In 2019 Disney delivered amazing family films all year long. This year the studio leaned heavily on remakes of classics with live-action releases of The Lion King, Aladdin, Lady and The Tramp and Dumbo, as well as the live-action second installment of Maleficent, which is a spin-off of Sleeping Beauty. With this approach, Disney allowed parents to walk down memory lane of their favorite childhood films, while also introducing these beloved stories to the next generation in a modern way. Disney also delivered wonderful new animated films with the release of Toy Story 4 and the upcoming Frozen 2 (which we’re dying to see!)
We wanted to reflect on the life and faith lessons each of these 2019 films offered.
Warning, light spoilers ahead.
The Lion King
The Lion King easily had the most impressive Disney cast of 2019, featuring new music by Beyoncé and actors James Earl Jones, Donald Glover, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Chance the Rapper and more. The 2019 film offers new plotlines not featured in the original animated film. Specifically, viewers gain a better understanding behind the rivalry between Scar and Mufasa.
Few children’s films dive into the topic of grief quite like the way The Lion King does. Through the loss of his father, young Simba must rise into his role as leader, but like many young viewers, he feels under-equipped to handle adult issues while still a child himself. This film is about loss and growing up; powerful themes for the audience to explore.
Toy Story 4
After balling our eyes out at Toy Story 3, we didn’t see how Disney could possibly make another compelling Toy Story film. However, Toy Story 4 was an utter delight, filled with original plot twists, making us laugh along the way!
In this film, we meet Forky, a toy assembled from a discarded spork. He compares himself to the “real” toys and feels as though he doesn’t belong. However, with the encouragement of Woody and the gang, Forky realizes that he has incredible value, especially in the eyes of his creator, young Bonnie. This film helps kids find their confidence, especially if they also feel like an outcast.
The 2019 live-action version of Dumbo infuses many new elements into the classic film. Firstly, the film is set in 1919 instead of 1941. Additionally, the animals lose their ability to talk, with their human friends explaining their feelings for the viewing audience.
Sweet young Dumbo was born with laughably large ears and is mocked endlessly for them. However, it’s often our unique differences that fuel our unique superpowers. Dumbo’s ears help him soar above the bullying, securing his spot as the circus’ superstar.
Lady and the Tramp
Very recently, Disney released a live-action version of Lady and the Tramp, which went directly to Disney+ rather than to theaters.
Lady is a pure-bred Cocker Spaniel who grew up safe and loved. Across town, Tramp is a stray mutt living off of food scraps with his gang of scruffy canine friends. Through a chance encounter, the two dogs meet and their romance begins to blossom. Viewers learn that they can love others who may look very different or who grew up in a very different part of the world. This film promotes tolerance in surprising ways and offers a message that love can overcome all odds.
Aladdin was a visual feast and felt much like a beautiful Broadway musical on the big screen. Like the original, the remake had a strong lesson about the importance of telling the truth; Aladdin’s relationship with Jasmine nearly crumbled when she lost her confidence of whether or not she could trust him.
This 2019 version offers far better female character development. Princess Jasmine sings a brand-new song about self-empowerment. Additionally, we meet someone new, Dalia. Dalia is Jasmine’s handmaiden and is given ample room to develop as a character. This film makes major improvements on the original by empowering these two female characters in more depth.
Also, Will Smith brings fresh rap remixes to the Genie’s classic hits!
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
This sequel to the 2014 film Maleficent dives deeper into developing the title character, who viewers initially believe to be a villain. Typically, anti-heroes in media engage in behavior that isn’t appropriate for young viewers. However, this PG film is family-friendly, while also being willing to explore the life of a “villain.”
Both Maleficent films help viewers realize that people around them are complex; life isn’t always black-and-white. We love seeing Maleficent be redeemed, acting as a nurturing mother figure in Aurora’s life. She’s a remarkable example of the transformative power that Christ can have in our lives as we work to grow to be more loving, generous and nurturing to those around us.