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By Eric A. Clayton

Mickey Mouse was not born a sorcerer.

As far as the 1940 Disney film “Fantasia” was concerned, Mickey was better suited for wielding mops than magic. It was that film – Walt Disney’s groundbreaking mashup of classical music and breathtaking animation – that introduced us to the iconic sorcerer’s hat. You know the one: dark blue, peppered with silver stars and a single moon.

Mickey seizes that hat in one of the film’s animated shorts, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and things go south from there. He tries to magic his way out of chores and into glory and ends up flooding the sorcerer’s lair instead.

I loved that short as a kid. To my five-year-old mind, it was the only reason to watch “Fantasia,” an otherwise chaotic journey through sound and color — for a child, at least.

It’s not a Disney film we’ve shown our own girls, accustomed as they are to Disney’s current offerings of cute animals and catchy tunes and clear-cut tales of princesses triumphing over evil. The idea of classical music and short, vague animated sequences will bore them at best and scare them at worst. (There’s that whole devil-summoning-evil-spirits storyline I’m not sure they’re quite ready for.)

Plus, the film is ancient as far as their Disney knowledge is concerned. 1940? Might as well be biblical times.

(“The ‘Goofy Movie’ is like really old, right Dad?” “The ‘Goofy Movie’ is from 1995. That’s six years newer than the original ‘Little Mermaid.’” “Wow — so they’re both really old movies.”)

Still. They know the iconic Mouse. They know the iconic hat. And they love LEGO.

And I’m a real sucker for integrated marketing.

So, when we opened up our newly acquired packs of LEGO minifigures featuring an array of beloved Disney characters in celebration of Disney’s 100th anniversary, we were all delighted to uncover “Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey.”

“But why is he wearing the wizard hat?” was the logical follow up question. “Where did he get it?” followed almost immediately thereafter.

And so, I pulled up that classic short. The three of us leaned across our kitchen counter and watched “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” — some of it, at least. And the girls saw the origin of an image they’d encountered countless times before.

After all, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey” is a common enough sight. But how many folks who have seen that iconic star-riddled hat have also seen the film from which it originated?

Is this what the actual wizards managing the Disney-LEGO partnership wanted? The reintroduction of a very old film to a new generation, inspired by a handful of colorful pieces of plastic? Probably.

But there’s a spiritual lesson here, too. Because certainly, in the realm of faith and religion, we deal in really old stuff. Older, even, than 1995’s “A Goofy Movie.” Older even than the original animated “Little Mermaid” — and older still than the Hans Christian Andersen tale upon which it’s based. We deal in stories and traditions, images and icons, words and gestures that are present everywhere, that saturate the world around us.

Everywhere: gateways into the larger story, a story so big, so awe-inspiring, so inclusive of all we are and might yet be. We have at hand countless tools, countless excuses, to dig deeply into that story — into our God who weaves it — to share it, to experience it.

We have scattered about our everyday lives those pieces of daily bread that point back to the Source of it all. But we have to enter into it. We have to take that step, engage that curiosity.

Otherwise, we’re left with Mickey Mouse in a wizard costume carrying a mop and a bucket. Cute, perhaps, but grounded in nothing. Pointing to nothing. Meaningless against a backdrop of noise and color.

The world is dripping with grace, pulsing with God’s very self. What are the little plastic pieces in our lives that might help us better glimpse God’s great story? How might we share that story, entering into it together with those we love — and those we have yet to meet?

Do we use the opportunities, the invitations, the tools at hand we have to enter into these stories? After all, a gateway is only useful if we step through it.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.