by Alexa Cramer
SPOILER ALERT! This article contains aspects of the plots from each of the three Zombies movies, including several spoilers. If you don’t want the ending of each movie revealed, we suggest you watch them before reading on.
Growing up in the town of Seabrook, a town where everything and everyone is totally plain (like everyone wears either pink or blue and the only acceptable ice cream flavor is vanilla), main character Addison embarks on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Throughout the trilogy, three groups of “monsters” (zombies, werewolves, and aliens) appear and integrate into Seabrook’s society, bringing along the expected themes of discrimination and prejudice as the townspeople learn to accept differences.
To better fit in, zombie Zed (the other main character and Addison’s love interest), tries to present himself as an ordinary human (which is physically painful and dangerous for him). By the end of Zombies 2, Zed accepts that he is a “monster” and even uses his zombie strength in order to save the day.
Meanwhile, Addison is dealing with her own identity crisis. Charismatic and charming, Addison is a cheerleader who is always kind to everyone and rallies for the acceptance of each new monster group. She knows she is different from the humans because–under her wig–her hair is stark white. It’s a secret she keeps from her friends because she wants to fit in, and also to please her parents. At the end of the first movie, she rips off her wig in front of the entire school and “comes out” as different.
Addison desperately wants to know who or what she is and where she fits in. In Zombies 2, she is convinced that she’s actually a werewolf but ultimately discovers that she’s not. In Zombies 3 she finally learns that she is an alien. Not just any alien, but the direct descendant of a really important alien. While it takes her some time to figure out what that truly means for her, the moment she gets her “stardust” she transforms into full Alien Addison (giving us serious Elsa-vibes). At this point, she’s free! Everyone’s free! Everyone loves themselves and each other! Yay! *cue closing song*
Just from that summary, you’ve probably already picked up on some of the culturally relevant messaging this series is not-so-subtly sending our kiddos. If your kids have watched (or will watch) the movies (they are readily available and frequently advertised on Disney and Disney+), we can help them think critically so that they are able to take in the good ideas and spit out the bad ones. Let’s do it the Mama Bear way and ROAR through the Zombies series! If your kids have watched (or will watch) the Zombies films, we can help them think critically so that they can take in the good ideas and spit out the bad ones. Click To Tweet
RECOGNIZE The Message – What statements are the filmmakers trying to make?
1. ACCEPT yourself for who you truly are
The movies demonstrate that striving to fit in will leave you exhausted and insecure. Don’t hide who you really are. Not only will you end up disappointed, but you will also be robbing the community of your gifts and talents that make you unique. Confidence comes when you accept and love yourself.
2. REVEL in your differences
Accepting yourself is just step one, but total freedom comes when you expose your differences to the world around you. This is necessary because it empowers you to discover your true identity. How? Well, in Zombies 2 Addison thinks she might be a werewolf so she changes her look to dress like them and even adopts their edgy attitude. The idea here is that once you are “out,” you can publicly explore which group you belong to by unashamedly experimenting until you know for sure.
3. CELEBRATE alllll the “loves”
In Zombies 3 we are introduced to a more subtle message. One of the aliens, A-Spen, is non-binary (does not identify as male or female). Note: the film does not state this explicitly, but the Disney company proudly boasts of its first non-binary Disney character. The pronoun “they” is used in the film to describe this character, though it is subtle and easily missed. A-Spen, who is portrayed by a non-binary actor, starts out with a crush on Zed (Addison’s zombie boyfriend). But A-Spen ends the movie by coupling up with female “werewolf,” Willa. (This coupling is subtle and kids may just think of this as two friends or BFFs.) During the final song, we see a montage of all the unconventional couples: alien + zombie (Addison and Zed), zombie + human, werewolf + zombie, and finally non-binary alien + female werewolf (A-Spen and Willa). The implication is that anyone can romantically love “anyone,” and all love should be accepted.
4. EMBRACE the differences of others
Woven throughout the trilogy are messages of fighting one’s own prejudices, not fearing others who are different from you, and fighting prejudice within society to create a radically inclusive community. We must do the work within ourselves, and work to change the world around us. In the movies, the strongest inhibitor to progress is always fear.
OFFER Discernment – What did the filmmakers get right… and what lies snuck in
In order for lies to be widely accepted and powerfully effective, they are often wrapped up in truths. This is how deceitful ideologies sneak in like a Trojan Horse to take hold of our culture. It is our job to untangle the truth from the lies. Let’s first consider truths we can affirm in Disney’s Zombies trilogy.
Truth #1: Prejudice is wrong because it dehumanizes people by making assumptions about them
When we view people according to the stereotypes of their “group,” we fail to recognize them as individuals created uniquely by God. While our brains tend to label and categorize everything, we would be wise to resist that urge when it produces prejudice against humans.
Truth #2: Discrimination and treating groups of people as if they are of lower value than others is wrong
We are not to treat someone differently according to what “group” they belong to. Since every human is made in the image of God, we are to treat every person with equal dignity, respect, and yes even kindness. If we fear someone because he or she is different from us in some way, we should evaluate ourselves and determine whether that fear is merely rooted in prejudice.
Truth #3: We should be honest with ourselves about what makes us different
Since each person is uniquely created by God, He is the author of diversity. God loves diversity! In fact, we honor God by embracing certain differences. For example, if you are an introvert surrounded by extroverts, you might feel like the odd one out, but God wired you that way for a purpose. Or if you are obsessed with math, you might feel like a total nerd, but think of all the amazing accomplishments that passion could result in. We get to use our unique personalities, interests, and skills to contribute to the Body of Christ and to the world. Even when it comes to areas like gender identity or sexual orientation, you should be honest with yourself. You shouldn’t necessarily try to hide it, but rather confide in someone you can trust to help you work through it.
Unfortunately, here it gets a little sticky, because where we find some truth, we also find our first lie.
Lie #1: You have two options: hide your feelings or embrace them with pride
For those who struggle with feeling “different,” the world (and these movies) pressures us to embrace that feeling with pride, whether we understand how we feel or not! As parents, we need to help our kids understand this false dichotomy (a logical fallacy intended to convince us that there are only 2 options.) There is often a third (or more) option(s). First, we need to determine: Is this difference a personality difference, or does God’s Word have something to say about this? If God’s word does have something to say about it, then we need to remind our kiddos that another option they have, the best option, is to be honest with themselves, with the Lord, and with a trusted parent or mentor, and then submit their struggles to our good Heavenly Father in obedience to Him.
Lie #2: Love is merely a feeling of connection with another person
In a scene where Addison is giving a lesson on “love” to A-Spen (non-binary alien), she explains that “love means when you connect with someone in a really strong way,” and that “you can’t control who you love.” This is a great time to pause the movie and ask your kids, “Wait, is that what love is? Can you control who you love?” The truth is that feeling attracted to someone and loving someone are two different things. You can’t always help who you feel attracted to, but you can work to take control of how much you dwell on that feeling in your mind and you can certainly control your choices of how to act on that feeling. Love is how we treat another person, it is not just a feeling. Or, in the wise words of DC Talk, “Luv is a Verb.”
Lie #3: Your sexual orientation is as objectively true as your skin color
Another sneaky lie that we can uncover is cleverly tangled up in truth so that it becomes quite confusing and difficult to identify. While there are some major LGBT+ pride vibes in Zombies 3, the actual plot-line throughout the trilogy really only seems to be analogous to racism and segregation. Let me explain: Each monster group is different from the others based on an objective standard of their species. But the monster groups along with the humans learn to be united by their shared “personhood.” The idea is that they each look, talk, and act differently, but they are all still people; therefore one ought to get to know each group rather than fear and judge them. So, it seems that when we see Addison and Zed (human and zombie) fall in love, we see a representation of an interracial couple: two people who look different and come from different backgrounds and cultures. We agree! As Christians, we believe love & marriage is between a human man and a human woman, no matter the person’s skin color or ethnic background. So this is a truth we can affirm! Where is the lie, then? Remember when we talked about A-Spen and Willa coupling up at the end and being included in the montage of unconventional couples? Disney is trying to convince its audience that your racial makeup is on the same “identity plane” as your sexual orientation. Just like you can’t choose your own skin color, you (supposedly) can’t choose who you’re attracted to (oh, and you shouldn’t try to either, because it’s who you are).
How can we tell that this is a lie? Because your skin color and ethnic background are objective truths. Your melanin amount is literally written in your DNA. Your sexual orientation, however, is subjective. How you determine your sexual orientation is primarily based on how you feel. There is nothing objective, a source outside of your own perception, to point to in order to determine who you are attracted to. But Disney wants to convince us that sexual behavior is as beyond our control as our ethnicities. Sorry, Disney, that does not add up.
ARGUE for a Healthier Approach – What does God’s word say about the truths we identified?
The overarching theme of Disney’s Zombies trilogy is love, acceptance, and inclusion. These are wonderful values! In fact, no one is more loving, accepting, and inclusive than God! God IS love (1 John 4:16), He defines it. God is incredibly accepting. If any rejection is going on it is (some of) us who reject Him. It is not that we must obey in order to be accepted by God, rather the act of disobedience is the act of rejecting God. Conversely, to love God is to obey Him. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” No matter what we do, reject or accept Him, He always loves us (Romans 5:8). And God is radically inclusive. Everyone is invited to be adopted into His family. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16).
“Everyone loves love, provided they get to define it.” (Hillary Morgan Ferrer, Mama Bear Apologetics). But since God defines love, and there is no one more loving than Him, we must love others the way He tells us to. All humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and we are told both to “love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31) and even to “love your enemy (Matthew 5:44).” And the Bible tells us clearly what love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Note verse 6: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” It is not loving to go along with the false idea that someone’s identity is found in their subjective sense of who they are attracted to. It is loving, however, to be kind to that person regardless.
And here is some really good news for those of us who put our trust in the Lord: He does not abandon us in our struggles, but gives us His Spirit to sanctify us. We do not have to strive on our own to obey Him. It’s called the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of your own effort (Galatians 5:22-23). This is why we CAN help to who we give our romantic love. Not by our own power, but by His. And He is trustworthy.
REINFORCE with Discussion, Discipleship, and Prayer – Make it stick, yo!
Our culture is relentlessly pursuing our children with its ideological agenda. We need to be in conversation with our kiddos regularly to teach them how to pick out the lies from the truths. After watching Zombies, here are some discussion questions to open up a dialogue with your kiddos:
- We are each VERY different and unique. God made us that way! How can we tell between the differences we should celebrate versus a “difference” that is actually making us disobey God?
- Let your child know that if he/she feels “different,” there is never a need to feel embarrassed and the best thing is to talk about it openly with you. Think of a time when you felt like an outsider or like you didn’t fit in, and share that story with your child so he/she knows that we all experience that feeling sometimes.
- How do we love and include our friends who take on an identity that is against God’s design without affirming untruths and celebrating sin?
- Discuss who gives us our identity. (Hint: it’s God!) Talk to your child about their artwork. When someone creates art, who gets to determine what it is and what its purpose is? The artist! If you draw a dog, and your little sibling comes and says, “it’s a cat!” Who is correct? You! Because it’s your creation. Since God is our Creator, He determines who we are and what our purpose is.
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