I’ve been feeling very ‘Disney’ lately, which may have something to do with spending a considerable chunk of my time with two to five year olds. So I’ve been revisiting a lot of the Disney films of my childhood and thinking about what they are teaching children. I see a lot of negativity about Disney films and their portrayal of women as weak and ridiculous, and whilst that’s true and I definitely don’t disagree, there are also a fair few positive things. So maybe their older films weren’t that good for girls, but they weren’t particularly good for boys either if you really think about it. So I’m going to try and find positive things about as many Disney films as I can and show you that they’re not all as bad as they seem, and that Frozen wasn’t the first film to show strong female characters.
Snow White and the seven dwarfs (1937)
It’s hard to find something positive about this film, it’s absolutely full of outlandish ideals and ridiculously stereotyped characters, but I suppose that it does teach children not to answer the door to strangers, right? I was surprised when I watched it again recently, because I had mixed the Disney film with the original tale in my memories. So the witch actually tried a few times to get to Snow White in the original, and she did in fact have a little more intelligence in her head, but I guess that she still answered the door to a stranger, so she’s still stupid!
Oo err, I do love a bit of Aiden…
In the thirteen years between Disney’s first two princess films, they didn’t really get much better. The perception of the ‘ugly’ stepsisters in the film is awful. Why are they perceived as ugly? They should be beautiful as they were in the original story. However badly they were shown to be in the first film, at least one of the sisters was given a bit of dimension in the two sequels: Cinderella II- Dreams Come True (2001) and Cinderella III- A Twist in Time (2007) as she is taught to smile and love by Cinderella. Blah blah blah. The worst thing about Cinderella though, is that it teaches girls that being beautiful is more important than hard work and intelligence. Baffling. (I promise there are some positive films in the future.)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Say what you want about Ariel being a selfish youngest child that has no regard for her family’s safety and feelings, she had ambition. She didn’t accept what she had in life and wanted to better herself. What’s wrong with that? I mean, let’s think about this logically for a moment, she was the youngest daughter of seven. There was no way that she would ever have got her hands on that watery kingdom and really, what else was there for her to do? Become a singer? Well she wasn’t bothered about that! Basically I just really loved it as a child and I may have pretended that I was a mermaid when I was in the bath. (Ask my mum, she’ll tell you) Also, SHE SAVED THE PRINCE!
Beauty and the beast (1991)
This is the BEST Disney princess film from my childhood. (Except for Mulan, but I didn’t see that until I was older.) Belle reads. For goodness sake! SHE READS! Already she’s the best one so far. It’s an awesome film because the most emotional scene in the whole thing is when Beast shows Belle the library for the first time. How is that not awesome?! Right, enough gushing, let’s talk about what it taught me.
- Belle teaches us that reading is good.
- She teaches us that it doesn’t matter what other people think about us, as long as we’re happy.
- Her father is very accepting of her, which is fantastic, and he’s an inventor so he’s into science and he’s intelligent.
- Belle is intelligent.
- Belle is patient and kind with everyone: when she teaches the Beast to be kind and patient, with her father’s eccentricities, even with Gaston and his endless attempts at romance.
- Belle is friendly.
- She’s brave and she saves her father. TWICE.
Can anyone actually think of anything BAD that Belle teaches us?
Jasmine teaches us that we should always question things. Admittedly, that makes things difficult for our parents, but in the long run, we’re better for it. I think that Jasmine was a brilliant princess because she wasn’t content to just sit pretty behind the walls of her castle, she went out into the world. Rather naively, she had no idea how the world actually worked, which is obvious when she unwittingly steals apples for the homeless children that she meets, but she’s independent, which is a good trait for children to learn. She’s not willing to have an arranged marriage, I mean come on, how is that a bad thing? She stands up to her father and simply says no to that nonsense! She’s intelligent, because she sees through Aladdin’s disguise, although I don’t suppose that would take a huge amount of intelligence, but she’s clever in the way that she gets him to admit to it.
One thing that I particularly liked about Jasmine was that she knew what she wanted and she went and got it. She wanted adventures, so she went outside of the palace walls and sought them out, and she’s brave too. When she’s captured by Jafar, she doesn’t just collapse into a blubbering mess, she gets on with things and she’s defiant towards him. Although there is one point that I’m not so sure of. Why does she wait for Aladdin to come and get her, instead of just getting herself out? And also, when Aladdin DOES finally turn up, she uses her body to distract Jafar from looking in his direction. Which I’m definitely not advocating as something to teach young girls. I think that the writers really let themselves down there, they’d created this awesome female lead, and then they demeaned her by doing that.
Pocahontas is a beautiful film. I never watched it as a child, I don’t know why, or perhaps I did and simply can’t remember it. Either way, I’m not sure that it taught me ANYTHING whilst I was still a child. But as I have just finished watching it I’m going to say what I think that it teaches children that actually watch it as children, rather than cynical teenagers. It teaches us to love purely, without regard for looks or anything external. Although I can’t help but think that Pocahontas fell in love with John because he was exactly so different form all of the other men that she had met. It teaches children racial equality, because sadly, there are many people that are racist, and children DO pick up on those things eventually. I have never met a racist child, but I have met racist parents and it is inevitable that their parents views are going to influence the children’s. So this film is a nice way to help those children along to views of racial equality, rather than their parents prejudiced thoughts.
I really enjoyed the fact that the film does not end with marriage. For the first time a Disney female has not chosen to give her whole self up just to be with her man. Pocahontas stays with her family and her people because she is needed there, rather than go to England with John. It is selfless because she loves him and she will not even know if he survives his wound. I like to think that he goes back to her, but in reality that would have been much more difficult than I’d care to believe. What happens when they get back to England? They are once more subject to the laws of the land and the horrible guy (that I never bothered to remember his name) will be freed and John will have to face up to his ‘crimes.’
But let’s end on a positive note; it also teaches us to start ripples. Which is always something that is good to teach children, we need more people to be brave and start the ripples.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
This is another film that I didn’t think had affected me in my childhood because I had only seen it once. But having watched it again recently, I can quite honestly remember the sensation of tears running down my face. It’s horrendous! It taught me that the purest sort of love, other than a mother’s love, is that of friendship. Friendship is what ties all of the main characters together in the film, even though there was the potential of a truly awful love triangle. The relationship between Quasimodo and the gargoyles is one of friendship, and they encourage him to be brave and participate in the world outside of the cathedral prison that he has lived in all of his life. He then meets Esmerelda and a friendship is forged from guilt on her part, and infatuation on his. Loving regardless is the theme of this film. Regardless of Quasimodo’s looks, his mother loves him. Regardless of his looks, Esmerelda loves him. Regardless of the fact that she is a gypsy, Phoebus loves Esmerelda. Regardless of the fact that he is a soldier, Esmerelda loves Phoebus. Regardless of the fact that Frolo is mean and cruel, Quasimodo has a sort of love for him as he is the only father that he has ever known. It is beautiful in the same way that Pocahontas is beautiful, but for some reason it is just that bit more poignant.
It teaches us to be tolerant of others and to be kind, because we do not know all of the details of a person’s life. It teaches us to not be prejudiced and to seek to be kind and accepting of everyone, even those that we do not particularly like. (Quasimodo accepts Frolo for who he is, even though he is cruel to him.)
And that’s your lot for now! There will be more, I just thought that it was getting a bit long and boring, becoming a bit too much of a list. But anyway, look forward to the next one, we’ll have quite a few different films to look forward to.
I want to make a special mention of Sulev Daekazu, who did most of the artwork that I’ve used in this post and you can check him out at: http://daekazu.deviantart.com/
So what did you think?
Do you like Disney films?
Or can you not see the positives that they teach us?
Let me know in the comments!
Have a lovely day,