Disney/Pixar studios have been a real strong kick of dealing with the trauma of late. From the trauma of being outsiders (Luca) to family expectations (Encanto and Turning Red). Now, in Lightyear, they turn to another side of trauma, shame.
Lightyear is a movie with amazing artwork, a fun space adventure, and a sprinkling of nostalgia for good measure. But what are the themes behind the clever story? I am sure that many people will read into things based on their own life experiences. So as an Enneagram 1 with a history of religious trauma I found the core message to be about learning to get over yourself and ask for help. Also, that mistakes can be forgiven.
An Overview of Lightyear
Buzz Lightyear makes one huge mistake in the first moments of the film. The burden of that mistake becomes the driving motivation of the whole story. He finds himself stuck in a loop of trying and failing to correct that one mistake. In so doing he misses out on living any sort of meaningful life. His relationships suffer for it, and so does he.
Over and over he repeats to anyone who will listen that all he needs to do is “finish the mission.” His fixation on this blinds him to the possibility that this may not be the mission that he needs to finish. He is blocked from seeing any options other than the one he has determined to be the best. And he repeatedly refuses help and input from other people. His shame blocks out any experience of real-life or relationship.
Buzz’s best friend lives in the present, grounded in the reality of working with what she has and finding contentment with her choices. She supports Buzz in many ways, and still maintains a focus on living a full life where she is. Yes, she was part of the initial mistake, and could have let shame block her from living a full life.
Mistakes can fill the perfectionists with shame. But they fill the courageous with hope. Hope that there is grace and forgiveness. It takes a patient friend to help Buzz overcome his perfectionism. That is when he is able to forgive himself for the mistakes and move on to new missions.
Lightyear Character Lessons
The way of a fool is right in his own opinion, but the one who listens to advice is wise.Proverbs 12:15
Persistence and stubbornness are two sides of the coin of Buzz. It is good to have persistence, but not to the point where you no longer receive input from anyone else. Buzz’s desire to correct his mistake is noble one. His first instinct is punish himself for making a mistake. This is tendency that I have, and see crop up in my children as well. I regularly need to reassure them that their mistakes do not diminish their value or my love.
I grew up in an authoritarian religious environment. Any mistake could be considered sin, and sin puts you outside of God’s love. It is an incomplete Scripture message, yet it was the one that I received.
Alisha, and other characters try to remind Buzz that he is more than his mistake. He is valued no matter what. Letting go of his mistakes allows him to have a relationship of trust with other people. One does not need to live in shame.
The Controversial Stuff
There are a lot of reviews in the world that will go into the LGBT+ angle that is presented in the film. Many “Christian” sites are quick to shoot down the movie as presenting “an agenda” and therefore the movie should be boycotted.
Here are my thoughts on that: those types of Christians are often trying to push an agenda as well. Such people are quick to latch onto a celebrity Christian when it suits their purposes. Then they dismiss anything that threatens them. This virtue signaling is despicable. Christianity is not about picking and choosing pop culture to suit one’s own purpose.
The tactic of fear is used to misrepresent and malign others. When the response to LGBT+ characters is a sense of fear or an attitude of criticism, what kind of example does that set for children?
Every day my children come to me with questions that require complex and nuanced answers. I am trying to help them navigate puberty, personal disappointment, and wise use of technology and the internet. Stories, whether they come from movies, tv shows, or books are ways that I can connect compassionately with them. In movies, I apply a critical lens to things like potty humor and poor story execution. Not to people’s lifestyle choices.
As a parent I am going to make mistakes. My hope is that my children will be able to forgive me for my mistakes rather than live in shame because they don’t live up to some uncertain standard. I don’t want to live in shame because I have made mistakes. Mistakes do not need to define us.
Religious shame is a challenge to work through. Jasmine Holmes has some of the best stuff on the internet about this. I am looking forward to her new book on the topic, Never Cast Out: How the Gospel Puts an End to the Story of Shame
If you want to read other reviews I recommend: 4 Things Parents Should Know About Lightyear.
Common Sense Media is always a good resource for objective reviews.
Plugged In’s review says there are no spiritual elements to this film. Given that I spend a lot of time with children’s IP I would disagree. There are always spiritual elements to be found. It just depends on how you are looking for them
I have a guide to finding The Fruit of the Spirit in Pixar movies. Making family movie night a spiritual activity is possible!