Thursday, June 21, 2012

#38: Wordless Stories: Beyond the Ashes

Fantasia 2000, 1999
watched June 10, 2012

Disney, I expected better from you.

Because anything with a "2000" at the end of it is doomed to sound a bit ridiculous. I mean... edgy and cool and futuristic! Like Nimbus 2000, Pokemon 2000, Lever 2000... (Really? Soap?)

But, okay. Artistically, this film does mark a transition in the series. The prevalence of computer animation is much more obvious here, and we will see in the next film that Disney moves in a whole new direction, perhaps because of pressure from Pixar's success with Toy Story at the time. Also, this version was much more palatable than the 1940 Fantasia, due to a much shorter running time (75 minutes compared to 125).

Since there's no single story that weaves the whole film together, this review will focus on the last piece, "The Firebird Suite" composed by Igor Stravinsky.

It's fairly evident that there are themes of creation, death and rebirth, a classic story arc that didn't just come from nowhere. In fact, it is the main narrative of the Big Story, the one within which all other stories exist.

A beautiful sprite is awoken by what looks strikingly like Bambi's dad (I think it's an elk, actually). She spreads her magical spring-ness to a wintery forest, soaring through the skies over hills and trees, bringing beauty wherever she goes. But then she discovers a fearsome and violent firebird at the center of the mountain. Suddenly provoked, the firebird comes alive. Its wings of volcanic flames explode out of the mountain and down into the valley that the sprite has so lovingly brought to life. Soon the firebird has destroyed everything, even the sprite herself.

When I observe ongoing suffering, in the world as well as in my own personal slice of it, it's hard for me to see beyond the ashes. For miles and miles, it's only gray, dust, smoke. Like the sprite, no matter how hard I run, it seems there's no escape.

But the story isn't finished. Interestingly, Bambi's dad has not been destroyed. As he breathes into the ashes, the sprite reemerges. Just like a good ol' Disney film, it's her tears that hold the magic. As she sees her tears grow into budding flowers, the sprite's energy to create revives, and the world returns to its original state of beauty, peace and joy.

Destruction can often be the source of renewal. This was true at the Cross, the darkest hour of history. And in the Resurrection, we are reminded that there will come a time when the firebird has used up all its flames. Destruction is pervasive and devastating, but it is not permanent. There is life beyond the ashes.

In my own journey, the most painful times have often led to my most intimate and significant moments with God. It's true, we have not reached the other side of the flames yet. The pain has not vanished completely. But these small triumphs remind me of what is to come. I can look forward to a fully restored valley, complete with tall-as-the-eye-can-see trees, blooming flowers, and green pastures. That day is coming, and I can't wait.

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