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Disney’s The Book of Revelations

Voice of God.........James Earl Jones
Voice of Adam.........John Cusack
Voice of Eve.........Cameron Diaz
Voice of The Serpent.........Jim Carey
Voice of Noah.........Morgan Freeman
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Although it was box-office poison, Disney’s Book of Revelations has become a critical darling on DVD, ranking with Fantasia or The Hunchback of Notre Dame as sacred texts in the Disney canon. The lush animation softens the sometimes upsetting Apocalyptic material as young viewers as they watch the rise of the Antichrist followed by Satan’s world domination.

After the opening credits, an old prophet named John (voice of Robin Williams) sleeps under a tree and has an extraordinary dream. In John's dream it is the End Time, and the people of the world indulge in sensory delights. We see a Paris-like metropolis teeming with rich people, who whip their slaves around crowded market places, and force them to carry their large shopping packages for them. A DVD freeze-frame even reveals that many of the wicked are buying Bugs Bunny stuffed animals, and other merchandise of Disney arch-rival Time Warner.

The metropolis is saturated with video screens from which the Antichrist (voice of John Travolta), a dynamic leader known only as "Bob," encourages the people to work harder so they can shop more. Bob tricks many people to accept a "mark" on their right hands (drawn as a star, but up close it predictably looks like a UPC barcode) in exchange for more credit at the shopping malls.

From heaven, God (voice of James Earl Jones) is enraged watching the people line up to take the mark of Bob. His angels prepare plagues: blood-soaked rivers, skin boils, the death of 1/3 or all living things on earth, and a specially prepared "Lake of Fire and Brimstone" (whose shape on the map resembles Florida’s Lake Okeechobee).

The good people of the earth see the plagues and are quick to spot God’s anger. Led by an itinerant minister, Luke (voice of Eddie Murphy), they repent and ascend into heaven in a stately procession to the tune of Blondie’s epoch-making pop hit "Rapture". Luke admittedly is not a character in the book.

Meanwhile the wicked people, even after seeing the good people rise to heaven and the rivers turned to blood, and the sun blotted out, are still too pig-headed to repent for taking the mark of Bob, and resume their shopping. One may wonder how the wicked were smart enough to get rich and rule the world when they are too dense to know that they face imminent annihilation.

Bob himself is wounded by a lightning bolt. But he is revived by Satan (voice of Richard Gere), and resumes his evil ways. As Bob addresses the people from the TV screens, he convinces them they should invade the tiny, desolate valley of Armageddon, to protect its human rights. Bob and Satan lead their troops into battle singing the rousing song "A Fight, Tonight," set to the tune of West Side Story’s "Tonight". Their opponents are the King of Gog and Magog (voice of Omar Sharif), and the King of the East (voice of Chow Yun Fat) in the greatest battle in human history. The battle scenes feature some of the most spectacular animation ever produced. Watching the wicked destroying each other in a triangular struggle of tactical nuclear weapons will warm anyone’s soul.

God finally enters the battle with a giant sword, with which he stabs the wicked and burns them over the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, as if working a barbecue. Finally, he tosses Bob and Satan himself into the Lake without effort. Unfortunately, this may prompt questions from children such as: Why didn’t God simply destroy Satan at the dawn of time, and thereby prevent thousands of years of human suffering?

No matter. Now the angels open up the tombs all over the world so that the dead can ascend into heaven for the Last Judgment. Some remain in heaven with God. The rest are tossed into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, experiencing only two minutes of consciousness before being plunged into eternal punishment without even a cup of coffee. And there they will stay for all eternity—God’s much-vaunted mercy notwithstanding.

Then God destroys the earth. He creates a new earth, one with streets of gold that lead to the capital city, which Disney-haters point out resembles the Magic Kingdom. The people live in eternal bliss, with multitudes singing a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s "Ode To Joy" seemingly around the clock.

Finally, John the prophet wakes up back on his island in 1st century Greece. And now we know: It was all a dream. John awakens on a stormy morning, and writes down his dream. What a relief!

Many rumors still surround Disney’s bizarre decision to make and release Disney’s Revelations. Aside from the highly disturbing subject matter itself, the message of Revelations seems uncharacteristic to long-term students of Disney. The vision of the righteous poor ascending into heaven while the evil rich endure punishments seems dangerously close to a critique of market capitalism. What could be wrong with shopping? And the final scene in the new earth with streets of gold seems suspiciously communal. Some Christians have suggested that Disney was only trying to outfox its viewers, since some suspect that Disney is just the sort of company to make Satanic propaganda (as seen by the endless parade of magicians, witches, sorcerers in the Disney canon), or at least to hide subliminal sexual imagery in the animation. But instead, Revelations is a film that clearly sides with God.

One Disney story editor reputedly suggested inverting the class identities—to portray the poor as the wicked, and the rich as the righteous. But Disney eventually decided that such a stark reversal of a Christian revenge fantasy found in Revelations would disturb many viewers, even affluent ones.

Since the original Biblical text is so ragged and hallucinatory, the Disney script-doctors wisely focus on the central Good vs. Evil plot, and punch up the text's lack of narrative thread. Although not a box-office champion, Revelations has new life on DVD, and strong sales of Revelations merchandise march on, including action figures of all the major characters.

© 1999, 2004 Dan Geddes