The most poignant moments in the new film, Saving Mr. Banks, show Walt Disney trying again and again to win the literary confidence of the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers. Facing her reluctance to share the story and character, he promises her, "The last thing I would do is tarnish a story I love." He goes on later to assure her of his commitment to the art of storytelling: "That's what story tellers do. We restore order to imagination. We bring hope."
Certainly no filmmaker has been more prolific than Walt Disney. To date the organization he founded on the heels of a sympathetic but cute little rodent, namely Mickey Mouse, has produced no less than 600 feature films.
No one could produce such a catalog of creative materials and enterprises so successfully as did Disney without a keen understanding of what goes into making a great story. For Disney there were two essentials to every film that were musts for his endeavors. Out of these he developed a model that served him well. Whenever he veered from it, his films suffered at the box office; when he kept to it, they generally did much better. You could call the essentials Disney's Dynamic Duo.
The two most important ingredients for any film were that somehow the main character or characters had to experience two things: intense suffering of some sort and, also, ecstatic joy. Disney found that these were the two humanizing components that caused audiences to identify with and connect to the stories and characters he made famous. I believe these qualities prove so effective because they tap our deepest human needs.
Heights and Depths
Suffering and joy are redemptive qualities, vividly portrayed in the Gospel records. Interestingly enough, these were also the two dynamics Jesus seemed to prioritize with the three disciples who were his closest, identified often as the Triumvirate, Peter, James and John.
For Christians, an important aspect of growing in Christ is coming to know him in his life and his life experiences. As we do so we identify with Jesus. Theologians call this concept Identification. The Apostle Paul simply called it knowing Christ: "I want to know Christ -- yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV)
In other words, as we come to "know Christ" we come to experience and "know" more of the things he went through, such as "the power of his resurrection," "his sufferings," etc. Jesus took the Three, Peter, James and John, to deep and powerful places of experience and emotion that were unique among the experiences shared by the other disciples. In some ways they were highly privileged to go to these places with him; in others, they were deeply challenged. Jesus took the Three to the Heights and to the Depths.
When Jesus took the Three to the Mount of Transfiguration, he was inviting them to catch a sneak peek of his glory (Matthew 17:1-13). There was no moment or experience more heavenly and other-worldly than this mountain top one. By bringing them to this place, Jesus was showing the Three his panoramic connection to the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and the grand fulfillment of God's Kingdom purpose.
When Jesus took the Three to the Garden of Gethsemane, he was inviting them to stand with him in his suffering (Matthew 26:36-46). On the night he would be arrested, Jesus went away to pray. By this time the atmosphere in and around Jerusalem was thick with tension. Some wanted to worship Jesus; others wanted to stone him. The weight of the coming cross weighing heavily on his soul, he wanted or needed to pray. Frequently Jesus would go to "lonely places" all by himself to spend time with the Heavenly Father and pray (Luke 5:16). Not this time, however. This time he asked the Three to come along with him. He was calling Peter, James and John to share in his prayer and his suffering.
A true friend is someone who shares willingly in our joys and sorrows. Growing in Christ brings a deepening not only to our knowledge of Jesus put our emotional posture towards him. For instance, when you love someone, really love them; you are willing to follow them to the heights and the depths. You are intimately interested in their greatest joys and deepest sorrows. Paul the Apostle also affirmed this when he admonished Christ-followers to "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15 NASB)." To "rejoice with those who rejoice" is to share in someone's joy; to "weep with those who weep" is to share in their suffering.
Walt Disney knew that to make great stories he would have to create great characters and help people fall in love with them. In order to do so, the readers and viewers would have to come closer to the main character's joys and sorrows. When this connection occurred, a great story had been told.
Growing as a Christ-follower requires not only knowing more of his story, of the Gospels, but also sharing in more of his joys and sorrows, in the heights and the depths of his life, death and resurrection. As we enter into this great Gospel, the good news of Jesus, we are transformed and transfixed on the Son of God who takes away our sins and keeps calling us to come closer and to go deeper.
This article is adapted from a new book by Robert Crosby, The One Jesus Loves: Grace is Unconditionally Given - Intimacy Must Be Relentlessly Pursued (Release Date: March 18, 2014; Nelson Books).