A trending theme in Disney movies set near large bodies of water is disobedience. Obviously, if you want your children to obey, you may consider choosing the mountains over the beach for a vacation. Okay, maybe not. But you may want to consider the morals of Disney’s ocean-related movies because recently they are answering the question about who knows what is best for children.

A.O. Scott in his article for the New York Times gives an overall positive review of Pixar’s latest film: Luca. This firm is set on the Italian coast of the Mediterranean and traces the adventure of friends, two of which are sea creatures that take human form when dry.  Scott says this film’s intention is to be more charming than cutting-edge. The film focuses on traditional values of friendship rather than trying to push the cultural envelop. Scott sums up the film in one sentence, “It’s about the sometimes risky discovery of pleasure, and it’s a pleasure to discover.”

One sentence from the New York Times article should bring parents concern, “Like many a Disney protagonist before him [Luca]—Ariel, Nemo and Moana all come to mind—he defies parental authority in the name of adventure.” Older films with characters such as Ariel, Nemo, and Pinocchio all defy parental authority. This is clear violation of the fifth commandment (“honor your father and mother” Ex. 20) which is reiterated in the New Testament in Ephesians 6:1-3. Is it wrong to portray disobedience in narratives? No. Stories in the Bible, such as Jacob and Isaac, Hophni and Phinheas, even characters in Jesus’s parables feature disobedient children (the most famous being the prodigal son). However, the theme throughout the Biblical narratives is the same: disobedience leads to negative consequences. This motif is also seen in Disney characters such as Nemo, Ariel, and Pinocchio. However, characters such as Moana and Luca have positive consequences for disobedience.

My wife and I were discussing the related themes an Moana and she brought up some good points. Moana was significantly older when she decided to go against her parent’s wishes. In that sense, she is already her “own woman.” Furthermore, Moana’s motivation for leaving is to save people. Luca’s reason is to run away from parental discipline.

The exact scene where Luca (the title character) decides to disobey his parent’s authority is intense. He arrives home and attempts to sneak in past curfew after having unwittingly falling asleep on the surface (where he was forbidden to go). His mom is waiting up for him and determines the appropriate consequence is to be sent to the bottom of the sea (where the it is dark from the lack of sunlight). The emotions of the characters run high, and they raise their voices at each other. Luca storms off to his room and decides to run away to the surface in direct contradiction to his parents wishes.

After the scene where Luca (the title character) decides to disobey his parents, the viewer is left wondering, what bad things are going to happen since he made this act of rebellion. The negative consequences are hinted at in the way the town is bent on killing sea monsters. However, the movie concludes with Luca being right and his parents horribly ignorant. Luca becomes enlightened and is allowed to go to school where all his questions could be answered (because his unschooled friend and parents were unreliable sources of information).

A Christian article written for World by Marty VanDriel also gives a positive review. VanDriel paints the movie as the much-needed tourist getaway after the pandemic lockdowns. He raises some concerns as to the relationship of the two main protagonists. Some viewers were concerned the to boy’s friendship was romantic to tip the hat toward the LGBT community. However, the director of the film makes clear that this is talking about, “that time in life before boyfriends and girlfriends.” [1]

Narratives, especially those made for children, are thermometers of society’s moral climate. In a society where parents are increasingly going to school board meetings unhappy with various curriculums, this film’s moral is clear as to who’s right. More fundamental than this is the moral that disobeying parental authority has positive consequences in stark contrast with firms put out earlier this century. What’s even more shocking is the lack of individuals (even Christians) pointing out this moral flaw. Even fifty years ago this movie certainly would have turned more heads. God has not changed, his Word has not changed, natural law has not changed, but our culture certainly has. Parents should not fear or shun narratives outside of natural law; however, they need to equip their children to see exactly how this film fits the moral genre of fiction.

So, who knows what is best for children? The professionals or parents? The (government-run) schools or parents? This is not to say that parents are perfect or always make the best choices. However there is a conflict in our society that is aiming to destroy the nuclear family. Jean-Jacques Rousseau reportedly did not even know the sex of his last child before he sent the child off to boarding school. Does it take a village to raise a child or a mom and dad? All flourishing societies in all cultures and times uphold and defend the family and parent’s rights. If you destroy the family, you destroy society.

Many, I would argue the majority of Christian parents have given up their parental rights in the name of convenience, selfishness, or the pursuit of the American dream. What is this right? The parent’s right is to be the biggest influence in their children’s life. Malachi 4:6 presents this principle as an eschatological hope. This does not mean no one else can have an influence in a child’s life. But rather, other individuals, ideas, and institutions should assist a parent’s influence rather than compete with it.

Most schools actively compete with a parent’s influence over their children. Media now competes with a parent’s influence over their children. Most churches’ children and youth programs compete with parents’ influence over their children. Parents, moms and dads, are in a fight like never before to turn the hearts of their children to themselves rather than some external influence.

Why have most given up the fight? One reason is because they would rather have or let their children have worldly success (money) more than they would want them to glorify God. Colleges have been described as “worldview woodchippers” and this effect has certainly trickled down into lower education. Facts always come from a worldview, it is impossible to separate metaphysical and epistemological assumptions from facts presented in school. But, education is must for worldly success. So, parental values are less important than worldly success. It’s far to sacrificial to educate a child from a worldview that won’t compete with the Christian parent’s influence.

Another reason is convenience. It’s much easier to hand a child a tablet or phone than it is to parent them. Lazy or ignorant Christian parents allow their children soak in competing influences for the sake of selfish convenience. Why? Most of the time so the parent can do what he or she would rather do than influence their child. I know this is harsh, but it convicts me probably more than it does you. I would rather sit on the couch and veg out on my phone than read to my kid. That’s reveals how lazy I am, and calls me to stand up and fight.

Another reason is socialization. No one wants their child to grow up to be a social outcast. So, what fixes this? Give them friends! And it is certainly good to have friends. But the problem is when a peer influences a child more than the parent.

There are certainly a number of other reasons I could bring out, but the space does not allot. If any idea, individual, or item competes with your influence over your child, a red flag should appear. I’m not saying you should automatically cut off all ties with this conflicting influence. Maybe it was an innocent mistake. Churches, for example, aren’t maliciously seeking to influence your child more than you; however, despite their intentions, their conduct still goes against the biblical principle. When you discover a competing influence, start a conversation and ask some questions. When you discover a complementary influence, find a way to express gratitude.

As a school teacher and youth pastor, I do my personal best to direct students to their parent’s influence rather than my own. Teenagers are very good at trying to bait me too. . . I may say something and class and a student will (not very often) say, “well my mom or dad did/said. . . ” (fill in the blank with somethin contrary). These are times that I have to decide will I compete or complement a parent’s influence. There are rare times I will not complement a parent’s influence. If I need to report abuse, I will bring it to my superior’s attention. If I think a paren is in egregious error about something extremely important I would speak to the parent about it, not the student. Otherwise, it is my greatest joy to turn a child’s heart to their parents. I pray other influencers over young people will come to the same conclusion.

[1] Marty VanDriel, “Friends Out of Water,” World, June 25, 2021, https://wng.org/articles/friends-out-of-water-1624645349.

A.O. Scott, “’Luca’ Review: Calamari by Your Name,” New York Times, June 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/17/movies/luca-review.html?smid=url-share.