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There’s no doubt about it, Disney rules the world. They rule the box office, they rule the world of theme parks. And when they release their new streaming service Disney Plus later this year. They’ll also rule the world of home entertainment. Therefore, there will always be speculation about the Disney influence!
Disclosure – this is a collaboration post
As you can imagine, a brand this huge and this ubiquitous is always going to come under scrutiny. The mouse house is no stranger to controversy. In recent years some studies have shown that Disney’s media (specifically pertaining to Disney Princesses) can be damaging for children.
The studies demonstrate that exposure to Disney’s princess-centric films reinforces gender stereotypes. And potentially leads to low self-esteem and poor body image in young girls.
Of course, the publication of the studies lead to a range of alarmist articles a few years back from “usual suspects” like the Daily Mail. However, the NHS website actually did a good job of rebuffing some of that alarmism.
Could Disney’s plethora of content be bad for kids? Only insofar as everything from chocolate chip cookies and Happy Meals can be bad for kids. Not only can Disney films, games and TV programs be perfectly fine as part of a balanced cultural “diet”. They can actually be highly beneficial.
Whether you and your kids are enjoying the latest animated feature on the big screen or taking advantage of Cheap Sam’s Club Disneyland Tickets for a magical family holiday. There’s nothing to fear from the house that Mickey built. Here are some reasons why your kids’ mental health and morality can actually benefit in Mickey’s gloved hands…
The fault lies more with the source material than Disney
Is it misogynistic that Snow White has to tidy up after all those dwarves? Is it a bit creepy that the prince thinks it’s perfectly okay to kiss a supine Sleeping beauty? Is Beauty and the Beast a bit Stockholm Syndrome-y? Perhaps, although Emma Watson doesn’t think so.
But while these readings are valid. Let’s not forget that these criticisms should be levelled more at the myths and fairytales on which the films are based rather than Disney’s interpretation of them.
Plus, let’s not forget that these early-mid 20th century “classics” are products of their time. And should be treated as such. We can enjoy this kind of stuff with our kids and point out ways in which they could be more progressive. Which brings us to…
They’re reinventing their “princesses” as feminist icons
You may have noticed Disney’s recent trend of releasing big-budget live action remakes of their animated classics. While some may debate the merit of this. One great thing that’s come out of it is the lean towards stronger female characters. With more agency and wit than their animated counterparts.
Take a look at Emma Watson’s inventive and bookish Belle in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. Or Naomi Scott’s fiercely philanthropic Jasmine in this summer’s Aladdin. Sure, they’re both beautiful. Sure, they wear nice dresses. But they have at least as much agency and moral fortitude as their male counterparts.
And let’s not forget the awesome “princesses” of recent years. Like The Princess and the Frog’s industrious Tiana; Frozen’s powerful yet troubled Elsa; Brave’s headstrong and tomboyish Merida or the resourceful Moana.
Their lovable characters teach kids about empathy
Empathy is an incredibly important skill for today’s kids to learn. Especially since they’re growing up in an age where social media is trying to tell them that they are the centre of the universe.
Many of Disney’s films teach kids about the importance of kindness, compassion and empathy. Many of their protagonists are misunderstood. Down on their luck yet plucky outsiders who are elevated by the kindness of strangers from talking crickets to magical genies.
They send a powerful and important message to kids. About helping others and seeing value in those who are shunned by others.
Some of their films have an important ecological message
Today’s youngsters will face an uphill battle for the future of the planet by the time they reach adulthood. The UN has warned that we have just 12 years left to avert an irreversible climate change catastrophe. Who knows what the world will look like in 12 years time.
How do you teach young kids about the importance of sustainability and ecological stewardship? You show them Disney / Pixar’s Wall E. Look past the uber-cute protagonist and stunning setpieces and you have a film with a very important message about the environment, consumerism and corporatism.
Whatever your kids are like, there’s a character for them to love
Disney’s message is an extremely inclusive one. The studio aims for mass market appeal and that means ensuring that every member of the audience gets to see something (or someone) that resonates with them.
Most kids and adults) have a Disney character they most identify with. And that point of identification can not only help them to immerse themselves in a story. It can also help them to think about the choices they’d make in the character’s position. That’s a big building block of empathy right there!
They’ve brought Star Wars back from the dead
Even if you fail to take Disney’s legions of memorable characters into account. If you overlook their ownership of the Marvel brand and the seminal superhero films that have been made under Disney’s stewardship. Even if you don’t give them a shred of credit for any of that. One of their boldest (and most expensive) moves has been to buy the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas. And resurrected a film franchise that would otherwise have lain dormant since 2005.
Star Wars is the quintessential myth. A morality tale that teaches kids a little about everything from spiritualism to politics. Through the adventures of Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Finn and Rey, kids can learn a great deal about the world around them. They can find out about self-discovery through martial arts training. The power of redemption, and the dangers of fascism and how the road to ruin is always paved with the best intentions.
And thanks to Disney, we can be sure that Star Wars will never go away!
What do you think about the Disney Influence? Do you think it is a good or bad role model for kids? Let me know in the comments below.