08 November 2015

Ricoeurean Re-Tellings of Three Popular Children's Movies

Kiki's Delivery Service – Kiki begins the film as a young witch, who lives in a world of inchoate dreams and hopes, and whose best friend is her pet cat, Jiji.  After becoming critically self-aware, she loses her magic abilities.  Then, spending some time in meditative retreat with an artist friend, she again feels the call of magic, but as a symbolic construct, rather than anything actually supernatural.  Resolutely autonomous, Kiki realizes that she is a witch merely because she chooses (by her act of narrative self-creation!) to interpret the world around her thus.  At the end, her cat Jiji, who has lost the ability to speak to her, no longer speaks, except in her imagination.

Frozen – Elsa is haunted by the brutal mythos of her nordic people, and feels torn between her public duties (which place her in the role of queen) and her inner desires (which place her in the role of evil villain).  After struggling with this narrative framework for most of her life, she breaks with it, and plunges into a fantasy world in which her own desires form the basis of a new master-narrative, which exaggerates the negative features of the cultural mythos in which she has been raised.  Her sister, the voice of reason, who sees myth as a creative instrument for the interpretation of reality, and not as something which ought to constrain us, eventually helps Elsa to break free from the repression of her naive self-understanding, and embrace a new, flexible mythos, in which her own duties and powers are merely fictions used to express and understand her interior states, and the experiences of those around her.

The Lion King – Simba is raised in a culture dominated by a monarchical political ontology, in which Simba himself is heavily constrained by his role as heir to the king.  His uncle, a usurper-king of the sort inherent in political ontologies of this variety, deprives Simba of the narrative role in which he has been raised, rendering the political ontology of his community unintelligible to him, and incompatible with his own struggle for self-understanding. (This shows us that any version of the monarchical political mythology is self-destructive when absolutized.) After fleeing to the jungle, Simba is aided in the critical self-examination of his culture and upbringing, and becomes aware of the prejudicial arbitrariness and contingency of its fundamental ontologies.  Liberated by this new critical awareness, Simba luxuriates in life's carefree possibilities, until he is called on by a member of his community, Nala, who wants him to engage the cultural community of his youth, and use his combination of critical self-awareness and narrative fluency within the dominant political paradigm to break the hegemony of the monarch and establish a new, more flexible governing ontology for the people.  This he does.