Disney is the staple of television diets for many generations of children. How often have you seen a child's wide-eyed gaze fixed upon the TV screen as they lose themselves in a Disney film’s bright colors and catchy musical numbers? Who knows how many countless hours YOU have watched a Disney classic, over and over again until you know ALL the words. It's okay, we can relate. We start out watching these movies at a very young age, but what does that do to our malleable little minds? What social constructs do Disney movies train us to believe are an acceptable part of the structure of society? What moral fables are we absorbing by osmosis? Well, it's not all rainbows and happy endings once you're watching with adult eyes.
10 Beauty and the Beast
This is one of Disney's most beloved and well-received movies of all time. A compelling musical score, charming secondary characters, and a rather dramatic love-related plot line are no doubt the reason, but this is also one of Disney's most dark and twisted stories.
Movie posters have the tag line, "The most beautiful love story ever told," but what exactly is beautiful about being held hostage in your captor’s home, what is nice about being verbally abused by your captor, not to mention being constantly harassed by a machismo character who is obsessed with your looks? What does this movie teach little girls? That if you patiently struggle through abuse with a man who is verbally and physically aggressive, eventually your love will overcome his anger issues and you'll live happily ever after? False! You should accept people for who they show you they are, and don't expect someone to change who they are to be with you. If they’re abusive when you start the relationship, they’ll be abusive the whole time. Many people like to toss around the term Stockholm Syndrome when discussing this movie, and it’s not exactly a stretch to consider it a little glorified in Beauty and the Beast.
Another amazing piece spawned during the Disney Renaissance, (1989-99), Aladdin is the story of a slick "street rat" who finds a genie in a bottle (bay-bah!), and wishes for all the things (wealth) that will make beautiful Princess Jasmine fall in love with him.
It seems that the movie's message to children is to "just be yourself," but that hasn't even scraped the surface when it comes to hidden moral themes. Sure, Jasmine loves the street version of Aladdin, but in the real world, that’s not all that noble. If you know anyone who's ever tried to endure a relationship with what might be considered a modern day street rat, you know it's almost always a futile endeavor.
The idea of rising from nothing to nobility is a fairy tale in itself. However, how utterly self indulgent is it to wish for personal wealth and gain when you have a genie? Why not wish for the end of poverty and famine or wish for world peace or for everyone to start recycling or something?! What a very subversive way of teaching children that in terms of priority, first think of Number One, instead of giving some thought to the greater good.
8 The Little Mermaid
Lovable Ariel and her posse of sea creatures race against the clock to win the heart of landlubbin’ Prince Eric. Children find this movie relatable because the parent, King Triton, seems overbearing and controlling (like all parents seem when one is young). Ariel goes behind her father's back and makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to trade her voice and gills for shiny new lungs and a pair of legs with which she can try to seduce Prince Eric. When her ploy fails, Daddy comes to her rescue, and even though he's super-pissed that she rebelled, he gets all soft and lenient and grants her wish, allowing her to stay on land with her beau.
How does a child break down this storyline in their inexperienced minds? Basically, if you rebel and show enough enthusiasm in the bad decision you're making, 1) things will eventually work out and 2) your parents will eventually understand that you actually DO know what's best for you.
So, you can go ahead and push your parents' boundaries because they're just being insensitive to you but you're gonna prove them wrong! In fact, teenage rebellion is a running theme in Disney movies. I won't even bother mentioning the fact that she gets married at 16, because we all know children are terrific at relationships, but don’t you think this acts as some kind of insinuation that if the child is beautiful enough, they’ll meet Mr. Right by 16?
7 The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Another beloved classic, this story follows the exploits of Quasimodo; as he grows up in isolation for fear of being rejected by society, but then amazingly meets the girl of his dreams, risks his life to rescue her from the evil death trap of his adoptive father Frollo, and then is rejected by her as another more traditionally handsome character swoops in and gets the girl he loves.
Now, this movie is a bit tricky to analyze. On one hand, it does expose the isolationism inherent in society for people with handicaps and/or deformities. It gives children an introduction to abstract thinking in terms of putting themselves in another's shoes and treating people as equals, but then it just turns around and negates the whole thing by having Esmerelda spurn Quasimodo's advances in favor of the tall, brawny, blonde Captain Phoebus.
Essentially, the lesson is that it's okay to be friends with those who are not like us, but for long-term relationships aesthetic appeal has more value than what's inside a person's heart and mind. What was the point of making this book into a children's movie? Purely for indoctrination? Even the purpose of the book was to make a statement on superficiality, and then Disney goes and subversively promotes the very aspect Victor Hugo vilified!
To be fair, this movie is a bit dated for a modern day analysis like this. Cinderella works hard in servitude to her stepmother and stepsisters after the death of her father. Her diligence and the facts that she never complains are painted as a virtue of femininity and cast her as deserving of a fairy godmother to grant her wishes.
Now, that's not a terrible message if you consider it like this: working hard and staying positive will get you far in life, but not at the hands of a shark. If you are being abused, you don't just stay in it and wait for things to get better. In the real world, there is no fairy godmother coming to help you out. You gotta do it yourself.
Cinderella's appropriate course of action would be to stand up for herself, move out of the house, and get a job so she can be independent. Like the great quote goes, if you don’t like something, change it. You're not a tree.
Hahaha! What happened here?! Disney took a story with legitimate historical significance and put it through their fairy tale meat grinder and it came out on the other side looking like some amazing, boundary-breaking love story, bringing together two opposing worlds.
At the end of the movie, after being saved from certain doom by Pocahontas, handsome, sturdy John Smith sails away and Pocahontas remains with her tribe, choosing loyalty and family over love. Are they crazy?! In real life, Pocahontas was TEN when she met John Smith. She was kidnapped by the English settlers and held for ransom, certainly not happily running amok in the woods with her love. She was converted to Christianity while in captivity and declined to return to her tribes-people when she was finally given the opportunity. She married John Rolfe, (the first interracial marriage in America), and she was 22 when they ventured to England to show her off to British investors where she died (no doubt of foreign germs).
The Disney version of Pocahontas is beautifully idealistic, but how many of you knew the actual back-story? How many of you would have gleaned your knowledge of Pocahontas, John Smith, and the Jamestown colony from a children's movie if you hadn't read this article? And do you also think the English settlers were a logical, fair-minded, friendly group of settlers and not a troop of killers that ravaged the way of life of the Native Americans?
Movies like Pocahontas that twist history (twistory, if you'd like a portmanteau) subtly inform a viewer's awareness of US History, and not everybody cares to research on their own to make sure their information is accurate. It's like a mega-version of the telephone game that could easily work its way down through history. Your great-great grandchildren will probably know the Disney version and nothing else.
4 Sleeping Beauty
One of Disney's most elegantly illustrated classics was a box office disappointment. The story follows the typical Disney pattern of an innocent young girl cursed by a witch, needing the rescue of a handsome young prince. In this particular movie though, the titular character is a rather secondary character.
The main focus is on Prince Phillip's journey to defend the kingdom and rescue the girl from the clutches of the eternal sleep. The movie in essence preaches the concept of innocence as utter gullibility and plays up the fact that innocent young women need a strong young man to use the prowess and brawn to come rescue and shield them from the evils of the world. See? You felt a twinge in that girlish young heart of yours, didn't you? That's kind of what YOU want!
Well, time to grow up ladies and gents. Women who need rescue and protection in this day and age are more than likely lacking in the "skills of coping with reality" department. Allowing someone else to protect you means that you are taking a backseat in steering the course of your life. You can't tell when someone has bad intentions for you? You don't know how to defend yourself against people who would like to do you harm? Well then you'd better be content with standing behind your defender, and let's hope your defender never turns on you. Perhaps it's a cynical standpoint, but how can one really command any respect if they're wholly dependent on another person to look out for their best interests? That's just lazy. Now go watch Mulan.
3 Peter Pan
The lovely, wistful story of the little boy who wanted to stay a child forever. Now, the movie itself doesn't seem to have a terrible moral lesson, or really much lesson at all...but what it DOES have is a big ol' glaring racial stereotype.
The Native American tribe is painted candy apple red for crying out loud! But this isn't the only Disney culprit, there are the weird backup singers during the Under The Sea song in The Little Mermaid, the crows in Dumbo, several characters/lyrics in Aladdin, King Louie and the monkeys in The Jungle Book, the hounds in Aristocats, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, the list goes on and on.
Real talk: we get our initial awareness of racial stereotypes from Disney movies. Is it a subtle way to instil in our little minds how upper-middle class white American adults categorize the variety of races and income levels in our world? Well, it's not unreasonable to say it's possible. I won't even bother talking about Song of the South because it was another time.
2 The Fox and the Hound
This is an emotional roller coaster of a movie, and it's for children?! The gut-wrenching coming of age story deals with doomed friendships and acts as a template to introduce children to understanding why some of their relationships are either discouraged or even violently rejected by authority figures. Take the sweet puppy and fox kit and replace them with human characters and now it becomes a total metaphor for the issue of interracial relationships.
Basically, children are born without racism and they see a different skin color as "different from me," not as "bad and not equal to me." However, just like in real life, the people you're around most often help inform your opinions of other people, and people with discriminatory friends and family often grow up to discriminate as well.
Does this movie set children up to recognize that it's just the way life goes? A template that makes discrimination more palatable for them as they age? Reading reviews of this movie online, it's interesting to see just how superficially people see this movie, "sweet, innocent fun with a relatively happy ending." Uhhh, no, it's a bunch of cuddly, wide-eyed cartoon characters acting out a depressing statement on society, with a barely tolerable ending.
Welcome to our ugly society, children.
1 Alice In Wonderland
This is the fascinating story of one precocious little girl's foray through "dreamland." It's interesting, full of crazy imagery, bright colors, nutty characters, and PLENTY of references to eating mushrooms, drinking mysterious concoctions, and smoking hookah.
Let's face it, this movie is about drugs. All the crazy tripping! Tasks that seem to take forever from which Alice is easily distracted. The Mad Hatter and March Hare? You've probably partied with guys like them, the really zany bros that totally turn up! Lots of people have theorized that this movie is illustrative of an LSD trip, but many different drugs subversively appear in this movie. You watch the tea party scene and tell me what the pile of sugar reminds you of!
So what is it then? Is this just a zany tale about a dream? Or a cautionary tale about drug use (because it doesn't seem like Alice is having that much fun)? Is Disney making a point that boredom is better than adventure? Or what? WHAT IS THIS? Because aside from the fact that the characters are so rude, the environments and situations look like fun. So, would you take a chance on the "Eat Me" cookie and "Drink Me" bottle? Do you think your children would take that chance?