America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
Disney's King David
Continuing its recent strategy of animating classical Bible stories, Disney’s King David hits all the highlights of the Israelite king’s fabled career from his precocious lyre-playing days to his slaying of the giant Philistine Goliath, to his assumption of throne of Israel, and eventual death.
Of course the background to the story of David is the story of King Saul. Before Saul, Israel was ruled by the judges, “there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The finicky Israelites are forever turning their backs on the Lord throughout the entire Old Testament, worshipping idols at the first opportunity. They neglect the Lord despite His frequent interventions, such as land, manna, and extermination of the Israelites’ enemies. But the Israelites had begged for a king, and God’s hand-picked monarch is the hapless Saul, whom political scientists will remember as the paradigm for divine-right monarchy theory. Yet Saul is an incompetent king who repeatedly fails to vanquish the Philistines, nor to keep those Israelites happy and focused on the Lord.
Enter David, a handsome youth who plays the harp like a god, and who the Lord shines his favor on. The Lord inspires young David to throw a rock at the head of the previously invincible Philistine giant Goliath, whom David smotes with a slingshot (every boy's fantasy, to slay a giant). It remains a mystery why the Lord didn’t just make David the king in the first place, because years go by while David, The Lord, and all Israel wait for Saul to finally die, or at least to step aside for the glorious David.
Meanwhile, Saul naturally tries to have David killed. Saul promises his daughter, Michal, to David—on the unlikely condition that he can bring back the foreskins of 200 slain Philistines. David succeeds in this enterprise, surprising both Saul, as well as millions of movie-goers, who are shocked to finally hear the word “foreskin” uttered in a Disney movie. Disney must have appreciated the difficulties of adapting the Old Testament without this word, and so should be credited for their courage in using it.
It is obvious that Saul just isn’t working out as king, and the movie quotes the Bible that even “the Lord repenteth” for having chosen Saul. Saul begins resemble the Nixon of 1973-1974, clinging to power despite universal opposition. Finally the Lord (Yahweh) has had enough of Saul, and so a medium correctly predicts that Saul and his sons will die the following day. Finally, David is able to take command of the Israelites.
It doesn’t take David long to build a vast harem, including Bathsheba, whom David favors. David plucks the most delectable women from his harem so frequently while still maintaining the Lord’s favor that traditional monogamy seems only like some kind of joke. Even on his deathbed, David tries to invigorate himself by sleeping with the pick of the litter from his harem. It does not save him, but it is a glorious effort nonetheless.
David discovers that the blessing of the Lord consists of “life more abundant”—political power, good food and wine, the ecstasy of worship, or music and poetry, and limitless concubines. The death of King David is a time of great mourning in Israel (the background animation seems lifted from Bambi) even with the succession of wise King Solomon on the horizon.
King David is in many ways a ideal Disney hero. He is an action hero equipped with courage, good looks, and the blessing of the Lord. He scores high in most focus groups, and he benefits from Americans’ relative ignorance of his exploits other than the slaying of Goliath.
King David scores big as an energetic entertainment, suitable for most children 8 years and up, depending on individual parents’ feelings about the mass slaughter of innocents, eviscerated foreskins, random violence, and nubile harems.