Last Fall we took our six-year-old, Asher, and then three-year-old, Pace, to see Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, in the theater. For two dinosaur-loving boys, we thought it would be perfect.
We were wrong.
We weren’t twenty minutes in when Pace decided it wasn’t for him—too scary. Fair enough. There were some intense scenes. So Rodney took him out to the lobby—to be entertained for the next hour—while I stayed with Asher. Not exactly how we planned. But as parents, we’d learned to roll with these kinds of things.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided it might be a good idea to try a take two. Pace was now a very mature four. What could go wrong?
This time we were renting the movie, in the comfort of our own home and with the benefit of a fast forward button. There were still a couple of scenes we had to skip over but when we only had ten minutes left in the movie, I thought we were home free. All four of us had sat through it, trauma free.
Towards the end, (spoiler alert), Arlo, the dinosaur, and Spot, the human critter, who have been traveling companions the whole movie and developed an unlikely friendship, come across another human family. As desperately as Arlo wants his friend to stay with him, he urges Spot, an orphan, to go with this new family. Spot is loyal to Arlo and hesitant to leave, but Arlo, knowing it’s best for Spot to have a family of his own, says a tearful goodbye, before continuing his own journey home.
And that’s when it all hit the fan.
Pace lost it. He broke down into uncontrollable sobbing, huge tears leaving his panicked eyes, coursing down his little boy cheeks.
At first, I thought he had bit his tongue while chewing the popcorn he had in a bowl in front of him. But it soon became clear that popcorn had nothing to do with it. It was Spot. And Arlo. And that they had to say good-bye to one another after all they’d been through together.
GK Chesterton said, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
That night, watching The Good Dinosaur, Pace was introduced to one of life’s dragons. To loss. Pain. Separation. And his tender and innocent heart was broken.
To him, the dragon seemed insurmountable.
So we paused the movie. We consoled. We got the tissues. We walked some laps around the house. We tried to convince him it was worth watching the rest. That cutting the movie short wasn’t the answer.
After much persuasion, and drying of tears, we found ourselves back on the couch—a little puffier this time—but there. And that’s when the movie got good. At long last, Arlo made it back home—to his mom, his brother and his sister. It wasn’t a perfect ending—perfect would be a world with Spot and without life’s dragons.
But I think there’s some theology tucked into this idea. That in the end, we too can hope for good. We can hope for okay. And if we give up too quickly, if we walk away too easily, we’ll miss the chance for both. Because in the end, perfect isn’t really an option. Whether we learn that watching a Disney movie or in the throes of real life, at some point we encounter the unavoidable grown-up truth—there’s a lot not right in the world around us. And the repercussions of the pain and hurt—whether circumstantial, relational or something else entirely different—don’t ever go away completely.
But it’s not the final word.
We can still get good. We can still get okay. We can still find hope if we hang in there long enough to see it. That’s the end—when, in spite of it all, there’s something beautiful in it.
That’s what I learned from the movie the other night, and hopefully Pace did too. The dragons exist. But they don’t write the ending.
That’s the truth, even when it doesn’t always feel like that’s the case. Sometimes the sadness of real life is too much. Sometimes you just wish it wasn’t so complex. That bad things didn’t happen. That complicated things didn’t keep you up at night. That the pain of real loss didn’t feel so sharp and go so deep. That Spot and Arlo could stay together and it would have worked out best for everyone.
And when life doesn’t work like we want or think it should, it’s enough to bring you to your knees, want to call it quits, throw in the towel and collapse in a crumpled heap around your popcorn bowl.
But hanging in there is worth it. Sticking to it has its rewards. You get to see it through to the other side where things are good. Life is okay. And in the midst of it, discover you just might be okay too. Though you never intended to, you just might make it.
Dragons aren’t the end. The end is good. So don’t miss it.