Disney’s Loss of Innocence: language, race and gender in children’s animated movies

An interesting article that complies studies of various academics that dissect the unequal and/or essentialist representations of different groups in popular Disney movies.

These unequal/essentialist representations are especially salient because of the popularity of Disney movie among children, thus strongly impacting child socialization.

Cultural Life

1024px-Disney_Orlando_castle_at_night Disney Orlando castle at night. By Veryhuman (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most of my peers grew up with Disney animated movies. They watched the classics — The Lion KingPocahontasBeauty and the Beast… I didn’t. To this day, I’ve seen a grand total of two Disney animations: Dumbo and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Yes, yes, I know. I haven’t seen The Lion King, or Bambi, which is sometimes marked out as an oddity if it comes up in conversations with friends, as though I’m confessing an eccentric habit.

Disney’s movies are a fond presence in millions of childhoods throughout the world, and beyond (last year, a friend asked me if I wanted to go and see Cinderella with her. I suggested Far from the Madding Crowd instead). But these movies aren’t as child-friendly and full of innocent wonder…

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2 thoughts on “Disney’s Loss of Innocence: language, race and gender in children’s animated movies

  1. My own childhood was in the late 50s/early 60s. At that time Disney animated movies weren’t all that popular. Their money was being put into the TV shows and live-action movies: Davy Crockett, Treasure Island, Pollyanna, Mary Poppins and a number of family-oriented rom-coms with slapstick. The girls liked Barbies, but I didn’t really see the “Disney princess” popularity until after Little Mermaid revived their animation division in 1989.

    Though I mostly watched the classic Disney animated movies as an adult, I still see a clear stylistic demarcation between the times when Walt lived, and after. He was a hands-on mogul, like the heads of other studios, but after he died Disney became a more diversified, less consistent entertainment conglomerate, also like other studios. Walt cared more about co-opting and reshaping previously popular classics of children’s literature. The key feature milestones are Snow White (still more popular than all the modern movies), Pinocchio and Fantasia (the flop that nearly made Walt retire). The post-Walt company emphasized the development of more original stories and characters, simplifications of history, and explicit multiculturalism. Now they own Star Wars, so Rey is the new Disney princess.

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    1. Your insights into the division between Disney studios before and after Walt Disney’s death are interesting. While Walt Disney was definitely a media mogul, and an extremely talented artist and entrepreneur, what he was not is politically correct.

      Here is an article that highlights specific instances where racism was present, both before and after Walt’s death: http://mic.com/articles/124377/7-racist-moments-from-your-favorite-disney-movies-that-will-ruin-them-forever#.n2crpT4N9

      What this article and the original article I reblogged illustrate is that stereotypes that reinforce systems of oppression (white privilege, sexism, etc.) were present in Disney movies, and these movies were then marketed towards children who are in the process of constructing their own personal worldview. Thus, the inequalities in society are presented as “normal” and “natural” to these viewers – when this is not the case.

      I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to Walt Disney and Disney studios that it was not their intention to do so – but the evidence weighs against them.

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