Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Reflection on Mama Odie

The following reflection is written by Keith Sanzen. Keith offers a different perspective on the Disney film, "The Princess and the Frog."

There may be concerns of race and stereotyping in this film (as with other Disney films) but I take issue with a portion of the review which says: “In a production number that evokes gospel music but with Jesus neatly stripped away, Mama Odie offers up a defiantly American church of the self. Just "dig a little deeper" inside yourself and you'll find what you need to achieve all of your dreams. Sure, there's magic, but it only shows up once you've done everything in your power to get what you desire. Her message is the epitome of works-righteousness, where the only counter to the forces of evil is the good inside the human heart.”

I haven’t seen the movie, but I searched around for some clips and found the song the reviewer was discussing. I hear a different message than she did. Jesus is not "neatly stripped away." I hear him there quite clearly. As a church, Mama Odie's song isn’t always who we are but it is who we should be.

Here is a clip with the song:

Here is what it says …

“Don’t matter what you look like
Don’t matter what you wear,
How many rings you have on your finger,
We don’t care.
Don’t matter where you come from
Don’t even matter what you are…
We get them all in here…

And they all knew what they wanted ..
What they wanted me to do.”

I can hear Jesus singing that. He didn’t care who people were or looked like, it didn’t matter if they were rich or poor. What of today? If we look around is that always true in Christian churches --- even our own?

And they all came wanting something.

The characters in the movie go to the woman to whip up a miracle. Indeed this could be confused with prayer. BUT the genius of it is that Mama Odie doesn’t give them what they want. She shows the misuse of wanting an instant miracle. She says that they first need to find out who they are because they want the wrong things.

The reality is that people come to God because they think they know what they want … what they want God (or a church) to do. Isn't the role of he church to turn those people around and tell them to look at who they are to see what they want is all wrong?

“When you find out who you are,
you find out what you need ….”

Isn't that true of Jesus' message? The power of Jesus was that he knew who he was -- the son of God ... do we know we are children of God so clearly?

God’s response is that we should find out who we are (and whose we are) first then we will find out what we need.
"Prince Froggy is a rich little boy.
You wanna be rich again?
That ain’t gonna make you happy now,
Did it make you happy then?
Money ain’t got no soul.
Money aint’ got no heart. …”

I can hear Jesus here too ... especially in an encounter he had with another young, rich ruler who didn't go away happy. How many churches are filled with people who are fully convinced money ain’t got no soul? It didn’t make him happy then is it “gonna make us happy now?” What have we learned in 2000 years?

“All you need is some self control
make yourself a brand new start.”

Ok that sounds like a little more like Wesley or Paul but still good.

"Your daddy was a lovin’ man ...
Family through and through …
You’re your daddy’s daughter.
What was in him, you’ll find in you.”

Jesus again ... Our Father is a loving God. Loving through and through. You are God's creation, the love of God is found in you. In Jesus that love of the Father was clear ... those who saw him saw the Father.

The female frog was told that at the core of her identity she had a father who loved her. That’s who she is. She can love because she was first the recipient of love.

That’s who we are. We are children of a Father who loves us. God’s love is in us.

How many churches really live out the love (and realize the power that they can do that because they were loved first)… or are they still stuck on what they want God to do?

I find the song catchy (I've listened to it a dozen times while typing this) and as a Christian I hear a lyrical subtext.

When we dig deep enough, after putting aside fear and our own notions about we want God to do and realize that money will not make us happy, we find who we are and whose we are. Then we will know what we need.

Now the writers may not have intended all of that. Actually I’m sure they didn’t intend it. But they weren’t out to tell a Gospel story. The question is, can we use this story to talk about the Gospel with our children?

The reviewer says that the message behind the song is "the epitome of works-righteousness." I disagree. I think it is the epitome of grace. The messages I hear in the song:

(1) Accept everybody no matter what they look like, who they “are” or what they wear.
(2) Happiness cannot be found in money
(3) Before you decide what you want out of life, look deep inside to find out who you are
(4) Love, which is shown to trump magic, is not something we summon or conjure for ourselves but something that is given freely by someone who loved us first.

The reviewer assumes that by turning our gaze inward we are celebrating the human self. In the end I believe that God is the foundation of who we are. If we keep digging deeper I think we will find God there waiting.

The reviewer seems to condemn the notion that “the only counter to the forces of evil is the good inside the human heart” … What’s wrong with that? (as long as we realize that the good in the human heart is from God) It is a message that love is more powerful than magic (another theme that was in the Harry Potter books that Christian “moralists” seemed to miss). Biblically it is the love found in the human heart of Jesus which counters the forces of sin.

I think the song has a very Christian message. I think the reviewer needs to dig a little deeper.
Keith Sanzen


  1. Very insightful and encouraging to me!!

  2. I agree with you completely. I also was thinking about Raymond the firefly.
    It seems they chose the name "Ray" because of the light he shines. "Mond"
    could mean the world, therefore the "light of the world". He is in love with Evangeline (Evangel - gospel) and has what everyone thinks is a false hope.
    He gives his live for his friends and finds his hope miraculously fulfilled as he ascends to the heavens.