Like most girls, I grew up with the Disney princesses dancing across my T.V screen while I watched in awe and admiration. The princesses represented everything good in my eyes; kindness, generosity of spirit, and optimism. My sisters were the same, as were my friends. And yet, despite our childlike admiration of the princess’s good qualities, some people find it necessary to destroy the fragile innocence that children only just maintain by seeing bad where there is none.
As long as Disney films have been created, there has been argument over their portrayal of gender. No matter what era, some over sensitive parent finds fault in a certain look or word that a character may say in a potentially offending tone. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world can be universally pleased and, by now, Disney well and truly understands this. And so, the Disney we see today is a careful company. It markets to its audience intelligently, using their films as a representation of modern times and this is the key point to my argument. Disney films reflect the time they were made in. Snow White was not a rebel, nor a strong, feminist woman because the traits that were admired in women of that time were gentleness and reliance on men. Now, in a time where individualism and emotional strength are the admirable qualities, we see far more feminist-like characters. Take Mulan, Pocahontas, and Meg from Hercules. These are women who promote bravery and determination. Yes, Snow White is a subservient character, yes, she relies on men, but we can’t deny that once, this was the ideal woman.
When it comes to men in Disney films, the arguments are not dissimilar. The public say that not all men can be strong and handsome, that Disney promotes an unrealistic standard in their heroes. What the public so easily forgets is what the Disney films are; cartoon animations. As Walt Disney says himself, “All cartoon characters and fables must be an exaggeration, caricatures. It is the very nature of fantasy and fable.” There is no greater representation of this cartoon creed than in the Disney films. The characters, especially the men, must exaggerate their qualities in order to communicate whether they are good or bad. For a child to understand easier, their qualities take outward manifestations. A person with inner beauty (the protagonists of the story, most commonly) will show this with their appearance. Blackness of heart will also show through appearance, meaning that the evil characters are most commonly not referred to as beautiful. In short, Disney does not create heroes as powerful men and subservient women like some people claim they do, but rather they use the surface of the character to show a deeper motivation.
Take for instance, a film that I would never, never, have thought could be targeted for racial slander. The Little Mermaid was one of my favourites, and everyone knows the crab Sebastian who sings the famous song, ‘Under the Sea’. Much to my horror, this character was listed as one of the top ten most racist characters in Disney films. The writer declared that Sebastian’s lyrics, suggest that Jamaican people are lazy.
What does this say about people today? It seems like the only characters that do not spark outrage are those with American accents and white skin. Is this a reflection of Disney films, or a reflection on our own racial views?
Disney tries. It is obvious that they try but they are constantly stopped in their tracks by protestors. Their first film in which the heroes were not American, Aladdin, was instantly met with angry Muslims and Arabs. The monkeys from Jungle Book also caused arguments, along with the crows in Dumbo due to the fact that they had African-American voices. It seems that, with our canny knack for finding fault where there is none, the human race is never happy with anything.
I have watched Disney my whole life, and I am neither racist nor sexist. I am not disillusioned. I do not expect a fairy godmother to help me out of my troubles, nor do I place a stigma on any step-mothers I may know. I am my own person and while I love Disney, I do not base my whole life education on their films. These people who complain that Disney is “secretly trying to brain wash us”, are forgetting key points about life itself. They are first of all forgetting that Disney films are for entertainment. They are films, not social commentaries or political documentaries. Second of all, and most importantly, they are underestimating the intelligence of our children, who are not so suggestible, despite some claims, to see an evil character who may be Chinese and believe that all Chinese are evil. They do not see what we see. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a child myself and I still remember. Children are so willing to be innocent - to cheer for the good guy and laugh and be entertained. If the adults of today are so intent on seeing the bad in a company that creates immortal films that made me feel happy every time I watched them, then we better say goodbye to our children’s innocence now because sadly, Disney, there’s not much hope.