. His adult daughter, Callie, comes by to clear out his things, and we see her rather callously tossing some of Bull's stuff into the trash, including even his Purple Heart medal that he apparently had been quite proud of (Fortunately, Elvis manages to save it, and keeps it with him at the climax of the film, as some "Good mojo" to help as he and Jack prepare to confront the mummy). During a brief conversation Elvis has with Callie, he notes that he had never seen her around the nursing home before, to which Callie cold- heartedly replies that she had only been there once before: When she first dropped her father off there. Bull had been there presumably for years, yet his own daughter never ONCE visited him or did anything for him during his time there.


 For how this connects to my grandma, it's because of the gratitude I have that my family and I WEREN'T like that towards her. We always stayed in touch with her and checked in on her well- being, frequently visited her, and did everything in our power to make her as comfortable as possible. When we had to put her in a home during her final weeks, even though the facility was on complete lockdown due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, one of my aunts would talk to her through the window of her (Grandma's) room! I am immensely grateful that I was able to call her four days before she passed, and she seemed to be in good spirits then. Even though Grandma's last few weeks on this Earth were not often enjoyable as her body broke down, she had the peace of knowing that her family dearly loved her, were thinking about her and praying for her, and did all they could for her.

We all as Christians are to similarly show compassion and respect towards the elderly. Even early on in the Bible, in Leviticus 19:32, one of God's commands for the people of Israel is "You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God; I am the Lord." So, God right away wanted His children to honor and respect the aged people among their numbers. In Psalm 19:32, it says "Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Forsake me not when my strength is spent." While the Psalmist is technically speaking to God with that exhortation, it can apply to people around him, as well. Lastly, there is a verse I've used a couple times in the past on this blog, but it still holds true: 1 Timothy 5:8 says "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." We must look after all in our families, young or old, not toss them aside.



Another important Scriptural point to take from the movie relates to the importance of wisdom and knowledge. In spite of how eccentric the character Jack is, he is also a surprisingly intelligent, well- read person who even at his age has not grown tired of learning new things, and the library research he conducts relating to the mummy proves invaluable in helping him and Elvis to stop it. As for why this relates to Grandma, I'd say it's because she was a good deal like Jack in the film (Minus his delusions of grandeur, of course); As I said earlier, she was an incredibly intelligent and wise person, well- versed on a variety of topics, and eager to impart that knowledge to others so they can learn as well. She remained that way all her life, striving to learn more and help those close to her do the same. Indeed, the first things I think of whenever I think of Grandma are generally her wisdom and intelligence.

We should all seek to continue to read and learn more, the way Grandma always did, ESPECIALLY as Christians. Proverbs 1:5 points out that "A wise man will hear and increase understanding, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel." Also, Proverbs 3:13 says "Happy is the man who gains wisdom, and the man who gains understanding." God would not have us be ignorant, but continue to grow and expand the incredible minds He has given us. Grandma understood that truth, and we all should do the same.



I'd say the final message to be taken from 'Bubba Ho- Tep' concerns how to leave this world in peace. In the very end of the movie, Elvis has destroyed Bubba Ho- Tep, kept his own soul intact, saved the others in the nursing home from falling victim to the foul creature, and it appears that he even managed to save some of the souls that the mummy had drained (As the mummy expires, we see what look like human souls flying out of it). However, he was mortally wounded in the process and knows his time has come. Before he dies, Elvis looks up into the night sky, and to the accompaniment of a soft yet incredibly beautiful and tranquil piano rendition of the film's theme music, he sees some of the stars move around to form Egyptian hieroglyphics that spell out a simple yet poignant phrase: "All is Well." The meaning to that is clear: With the cursed mummy destroyed and all the people in the nursing home and elsewhere now safe, harmony and balance have been restored, and Elvis can now die in peace knowing that he did the good work he set out to do.


This connects to Grandma, as I believe as she neared the end, she similarly had no fear or worry about death; She led a very long and full life, and more importantly, she knew Jesus, and thus knew that her death would not be the end, but a new beginning, so she was able to pass on with peace and ease in that knowledge. I wouldn't be surprised if her final thoughts were some variant on that phrase, "All is Well."
Indeed, for those of us who follow Christ, death is nothing to be afraid of. Jesus says in John 11:25- 26 that "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Also, Revelation 14:13 says, "And I heard a voice from Heaven, saying, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'" For us who trust in Jesus, death means we can rest from the cares and worries and labors of this life, and experience an incredible, eternal new life in Heaven, peace in the best sense. Grandma is experiencing the truth of this firsthand at this moment.


So, that sums up my look at 'Bubba Ho- Tep,' and at the great life of Grandma Elliott. Rest in peace, Grandma, you've earned it a hundred times over.
That's the end of this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Keep an eye out for when I resume my look at Disney films, which will be very soon. Until then, take care, stay safe, and may God bless you all!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Shattered Pride, Selflessness and Unconditional Grace: A Faith- Based Look at 'The Emperor's New Groove.'

Hello again everyone, and welcome to another edition of the Nightcrawler Experience!
Well, the pandemic is still causing havoc, but things seem to have died down just a bit. More businesses are opening (With wise policies put in place to prevent anything from spreading), and I was able to get my hair cut for the first time in months! We've still got a way to go, but I'd say now there's definitely starting to be a light at the end of our tunnel, praise be to God. We must stay positive, keep praying, and keep following the "Rules" relating to how to stay safe and healthy.
After my 'Lord of the Rings' series, I decided to look at some more light- hearted fare for a while, and since I have a Disney Plus membership (Which I highly recommend, btw; It really does offer an amazing array of content for a pretty reasonable price), I figured that would be a good way for me to get inspiration in.
To that end, for the next few segments of the Nightcrawler Experience, I will be taking devotional looks at some of Disney's beloved animated films, examining them both as a fanboy and as a Christian.
I'll start this series on a lively note with their hilarious 2000 animated film, 'The Emperor's New Groove.' This movie was originally conceived as a much more serious, epic- type film which would have been called 'The Kingdom of the Sun,' but it went through a ton of re-writes, character re- designs and a near- complete change to its plot, and ultimately became instead one of the most light- hearted comedy films Disney has ever made.

(Credit for this image goes to the user "RRabbit42"at the Emperor's New Groove fan wiki @ https://emperorsnew.fandom.com/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Groove?file=The_Emperor%27s_New_Groove_-_The_New_Groove_Edition_-_front_cover.jpg)


This movie takes place long ago, in an impressive kingdom located somewhere in Pre- Colombian South America. The kingdom is ruled by the teenage Emperor Kuzco (Voice of David Spade), an incredibly selfish, spoiled jerk with a snarky attitude and a colossal ego. He views his kingdom as his own personal playground in which he can do and say whatever he wants regardless of how it affects others, and he becomes furious whenever anyone disrupts his lifestyle in any way. In the first few minutes of the film, he even has an elderly peasant thrown out of a high palace window for "Throwing off my groove," by accidentally bumping into Kuzco when he was doing a dance.

As you can probably guess, Kuzco living and acting in such a way results in a lot of people not being very fond of him. The worst in that regard is Yzma (Voice of Eartha Kitt), his scheming and power- hungry royal advisor. When Kuzco fires her, she and her dim- witted but amiable hunk of a henchman Kronk (Voice of Patrick Warburton) decide to do away with him so that Yzma can then seize the throne for herself. She invites Kuzco to a dinner in which she attempts to poison him, but through a mix- up caused largely by Kronk's incompetence, he is fed the wrong potion, so rather than being killed, Kuzco is instead turned into a talking llama.

Yzma then has Kronk take the transformed emperor out of the kingdom to finish him, but (Surprise, surprise) Kronk once again screws up. The llama- fied Kuzco ends up with Pacha (Voice of John Goodman), a humble and good- natured peasant farmer who had just learned that his entire village is due to be torn down to make way for a private vacation resort Kuzco intended to build for himself.

 When Pacha realizes the extent of what had happened to his emperor (Though Kuzco doesn't yet know that Yzma was deliberately trying to kill him, he thinks it was all just a mistake), he makes Kuzco a deal: He'll help Kuzco make it back to the palace and get turned back into a human, if Kuzco in turn agrees to spare Pacha's village and build his vacation home somewhere else. Kuzco more or less agrees (He varies a lot in his position), and they set out, not realizing that Yzma knows Kuzco is still alive, and she and Kronk are actively searching for him in order to finish him for good. Along the way, Kuzco gets a much- needed dose of humility and perspective, and he and Pacha learn the meaning of true friendship.

The only minor problem I have with 'The Emperor's New Groove' is that, for the first half or so, Kuzco acts as a voiceover narrator to the story, and while it works for the beginning with introducing the major characters and whatnot, it gets old fast. It becomes almost a relief in the middle of the movie when Kuzco then tells his narrative voiceover to buzz off.

With that out of the way, I had so much fun re- watching 'The Emperor's New Groove'!
Its main strength is most definitely its humor. I don't think there was a single scene in the entire movie that didn't make me laugh at least once! It's funny in a lot of ways, too. Most of its humor is dialogue- based through how the characters interact with each other, but there's also slapstick, sight gags, and situational humor. I actually think it works better this way than as the much more serious epic it was initially conceived as, because making a movie this consistently comedic isn't something that Disney has done very often, making it even more of a novelty.
In spite of this, though, the film does manage a nice serious moment or two here and there to keep it from getting TOO goofy.

All of the characters in the movie are a lot of fun. Even when Kuzco is a spoiled, cocky punk in the beginning, he's at least quite funny to watch, especially with some of the zingers he throws around (i.e. When firing Yzma, he tells her, "Hey, everybody hits their stride; You just hit yours fifty years ago."), and he retains that humor all through the film. However, at the same time, his change by the end of the movie seems really genuine. In a brief scene in the end when he's talking to the old man he'd had tossed out the window in the beginning and making sure the poor guy's okay, you can hear real humility and regret in his voice. The old Kuzco would never have cared that much about anyone else's well- being. Mad props to David Spade for his voice performance; I'm normally not much of a fan of his, but he's truly in his stride here.
Pacha makes for an excellent foil to Kuzco. While Kuzco is over the top, egotistical and often mean, Pacha is humble, down- to- earth, and likable. His interactions with his wife and kids are really sweet, and most of the film's serious moments involve him. John Goodman's voice was perfect for him, it conveys such a warm, sympathetic tone. The friendship that these two unlikely companions build with each other over the course of the film is really nice to see, definitely one of the better hero- duos I can recall from a Disney film.

Speaking of great character duos, easily one of the best parts of the movie (Certainly the funniest) is the villains. Yzma and Kronk play off of each other in an unbelievably funny, "Pinky and the Brain"- esque way. Yzma's overly complex plans and exasperated rants and Kronk's clueless yet endearing observations (i.e. Several hours after he unwittingly runs into Pacha and a disguised Kuzco in a diner, Kronk bolts awake from his sleep with the sudden realization that "That peasant, at the diner! ..... He didn't pay his check.") make a perfect contrast to each other. Even in terms of their voices, the menacing, almost snakelike voice that Kitt gives to Yzma (Which she ended up winning an Annie award for) perfectly contrasts with the dopey, jolly voice that Warburton gives to Kronk. It's no surprise that a direct- to- video sequel focusing on Kronk was made a couple years later, and another sequel centering around Yzma was initially planned but then cancelled when Eartha Kitt died in 2008.

One scene that is probably my favorite in the movie is a scene about two- thirds of the way into it. When it finally dawns on Kronk that Pacha has Kuzco with him and thus that finding the former of the two will lead them to the latter, he and Yzma go to Pacha's house claiming to be relatives of his. Fortunately, after Yzma tries to get some information from Pacha's wife about his location, the family finds a pretty awesome and creative way to get rid of the two. It's a scene that has loads of laughs considering its short time, and makes good use of each of the characters. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE9Z6dr6WHw



I think there are definitely some Scriptural messages that can be taken from 'The Emperor's New Groove,'

First up, I think Kuzco can easily be seen as a kind of allegory for the Biblical king Nebuchadnezzar, whose story is seen in the book of Daniel, Chapter 4. Like Kuzco, Nebuchadnezzar was the supreme ruler of a large, mighty kingdom, in his case the kingdom of Babylon. Also like Kuzco, he had a horrifically bloated ego about it, and this pride led him to treat everyone around him horribly. Lastly like Kuzco, his pride ended up costing him a lot. See, he was warned by the prophet Daniel that his pride would be his undoing, and for a while, he did act in a more humble way, but it didn't last long. His egotism returned, and on one day when he looked over his kingdom and pompously said "Is not this great Babylon, that *I* have built...by the might of *my* power... For the glory of *my* majesty?," God had enough and punished Nebuchadnezzar for his pride. Nebuchadnezzar was driven mad in an instant, fled his kingdom, and for quite a while he lived like an animal and even ate grass like one. This makes a good parallel to the scene in the film when Kuzco, at his lowest point when he fully realizes just how much of a failure he has proven to be, blends into a herd of regular llamas and attempts eating grass like the rest of them. Eventually, after this, Nebuchadnezzar regained his senses and was restored to his sanity and his throne, and reigned with much more humility and decency for the rest of his days.
 As both Kuzco in the film and Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible came to discover the hard way, holding yourself up so high means the only way you have left to go is down. Our pride can blind us, both to what things around us are really like, and to specifically what God is doing around us. This is just one of many reasons why we need to stay humble, and not think too highly of ourselves. C.S. Lewis once made a good description of humility in one of his books: Humility can be seen as, if you were to build a great building or other structure, being just as proud of it and admiring of it as you would have been if someone else had made it. We can think well of ourselves (God wouldn't want us feeling too poorly of ourselves, either, since He created us), just not let pride blind us from what's really important or set us up for a fall. Proverbs 11:2 sums it up well by saying that "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." Kuzco in the film and Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible found that out, and the sooner we learn that ourselves, the better.

A second lesson that the film teaches is regarding selflessness. Kuzco at the start of this film only cares about or even thinks about his own immediate wants. His initial plans for Pacha's hilltop village are the perfect example of this, as he was going to force Pacha, his family, and all the other families in that village to lose their homes just so he could build a gigantic private resort purely for himself. As the film progresses, however, he very slowly learns to care more about the needs of others than about himself. We see this through the aforementioned scene in the end with him apologizing to the old man, as well as with what Kuzco finally decides to do regarding Pacha's hilltop. Selflessness is an important theme for us as Christians, too. 1 Corinthians 10:24 says "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." The world teaches that everyone should only look out for number one, but once again, Jesus came to teach His followers to go against the secular world's bad example. We need to strive to show God's love towards others by seeking their good more than our own, as Kuzco eventually learned how to do.

Another Biblical lesson that the film teaches is, I think, a pretty good lesson on God's grace and love towards us. It, again, involves the scene when Kuzco has hit rock bottom and begun eating grass with a regular llama herd. Out of nowhere, he hears a familiar voice, and realizes that Pacha (Whom he had coldly rebuffed and run away from in an earlier scene) has followed after him and is now talking to one of the other llamas in the herd to try and find him. While talking to the llama, Pacha makes a simple but pretty powerful statement: "You know, call me crazy for following this guy all the way out here, but as much as he tries to deny it, I KNOW there's some good in him!"
 Even after how unbearably selfish Kuzco was, how much he mistreated Pacha and turned away from him all throughout the film up to this point, Pacha still came back looking for him. By this point, for Pacha, it wasn't even about saving his village anymore (After all, if Kuzco were to remain a llama forever and never return to the palace, he'd never be able to have Pacha's village demolished); It had become about looking past all of Kuzco's many faults to the good he had deep inside him, and the friend he could be. This is similar to what Jesus has done for all of us, through His grace. Even though we all sinned so many times, turned our backs on God so many times and in so many ways, He still knows that there's something worth loving in us, worth saving. That's why He sent His Son Jesus to save us. Romans 3:22-24 sums it up well by saying that "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus CHrist to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Even though we've all sinned, God showed us His grace by sending Jesus to pay for all of our sins so we can all be redeemed through Him.

There you have 'The Emperor's New Groove,' a fun, hilarious movie that teaches great lessons on humility, selflessness and on the incredible grace God shows to all of us. As Kuzco himself would put it, "BOOM, BABY!"
That's it for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, which I should hopefully have up soon. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!