–By Sam Hendrian–
When we read the news or scroll through our social media feeds, there are plenty of daily reminders that “we’re not there yet” when it comes to defeating COVID-19, so it may be therapeutic (and healthier) to instead dance to Princess Tiana singing “Almost There” in The Princess and the Frog. Or empathize with Rapunzel singing “When Will My Life Begin” in Tangled and Quasimodo singing “Out There” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Here are ten Disney films that can help us through these tough times with their uplifting depictions of hope and humanity’s natural longing to transcend the monotony of day-to-day life.
1. The Rescuers (1977)
One of Disney’s oft-overlooked animated features due to it being released in-between golden ages, The Rescuers is an intermittently heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting tale of two secret-agent mice who rescue a poor orphan girl named Penny from the clutches of an evil treasure huntress. It is on this list mainly because the theme song, “Someone’s Waiting for You,” is a tear-jerking masterpiece that can inspire hope in those who feel terribly isolated or alone during these days of quarantine. “Don’t cry, little one/There’ll be a smile where a frown used to be/You’ll be a part of the love that you see/Someone’s waiting for you.”
2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
“I want much more than this provincial (or quarantined) life!” Belle is certainly a relatable protagonist during these often stifling times, as are the enchanted objects, who have been trapped in a gloomy castle for several years. However, even under tough circumstances, music and joy abound in their hearts, and hope triumphs in the end. I personally think we should all stage a big Broadway musical number whenever we prepare dinner (even if we have no one to be our guest because of the virus situation).
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
My personal favorite of Disney’s animated features, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a remarkably mature “children’s movie” that tackles a variety of heavy themes and powerfully affirms the dignity of every human life. Right now, I think we can all especially relate to Quasimodo singing “Out There” as he longs to venture outside the bell tower where he is confined by the corrupt judge Claude Frollo. But beyond the obvious, there is a particular lyric in Esmeralda’s song “God Help the Outcasts” that never fails to haunt and challenge me:
“I ask for nothing/I can get by/But I know so many/Less lucky than I”
I have felt overwhelmed by a barrage of difficult emotions during these hours of excruciating uncertainty, as I suspect most people have, but this song reminds me that I am blessed more than I realize and ought to shift much of my spiritual focus towards those who are enduring far worse sufferings.
4. The Tigger Movie (2000)
The first film I ever saw in theaters as a child, The Tigger Movie is a simple yet beautiful meditation on our universal desire for a sense of belonging and family. Many of us are lucky enough to be quarantined with family right now, while others are not, which must feel profoundly lonely for some. Nevertheless, The Tigger Movie consistently declares that each person is infinitely loved and can find reminders of this love even during times of bitter loneliness. Of course, it also presents a challenge: we who are not alone must become manifestations of love for those who are.
5. The Incredibles (2004)
One of Disney/Pixar’s most well-executed examinations of nostalgia and the subtle dangers it carries, The Incredibles has recently been resonating a lot with me as I find myself conjuring up old memories and longing for “better times.” There is nothing wrong with remembering the past fondly, yet if it distracts our focus from the blessings of today, it risks hindering our capacity for one of Love’s greatest assets: presence. For much of the movie, Bob/Mr. Incredible is not fully present with his family because he is too busy reliving the “Glory Days,” but he ultimately learns that the purest of joy can only be found among the human treasures who live and breathe right in front of him.
6. Enchanted (2007)
This underrated Disney gem may not have a whole lot to do with being quarantined, but its sheer level of joie de vivre and optimism can be balm for the soul while stuck inside. It also does not fail to acknowledge the brutal existence of discouragement and confusion in the human condition—the song “So Close” is a poignant testimony to the fact that sometimes hopes are dashed right before they are fully realized—and it therefore refrains from mocking our healthy sense of realism while enjoying the uplifting fantasy elements of the story.
7. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
“Trials and tribulations/I’ve had my share/But there ain’t nothing gonna stop me now/’Cause I’m almost there.” This jazzy tune sung by Princess Tiana is my jam right now, as it never fails to inspire hope as I apply for jobs and make strides toward my filmmaking dreams even in the midst of lockdown. I believe its uplifting message can resonate with all people no matter what their current situation in life.
8. Up (2009)
This is my all-time favorite movie, as it grows better every time I watch it and never fails to inspire a renewed love for life and its collage of joys/sorrows. After the legendary “Married Life” sequence, we witness a heartbroken elderly widower who has imposed a sort of self-quarantine during his loneliness, a loneliness that is eventually healed by the unexpected arrival of a chipper young boy in desperate need of a father figure.
One of the saddest things about the COVID-19 outbreak is how it has halted visitation between elderly people and their loved ones. While we may not be able to physically visit the Mr. Fredricksens in our lives right now for the sake of their health, we can and should make an effort to visit them virtually as much as possible, whether it be through Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails, or snail-mail letters. When doing so, we also ought to channel the childlike faith/energy embodied by Russell in the movie, as such faith and energy can do wonders for soothing the pangs of loneliness/isolation.
9. Tangled (2010)
If you are finding yourself relating a little too much to pre-rescue Rapunzel right now, you are not alone. All dry humor aside, Tangled is still a much-needed cinematic monument to the achievability of dreams and the power of hope, and it even inspired me to write a poem about what life might be like post-quarantine:
“Let Down Your Hair”
When routine’s silent reverberations
Are interrupted by “Let down your hair!”
Placing a final abbreviation
On isolation’s paragraphs-long stare,
Shall we accept rescue from our tower
With a renewed zeal for all things human,
Scheduling hugs at the top of each hour
And minimizing feud-fostered fumin’?
Or shall our steps toward rebirth be staggered
Like rising when feet have fallen asleep,
Bearing countenances grimly haggard
And still ignoring wake-up alarms’ beep?
Whatever the case, I think every smile
Will be more real than we’ve seen in a while.
10. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Another one of my all-time favorite movies, the true story-based Saving Mr. Banks richly explores urgently relevant themes such as the basic human need to empathize and be empathized with; the difficulty of wanting to fondly remember a loved one who caused us much pain while they were alive; the often hollow nature of cheerful sentimentality and whether it can be reconciled with life’s sufferings; and the underestimated power of neighborly love. While not physically quarantined, the film’s protagonist, Pamela Travers, is emotionally and spiritually quarantined in many ways, and her character journey is certainly one that may mirror our own journeys as we seek peace and consolation during these days of isolation.
Well, that’s all, folks! What are some movies that inspire hope in you?
Sam Hendrian is an alumni of John Paul the Great Catholic University (’20), with a degree in Communications Media and emphasis in Directing.
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