What can Aladdin, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Beauty and the Beast teach you about God's grace and your divine potential? It turns out quite a lot. Check out these fascinating gospel lessons found in Disney movies.
Lion King—Live Up to Your Divine Potential
The Lion King is a story of repentance, of assuming responsibility, of changing ourselves so that we might reach the divine potential lying dormant within us all.
Simba’s story of repentance isn’t a Saul/Paul type of conversion. He doesn’t face serious sins that harrow his soul, like Alma. Instead, Simba falls into the pattern of complacent omission rather than the commission of sin—a pattern many of us can relate to.
While enjoying his care-free “Hakuna Matata” life, Simba becomes awakened to the hope, the potential, and the royal heritage that is his to claim.
"You have forgotten who you are, and so you have forgotten me,” his father, Mufasa, tells him. “Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life. Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king. Remember who you are."
This advice sounds much like the counsel we as saints have received from our loving Heavenly Father, through his chosen prophets.
PresidentGordon B. Hinckley taught:
“There is something of divinity within each of you. You have such tremendous potential with that quality as a part of your inherited nature. Every one of you was endowed by your Father in Heaven with a tremendous capacity to do good in the world . . . "Some of you may feel that you are not as attractive and beautiful and glamorous as you would like to be. Rise above any such feelings, cultivate the light you have within you, and it will shine through as a radiant expression that will be seen by others. "You need never feel inferior. You need never feel that you were born without talents or without opportunities to give them expression. Cultivate whatever talents you have, and they will grow and refine and become an expression of your true self appreciated by others. "In summary, try a little harder to measure up to the divine within each of you.”
The only way Simba comes to access his princely potential is by learning from the past and changing his nature, just as we too can only reach our divine potential by changing our hearts and desires through the Savior’s Atonement. Though this change is often daunting and painful, as Rafiki so wisely observes, “Ah, yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it."
Let us all learn from our past mistakes and have the humility to embrace Christ’s Atonement a little more fully so that we too may “cultivate the light” within us.
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Aladdin—On Our Own, We Are Nothing
“Riffraff, street rat, I don’t buy that,” Aladdin sings, overlooking the city of Agrabah as it is lit up by moonlight. “If only they’d look closer, would they see a poor boy? No siree. They’d found out there’s so much more to me.”
Aladdin has already seen that, as Bishop H. Burke Peterson said, “one of the greatest challenges is to overcome the feeling that we are unimportant, that we are not special and unique. Do you think for a moment that Heavenly Father would have sent one of His children to this earth by accident, without the possibility of a significant work to perform?" ("Your Life Has a Purpose," New Era, May 1979).
Once again, Disney is honing in on the lesson that every person has divine potential, especially those in humble circumstances. Even a poor street urchin might, in fact, be a “diamond in the rough.”
Or, as the Book of Mormon more acutely puts it, Aladdin’s life goes to show how “by small and simple means, great things come to pass” (Alma 37:6).
We too are humble creatures, “lower than the dust of the earth" (Helaman 12:5). Yet, through our myriad of imperfections, God somehow manages to shape something beautiful and valuable. But, like Aladdin, this can only take place when we rely on and acknowledge a power and force larger than ourselves. For Aladdin, it is the genie and the power of friendship. For us, it is the Atonement.
Along the way, Aladdin, like so many of us, stumbles and loses sight of his morals in the quest for what he wants. Aladdin, with all of his fancy clothes and flying carpets, falls for the most common stumbling block in our day and age—pride.
In losing sight of the source of all of his power and new-found blessings, Aladdin learns the hard way what comes from not living up to the morals and light within him. He finds that, as President James E. Faust taught:
"Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving . . . Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives . . . Honesty is a principle, and we have our moral agency to determine how we will apply this principle. We have the agency to make choices, but ultimately we will be accountable for each choice we make. We may deceive others, but there is One we will never deceive."
To his credit, Aladdin learns from his mistakes. He allows himself to be humbled and becomes reliant on the mercy of others. And through Aladdin’s example, we can all learn that pride is never worth the price and that only humility, in all its unglorified beauty, can help us become so much more than we are now, especially when it is connected to that highest source of mercy, forgiveness, and strength.
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Finding Nemo—Endure to the End
Marlin the clownfish is beset with an ocean of fears, paranoia, pain, and neuroses. Like many of us, he has experienced the loss that inevitably accompanies life—in fact, it is the end goal of life. But Marlin allows this pain to paralyze him rather than motivate him. He can’t move on.
Not until he meets his endearing friend, Dory, who teaches him, “When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you've gotta do? Just keep swimming!"
So it is with each of us. Instead of being helpless beings floundering in a deep, dark ocean of turmoil, we have the choice to make the most of our journey.
“Time never stands still. It must steadily march on, and with the marching comes the changes. Of course, there is no going back, but only forward. Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now, doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for the future."
But, just like Marlin, we might ask ourselves, "How do you know something bad won't happen?" And, the realistic—though sometimes brutal—response to that question is we do. We do know that something bad, painful, challenging, or heartbreaking will enter into our lives. It’s one of the inevitabilities of living.
But the beautiful thing about this realization is that, with God, those experiences do not need to paralyze us. They do not need to overwhelm us or rob us of the lasting peace and joy that comes through our one constant source of strength—God.
All we must do is rely on Him—I know, it’s harder said than done in our world of uncertainties and disappointments. But, as Dory points out, "Trust. It's what friends do." We too must trust our Heavenly Father, for He is our dearest friend.
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20).
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Beauty and the Beast—Our Hearts Can Change
The Disney “tale as old as time” mirrors beautifully the quintessential tale of love that spans all time—Christ’s sacrifice of His life and our Heavenly Father’s sacrifice of His Son for us.
Beauty and the Beast shows how love has the power to change hearts and shape us into something more. Love softens. It refines. It brings out the best in those who are loved, and those who love.
The Beast's magical transformation at the end of the movie is only made possible through Belle’s selfless love—a love that allows her to look beyond his gruesome appearance and gruff manners to something greater underneath.
This ability sounds very familiar. In fact, it’s something the Lord has commanded us to do:
"But the Lord said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
This level of love can be summed up with one word—charity. Christ’s love for us is devoid of any self-interest or pettiness. It is not dependent on our abilities, fashion-sense, appearance, or actions. It is universal. It is constant. And it is truly life-changing.
“When filled with God’s love, we can do and see and understand things that we could not otherwise do or see or understand. Filled with His love, we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength, and bless and help others in ways surprising even to us. "Jesus Christ was filled with unfathomable love as He endured incomprehensible pain, cruelty, and injustice for us. Through His love for us, He rose above otherwise insurmountable barriers. His love knows no barriers. He invites us to follow Him and partake of His unlimited love so we too may rise above the pain and cruelty and injustice of this world and help and forgive and bless.”
Despite the world’s pessimistic outlooks saying the contrary, we can change. As President Monson noted:
“I’m reminded of the words of a prison warden who taught this fact. A critic who knew of Warden Duffy’s efforts to rehabilitate men said, ‘Don’t you know that leopards can’t change their spots?’ "Warden Duffy responded, ‘You should know I don’t work with leopards. I work with men, and men change every day.’”
And, as in Beauty and the Beast, the motivating force behind our desire to change as well as the means to change itself comes only through our Heavenly Father and Savior’s love.
As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:
“The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions—the more we allow our love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts—the easier it is to love others with the pure love of Christ. As we open our hearts to the glowing dawn of the love of God, the darkness and cold of animosity and envy will eventually fade.”