Disney, if you’ve ever looked at any of my other posts, is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I love the magical worlds they create, these beautiful scenes where everyone has a seemingly happy ending and they’re all singing and birds are chirping. But the older you get and the more critical your eye becomes, the more you see that, while magical, classic Disney movies perpetuate some serious biases.
In a recent Race, Gender and the Media class, we discussed how skewed the perceptions of relationships, race and gender roles are in not only classical fairytales, but also Disney movies, which so often portray love as abusive, race or ethnicity as a stereotype and gender as a societal norm to be followed, like staying home to make babies or charming a princess with a hair flip and well-timed sing along.
Belle, trapped by a lonely and raging Beast, suffers from a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome when she falls in love with her captor. This sends the message to little girls everywhere that it’s okay if boys yell at you, keep you locked up and don’t let you see your family, as long as you get to wear pretty clothes and have a massive library to keep yourself occupado.
The song “Savages” in Pocahontas is probably one of the most disturbing pieces of racial hatred Disney has ever produced (after Songs of the South, obviously, but I won’t even touch that one). While it was obviously meant to portray the feelings the settlers had towards the Native Americans when originally landing in America, do you want your child running around singing a song that calls anyone “barely even human?”
And lastly, Snow White, the most classic Disney fairytale of them all, depicts a girl of 14 who becomes a victim of necrophilia when the prince she’s spent her entire life waiting for wakes her up from a “death like” sleep with “true love’s kiss.” Can you tell this one’s not my favorite?
While classic Disney movies have become the target of criticism for their role in perpetuating biases, more recent franchises have launched oodles of “Let it Go” wailing young fledglings who are now obsessed with a movie, Frozen, that teaches them about the importance of sisterly love, versus the primary focus of relationships and romance.
Though, with that particular film, I will point out that Anna does almost marry a man she met that day. However, Elsa does point this out, but it’s not the first time a Disney movie has done that, as many claim. Robert, the male lead in Enchanted (2007), questioned Giselle’s impending nuptials to Prince Edward after only a day as well. He was also the first Disney prince to ask why everyone is always breaking out into song, despite the notion that Flynn Rider was the first to do so.
In addition, one of Disney’s most overlooked princesses, Merida, who is actually one of the only princesses to be royal not by marriage but by birth, sends an incredibly positive message to viewers of Brave. Merida’s refusal to marry a man she doesn’t love simply to keep her crown (similar to Mia in Princess Diaries 2) and willingness to go to any length to save her family from the consequences of her own mistakes is refreshing compared to the doe-eyed Rapunzel following Flynn Rider around like a lost puppy.
It’s up to you to make your own conclusions about Disney films. They’ll always be a huge part of my life, and hopefully my kids’ lives too, someday. But it’s about asking the right questions, keeping an open mind, and teaching those who may not to do so when the time is right.