I'm slowly working my way through our VHS collection of the Disney classics. The other day my daughter and I snuggled on the couch with a bowl of frozen cherries (those were, in hindsight, a really bad idea) and watched The Great Mouse Detective. What I discovered was a surprisingly deep tale of morality.
In this seemingly benign children's movie, we have our classic archetypal figures: Professor Ratigan is the villain—a thoroughly nasty, vindictive, and manipulative character. On the other side we have Basil from Baker Street, a Sherlockesque little mouse with a quick mind and an inexplicable drive to see his long-standing rival behind bars.
And while we might sigh at the predictability of these characters, they speak a profound truth about the two ways we can live our lives.
Although very obviously a rat, Ratigan lusts after the throne of the mouse kingdom, threatening, manipulating, and even executing anyone who would get in his way. The story begins with the kidnapping of a gentle-hearted toy maker, who is forced to create a robot which later will impersonate the queen and appoint Ratigan as the Queen's consort, effectively giving him control over the entire realm.
Basil, on the other hand, is obsessed with truth and justice. He has applied his very keen mind to the purpose of exposing criminals and seeing them dealt with, even at the risk of his own life. Throughout the movie he follows the evidence where it leads, overcoming dangerous obstacles, traps, and his own discouragement, to eventually confront his enemy in an epic final clash.
Ratigan represents a life ordered towards itself, and what it thinks is the right way of things. He sees what he wants, what he thinks he deserves, and is willing to go to any length to achieve it. He attempts to manipulate reality to conform to himself.Basil represents a life ordered towards the highest good. Utterly unconcerned with himself, he seeks only to follow the truth.
It may be tempting to think of the villain as "out there", a force opposing us and threatening our happiness... But the villain hides within our own hearts, for the villain may be the idea that we somehow deserve happiness. It might be the American dream of a big house, nice car, and well-paying career. It might be the belief that if I just go to church and be "nice", I'll have earned my ticket to heaven. It might be a political ideology, self-help program, religion, organization, or advertisement that tells me if I just do A, B, and C, everything will finally be right in the world. The villain may simply be a thousand tiny ideas or little lies that we've unknowingly bought into.
The solution: the Resurrection.
At the end of the movie, Ratigan's own desperate attempts to destroy Basil drag them both to their deaths... but from out of the depths the heroic little mouse rises victorious.
This children's tale is an allegory of the ways we must die to ourselves, to the ideologies, lies, habits, and sins that would lead us away from truth. This is no grand fable, nor a one-time event, but a million micro-deaths and resurrections.
I would argue that the grace of God is being able to see, one moment at a time, these small failings and to allow them to fall away so that truth and goodness may rise. It is allowing our crucified and risen Lord to work in us.
We live in a time where social justice warriors are protesting more loudly than ever, ready to beat down every last vestige of oppression. But peace will only come when we realize that peace begins in our own hearts—in the hearts of a people whose lives are ordered towards truth, life, goodness, beauty, and justice. A people utterly unconcerned with themselves, who seek only to follow the highest good wherever it leads.
A people seeking first the kingdom of God.