Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is Everything Awesome, or Should We Just Let It Go?

Much as I love movies, with an eight-year-old and a five-year-old at home, more often than not our movie going these days involves family-friendly fare.  And recent releases have fallen squarely into my kids' wheelhouses.  The Disney concoction "Frozen" gave our daughter not one, but two princesses to admire (and dress up as).  More recently, "The Lego Movie" took our son's favorite playthings and brought them to life.  Both films have done incredibly well at the box office, and their built-in kid appeal makes it easy to see why.  But when even the critics are taking the time and the column-inches to gush over these movies as though they were on par with Bergman or Fellini, one has to acknowledge that there's something deeper at work.

While I enjoyed both films, I felt that "Frozen" was more successful in its story telling.  Let's be frank: "Frozen" was designed to help sell princess dresses, dolls, and theme park tickets just as much as "The Lego Movie" was designed to sell interlocking brick sets.  Disney's production team was just able to make the commercialism a bit less obvious, beginning with the fact that they didn't blatantly call their film, "The Movie That Will Force Your Parents To Take You To Anaheim or Orlando to Meet Anna and Elsa in Person."

But when you slice through the merchandising ploys, you find that these are "message movies," mores than they initially let on.  "Frozen" celebrates being yourself and [minor SPOILER ALERT] sibling love, assisted by catchy melodies  worthy of the Broadway stage.  "The Lego Movie" uses its earworm of a theme song (with emphasis on the wrong syllable!) to drive home [SPOILERS AHEAD] the importance of teamwork, the power of creative play, and the idea that one does not need to have particularly special talents or outstanding features in order to be truly special.

Used for illustrative purposes only.  I claim no ownership.  Disney please don't sue me.

Warning: This song WILL get stuck in your head.

Coincidentally, some of these same themes are played out in this week's Torah portion, Pekuday.  In it, the mishkan, the portable tabernacle used for worship in the wilderness, is finally erected.  A careful accounting is taken of all the furnishings, equipment, and priestly vestments that will be needed as part of the function of this facility.

In many years (but not in 5774), Pekuday is read as a double portion with the preceding portion Vayakhel.  When this occurs, we get a fuller picture of what is needed to create the mishkan: not only material goods, but also skilled craftsmen to bring the vision to realization.  Bezalel (from the tribe of Judah) and Oholiab (from the tribe of Dan) are selected as the foremen for the project.  Bezalel is skilled in construction and metallurgy; Oholiab is a weaver whose forte is textiles.  Only by banding together, and using the innate powers and skills within each of them, can the mishkan be built.  And once it is built, it will be an equal-opportunity edifice, a house of prayer for all the "brothers and sisters" of Israel (are we sensing a theme here?).

One final thought: As I started thinking about it, I realized that there are other Jewish connections in these movies as well.  The names of each of the key characters can be linked to Hebrew words.  For instance, the central character of "The Lego Movie" is Emmet- not a far cry from אמת, (emet), meaning "truth."  When we acknowledge the special nature that God has implanted within each of us, we see the truth of our own abilities.  The heroines of "Frozen" are Anna and Elsa.  Anna is similar to ענה (ah-nah), meaning "answer."  Sometimes we discover that the answer we seek has been accessible to us all along.  Elsa may be a bit more of a stretch, but has a parallel in אל שא (El sa), "God has lifted up."  When we do good work for (and with) others, we find that God has lifted us and our spirits.

In fact, one could even make an argument that the world's greatest nebbishy Jewish snowman, Olaf, is actually the אלוף (aluf), the general or chief who makes everything happen.

Just don't ask me to do any wordplay with Wyldfyre or Vetruvius.

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