NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, March 6th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: two new movies hit theaters this weekend with two very different agendas.
It was one of the Babylon Bee’s characteristically barbed headlines—a joke that skates so close to reality, it’s hard to tell if it qualifies more as satire or commentary: Disney To Introduce New LGBTQ Superhero Whose Superpower Is Turning Invisible In International Markets.
Yeah, because that’s exactly what’s happening with Pixar’s latest movie, Onward.
The PG-rated film tells the story of the Lightfoot Brothers, a pair of elves played by Spider-Man and Star-Lord themselves, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. They live in a land that was once full of magic. But now the manticores have gone corporate and the pixies are happy to travel on wheels rather than wings. When the boys discover a spell that can revive their deceased father for one day, they set off on a quest to bring enchantment back to their world. Or at least back to their house.
MANTICORE: Quick, somebody help me. These Griffin nuggets were supposed to go out five minutes ago.
IAN: That’s the manticore?
BARLEY: Oh great and powerful manticore. My brother and I seek a map to a phoenix gem.
MANTICORE: Oh, well you come to the right Tavern. I have the parchment you desire right here. Behold.
IAN: Oh, that’s a children’s menu.
MANTICORE: Isn’t that fun, they’re all based on my old maps.
The much-ballyhooed LGBT representation comes from a character so minor she needn’t have a name. Of course, she has one for the sake of all that promotional press. Specter the centaur says, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” That’s it. Scratch an earlobe and you’ll miss it.
You definitely won’t hear it if you see the movie in Russia though. Because there the line has been changed to “my partner’s daughter.”
We’ve seen this sort of thing from Disney before with Rise of Skywalker and Avengers: Endgame. The studio strikes a brave progressive pose in English-speaking nations, trusting the media won’t call them out for leaving inclusivity on the cutting room floor in places like China, Singapore, or the Middle East.
The good news: if you’re a die-hard Pixar fan wrestling over whether it’s worth taking your little ones to see this one, fear not. Onward has a few inspired moments, but you definitely won’t be missing the next Incredibles or Toy Story. The movie is at its best when it focuses on an under-explored relationship in animation: brotherhood.
IAN: Something wrong?
BARLEY: Sorry, it’s just your stance is…Here. Chin up, elbows out, feet apart, back slightly arched. OK, how does that feel?
BARLEY: One more thing.
BARLEY: OK, OK.
IAN: Magnora gantuan.
BARLEY: Don’t let the magic spook you. Elbows.
BARLEY: Elbows up. No no, too high. That’s too high.
IAN: I’m trying to focus here.
BARLEY: Oh yeah, focus on the can. Focus. Focus.
IAN: It worked! The can is huge. The van is huge. And you’re…oh no.
Too often, though, it reaches for the obvious joke or expected message. The lame PR campaign surrounding Specter feels symptomatic of its overall shortcomings. Like Onward’s fantasy world, Pixar has lost part of its magic to cheap marketing interests.
Another new movie opening this weekend comes from the Erwin Brothers, the filmmakers responsible for 2018’s surprise hit, I Can Only Imagine. That movie made more than $85 million dollars to become the fourth highest-grossing biopic of all time, behind Bohemian Rhapsody, Straight Outta Compton, and Walk the Line. So some pretty A-list company.
While it follows a similar pattern of telling the true story behind a popular Christian song, I Still Believe isn’t likely to reach the same heights.
Based on the romance between contemporary Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his first wife, Melissa, it features a likeable cast that includes Gary Sinise. Several cute, rom-com moments. And, of course, it has plenty of good music.
JARED: I’ve been learning a new song. Just the chorus. I love, I love you, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.
MELISSA: Is it about God?
JARED: Not entirely.
Unfortunately, when the star-crossed lovers start to face down cancer, they have only two speeds: saintly acceptance of God’s will and melodramatic raging against the dying of the light. Think laying prostrate with grief on the hospital room floor or anger-sprinting through the rain. Things people in movies do all the time, but people in real life, hardly ever.
One of the best things about the similarly themed documentary about Kara Tippetts was that it allowed her to express herself quietly. Like her bitterness when she saw healthy moms with their kids. Or her fear when she realized her husband was talking about her in the past tense. We don’t see anything so raw in I Still Believe.
That said, the film succeeds when it bucks the Christian movie trend of suggesting only miracles and victories make for good stories.
JARED: Dad, can I ask you a question?
JARED: I remember I prayed and prayed in this room for Josh to be born healthy. It didn’t happen. And you prayed for so long for your ministry. Dad, I begged God to heal Melissa. What am I supposed to do with that?
TOM: Are you asking if Josh’s disabilities are disappointing? Yes, they are. Did I have big dreams that didn’t come true? Sure.
The Erwins are careful to show that God is faithful even when He says “no.” In a prosperity gospel culture, that’s truth worthy of any filmmaker.