I am not sure if it is a good or a bad comment about Hollywood, but there is no question that the best couple of movies I have seen in 2010 are both animated - "Toy Story 3" and "Despicable Me."
I was expecting TS3 to be good. The first two installments were excellent. Pixar produces great stuff. Tom Hanks is in it. What's not to like?
I was not expecting to like "Despicable Me." The previews made it out to be a silly adolescent semi-gross out movie, sort of a dumbed down cartoon version of "MacGruber." The previews are wrong.
The lessons that abound from these two movies are profound. They are not necessarily multi-layered feats of subtlety, but they are worth contemplation. Don't worry - I am not going to spoil the intricate plot twists of the movies for you.
None of this is new, either as a movie device or as a thought for us to consider. But seeing these two movies so close together, I am struck by the critical importance in these age-old themes.
First, both movies focus on teamwork. In TS3, the toys work together to escape the seemingly inescapable. In Despicable, a group of lovable "minions" come through more than once by working together to overcome very long odds.
Teamwork sounds sanitized. It sounds like athletics. It reminds of vaunted "teambuilding activities" that dot the itineraries of corporate retreats. In fact, teamwork is a crucial biblical theme. Jesus chose twelve, and then seventy, and He sent them out in groups. He said that He joins groups of "two or three gathered" in His name. The description of the church is the "body of Christ," with each of us fulfilling only one role and thus needing each other for our very existence.
Secondly, and more importantly, and more profoundly, both movies focus on the transforming power of love. The message in TS3 is expected - the toys have grown to love each other and "their boy" over the years, and this love motivates everything they do. In "Despicable Me," the power of love takes a different tack: innocent love transforms a bad guy into a good guy.
Love cannot be oversold. It cannot be the theme of too many movies. We hear it all the time, and still we don't really get it. Love is not, really, about feelings or eroticism or even emotions. Love is about commitment and actions and putting the needs/desires/wishes of the loved one above your own. Love motivates even when the feelings are absent. We love in spite of our emotions, not because of them.
It is tempting, in both movies, to get distracted from these basic themes. In "Despicable Me," we can easily find ourselves following the bad-guy-vs.-other-bad-guy storyline. In "Toy Story 3," there is a legitimately heart-tugging tone to the whole movie, and for people like me (my son leaves for college one short year from now), the boys-and-their-toys message is one to ponder.
Still, let's not forget the importance of relying on each other and loving each other. Cooperation and teamwork are empowering, for "two are better than one; ... if one falls down, he has the other to help him up, but pity the man who has no one to pick him up!... Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken." And love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
I have no idea if the producers of these movies know their scripture, but their message certainly does. We need each other. We should act like it.