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When Music Bespeaks Something Beyond the Meter

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

In Disney & the Moral Imagination (the second volume in the Disney & Apologetics duology), Doug Powell explores Walt’s intention to use music to evoke an emotional response.

"Snow White became a template for the classic Disney movie. Although Walt continued to experiment and push the bounds of what the medium could do, Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942) all employed the same techniques, creating a palette of tools that defined Disney movies and influenced the animated films that followed. But although animation styles changed, the use of music to tell the story as much as the drawing—making them almost inextricable—has remained a constant. It was such a unique aesthetic that composer Jerome Kern called Walt’s approach to his soundtracks, “the 20th century’s only important contribution to music.”

Powell considers how music is used purposefully within Disney musicals to depict good/virtuous characters in contrast to their villainous counterparts. Thus, music communicates aesthetically something about characters and in relation to broader moral lessons that are meant to accompany a given narrative. Advancing an argument from Beauty, Powell’s main thesis is that Disney musicals purposefully attempt to teach us something about Beauty, and this speaks to us precisely because it is referential to an awareness we have about reality. It raises questions about our own story—the story of reality—which point unavoidably to theism.

"The truth is that Pinocchio was never more self-deceived than when he sang, 'I’ve got no strings to hold me down.' He is correct that strings do not hold him down. However, he is self-deceived if he believes he’s got no strings to hold him up—the strings of goodness, truth, and beauty. The reality so highly sought by Walt in his animated films resulted in a paradigm that communicates the same truths about God’s world as the world they reflect, regardless of whether that was his intention."

 

This post is meant simply to offer a glimpse into our Disney & Apologetics project. Excerpts alone, however, cannot stand for an entire chapter, nor can they stand as representative for all the other ideas to be explored and arguments to be made in this 500-pp, two-volume work. There is much more to ponder within these pages! If you want to think more carefully about morality, about using the formative artifacts of pop-culture to approach Christian apologetics, and about the connections between imagination, aesthetics, and theology, buy this book! You can see what others say about it here and here.

 

Doug Powell holds an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. He is the author of more than a dozen books on apologetics, including the bestselling Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics, and is a contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible, the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, and the Worldview Study Bible. He is also the author, designer, and developer of the iWitness family of apps. As a recording artist, Powell has released nine albums, and he has contributed, as songwriter and musician, to the Alan Parsons albums The Secret and From the New World. He has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, CNN, Cross Examined, and Stand to Reason. Most recently, he authored the Graham Eliot series of biblical archaeological thrillers, including, The Well of the Soul, Among the Ashes, and The Place of Descent.




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