Separating Unicorns from Goats; Despicable Me 3

As Pharrell Williams’ infectious “Yellow Light” thrums into ebb and the theater turns the house lights on, my son looks at me and says “Hey! I exist again!”

His words exemplify the reason we need and love art in the first place. Through story, music, or any sort of art that touches us, we can live for a while in another world where we are NOT the central character, and we can learn large, important things by getting temporarily outside ourselves.

Some people, (I have been one of these people) underestimate the possibilities of a blockbuster kids’ film, accusing it of being moneymaking fluff. I have altered my view on this. I think that people can find the truths they need in almost any art, even art that has been diluted by the moneymaking apparatus. If the artists’ vision is true, the beauty of the product will shine through whatever it gets covered up with.

On that note, here are my thoughts on what is truly beautiful about the latest Minion movie.

The Unigoat.

For those who aren’t familiar with Despicable Me, its hero is the black-clad golden-hearted erstwhile criminal Gru. In the first movie, Gru steals the moon, gives it back, and learns love from three orphaned little girls. The ridiculously cute youngest, Agnes, is completely in love with unicorns. Early in Despicable Me 3, when she finds out that Gru and Lucy have lost their jobs, she voluntarily sells her belongings to help out. She actually sells her beloved stuffed unicorn, handing the money to Gru, saying cheerfully “I got two whole dollars for it!” Her innocence and purity of heart are evident in everything she does.

Enter the Unigoat. Gru and the family are in Fredonia for a yin-yang-tastic meeting with his sunny long lost twin brother Dru. In town, Agnes sees a bar marked by a unicorn sign. She goes in fearlessly, spots the taxidermed horn of a unicorn on a high dusty shelf. She asks the gruff-looking bartender about the horn. The stubbly barkeep leans close and whispers to her about a maiden pure in heart who goes to the crooked forest and waits. When she has waited long enough, unicorn will come to her, and will be hers. FOREVER.

Agnes’ love for unicorns percolates up through her little body, culminating in a glass-shattering scream of happiness.

She talks her skeptical sister Edith into going with her to the Crooked Forest, where they wait. ((Linus and his Great Pumpkin come to mind here) After waiting FOR EVER, there is a crackle in the forest, and sure enough, the unicorn appears in its appointed location.

The one-horned creature turns out to be an uncoordinated little goat with one of its horns broken off. Agnes doesn’t care. It is her unicorn, and she loves it. Edith sighs, telling herself she’ll just leave it to someone else to break the news to Agnes.

When Gru is forced to be the one to lovingly “break the news” to Agnes, she doesn’t care that her unicorn is just a goat with a broken horn. She loves the unicorn, and it is hers. Technically, uni-corn means nothing more than “one horn.” So who cares if the horn isn’t in the middle of its head? It is real to Agnes because her LOVE summoned the goat and transfigured it into a meaningful thing of beauty. That is what love does.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. To Agnes, the unigoat is a unicorn, worthy of all the love she lavishes on it. Why do we feel the need to take that away from her by insisting that her love is not real? The world “believe” was never supposed to mean “ know intellectually that something is proven fact”. It meant “decide what is the treasure of your heart, and point your efforts towards that”. The etymology is below; you may skim it. The gist of this word’s evolution is that it used to mean love, as a VERB. Then it meant “to hold something dear or esteem it” Then it meant ”to have confidence in”. Only in the 1500s did it start to mean “alleged fact without total proof.”

Why not let Agnes believe that her unigoat is a unicorn? Love transfigures.

belief (n.) Look up belief at

late 12c., bileave, “confidence reposed in a person or thing; faith in a religion,” replacing Old English geleafa “belief, faith,” from West Germanic *ga-laubon “to hold dear, esteem, trust” (source also of Old Saxon gilobo, Middle Dutch gelove, Old High German giloubo, German Glaube), from *galaub-“dear, esteemed,” from intensive prefix *ga- + PIE root *leubh- “to care, desire, love.” The prefix was altered on analogy of the verb believe. The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed 15c.

The be-, which is not a natural prefix of nouns, was prefixed on the analogy of the vb. (where it is naturally an intensive) …. [OED]

Meaning “conviction of the truth of a proposition or alleged fact without knowledge” is by 1530s; it is also “sometimes used to include the absolute conviction or certainty which accompanies knowledge” [Century Dictionary]. From c. 1200 as “a creed, essential doctrines of a religion or church, things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine;” the general sense of “That which is believed” is by 1714.

This is the first of my posts about how the deep meanings of words have gotten skewed and taxidermed in modern English. Stay tuned for more.

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